Eating Right on the Go!

by Carol Bradley, PhD, RDN, LD, BCBA
These days, we tend to pack so much into each and every minute. Being so busy can affect our food choices and our waistlines, but we can be healthy at the same time. When you plan ahead and choose wisely, you feel more energetic all day and are able to accomplish more. Current research says we need about 25 to 30 grams of protein every three to four hours to make us feel more satisfied and less likely to reach for unhealthy choices to bridge the gap between meals. Spacing our protein intake this way also helps maintain muscle as we age. How can you fit it all in and stay healthy? Planning ahead is the key.

Begin with breakfast, the most important meal of the day! Study after study has shown that people who eat breakfast tend to have a healthier weight. Breakfast is short for “break the fast” but when we eat too late at night, our body is digesting and using the energy from that last meal. We store fat at our waistline to be used during the night. If you are not hungry shortly after you get up, you probably ate too much, too late the night before and your waistline may increase over time. A good breakfast will also help you work better through the morning and make you less likely to overeat at lunch.

Short on time? A bowl of cereal and skim milk is the quickest breakfast you can make! For a healthy start with staying power, you can microwave oatmeal with milk instead of water, then top with dried fruit and nuts, or peanut butter. For more protein, choose 2 eggs (cholesterol in foods is no longer restricted to a specific amount), a slice of lean breakfast meat, 1 ounce reduced fat cheese, and toast; or eat Greek yogurt with your oatmeal or eggs and you should feel satisfied for 3 or 4 hours until lunch.

Next, to make sure you have a balanced meal in the right portions at lunch, pack it at home whenever possible. The large portions we get when eating out usually leave us feeing too full and cause our energy level to drop after lunch. Start with lean protein, such as 4 ounces (7 grams protein per ounce = 28 grams total) of chicken, tuna, leftover steak, or similar meat. Balance it out with whole grains, veggies and fruits. One cup of cottage cheese (26 grams protein) or Greek yogurt with fresh berries and nuts is great when you are in a hurry. There are also plenty of portable, pre-made items if you want the convenience. Read the labels to be sure they provide adequate protein, without too much added sugar, fat, or sodium. Most frozen meals fall short on protein and fiber and may leave you feeling hungry mid-afternoon.

When you do need to eat out, choose grilled chicken or fish when possible and add sliced tomato and other vegetables to a whole grain bun for added vitamins A and C and fiber; or choose a salad with grilled chicken or salmon. Why not try fish tacos with a side salad, instead of fries, a grilled chicken wrap or sushi for a change? Be sure to go easy on the dressing, condiments, and special sauces to avoid excess calories. Limiting fried foods will also keep calories down.

To make life less hectic at dinner time, prepare casseroles on the weekend to be reheated in 10 minutes in the microwave. Use smaller casserole dishes for faster baking and reheating. Add a premixed salad in a bag and your family will have a ready meal in minutes. Frozen chicken tenders (without breading) can be thawed quickly in the microwave and heated in a skillet with a variety of ingredients for a one skillet meal, ready in 20 minutes. For example, sautee’ fresh garlic, artichoke hearts, fresh spinach and mushrooms, and serve with rice or pasta. You can also use canned tomatoes in a variety of flavors, including Southwest and Italian. Add black beans, green beans, or fresh zucchini or spinach. It only takes 20 minutes from start to finish and there is less to clean up. Using your crockpot to make ribs or a meaty soup or stew, not only saves time; it also uses less energy and doesn’t heat up the kitchen.

Last but not least, plan for snacks to help provide a bridge on busier days when your next meal might be delayed, but don’t overdo it. Snacks should be fairly light, just enough to prevent that sinking feeling. Greek yogurt and berries, one-fourth cup of nuts and some cheese, hummus with baby carrots, or peanut butter on apple slices or celery can be very satisfying. Carry cheese sticks and nuts when you fly so you don’t have to pay $4.00 for a granola bar which doesn’t keep anyone satisfied as long!

So, what food choices do you make when you are on the go? Do you plan ahead and make mindful choices or do you just grab something out of desperation? By taking a little time to plan ahead, you can actually save time and look and feel healthier as well. It may take a little practice at first, but you are worth it!