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How to plan a healthy meal

Healthy eating really doesn’t have to be complicated or difficult. Here’s how to plan a meal that includes all the important food groups: high-fibre carbs, lean proteins, fruit and veg, low-fat dairy, healthy fats and fluids.

One small thing: Make sure the fish you buy, whether fresh or frozen, is on the SASSI green list, and either grill or bake it.

Eating healthily might seem overwhelming. Where to start? What to include? What to avoid? We’ve taken the guesswork out and simplified it all for you.

High-fibre carbs

Include one or two servings of these carbohydrate foods with every meal. You should plan around six to eight servings daily.

1 serving:

  • ½ cup of bran cereal or oats porridge
  • 1 thin slice of high-fibre bread, such as seed loaf or rye bread
  • ½ wholewheat bread roll, wrap or pita bread
  • 2-3 wholegrain crackers or brown rice cakes
  • ½ cup of cooked wholewheat pasta, wholewheat couscous, quinoa, barley, samp or brown rice
  • ½ cob of sweetcorn
  • 1 cup of popped popcorn
  • 2 baby potatoes or 1 small sweet potato

Limit your intake of low-fibre, sweetened cereals and porridges (less than 3g of fibre per 100g) as well as sweetened mueslis and granolas.

Breadcrumbs, croutons, garlic bread and baked products made from white cake flour (such as rusks, cakes, croissants, waffles, scones, doughnuts, hot cross buns and biscuits) are low in fibre and nutrients and should be eaten sparingly.

Although convenient, go easy on foods such oven chips, fried potatoes, frozen potato bakes, frozen hash browns, instant noodles and potato crisps.

Vegetables

Between three and six servings of vegetables are recommended every day.

1 serving:

½ cup of cooked veg or 1 cup of raw veg

Fresh and frozen vegetables are packed with nutrients, and it’s best to steam, bake, lightly boil, stir-fry or roast them with a little oil and no salt.

Eat a variety of salads, such as a green salad or a three-bean salad, with an assortment of added vegetables. Canned veg, like tomatoes, peas, sweetcorn, mushrooms and asparagus are also healthy – just drain and rinse to remove excess salt from the brine.

Limit eating battered vegetables like onion rings, crumbed frozen vegetable “fingers” or “nuggets”.

Fruit

You should aim to eat two to four servings of fruit a day.

1 serving:

  • 1 medium-sized piece of fruit
  • 1 cup of chopped fruit
  • ½ cup of canned fruit
  • 1 small banana
  • 2-3 pieces of dried fruit
  • 15 grapes
  • ½ cup of fruit juice

Your best choices for fruit include all fresh and frozen fruit, dried fruit, fruit bars and rolls without added sugar, fruit juice without added sugar, fruit canned in natural juice, and smoothies made from fresh or frozen fruit.

If you’re eating dried fruit, avoid those with added sugar

Limit your intake of pure fruit juice to no more than ½ a small glass at any one time and avoid sweetened fruit juices, dairy fruit-juice blends and canned fruit in syrup.

Dairy products

Plan two to three servings of dairy every day.

1 serving:

  • • 1 cup low-fat or fat-free milk
  • • 1 cup of low-fat, fat-free or sugar-free plain yoghurt
  • • 1 cup of low-fat buttermilk or maas
  • • 30g of hard cheese
  • • ½ round of feta
  • • ¼ cup of cottage cheese

It’s a good idea to limit your intake of dairy blends and non-dairy creamers, such as coffee whiteners.

Protein-rich foods

Aim for around one to three servings of these proteins every day.

1 serving:

  • 90g of fish, chicken or meat (that’s roughly the size of a pack of cards)
  • 2 eggs
  • ½ cup of canned or cooked legumes

Make sure the fish you buy, fresh or frozen, is on the SASSI green list, and either grill or bake it.

Lean beef, pork and veal are your best options for red meat, while chicken should be skinless with excess fat removed.

Eat boiled, poached and scrambled eggs, or make an omelette filled with veg like onion, green pepper and mushroom.

Dried or canned legumes are all healthy protein-rich choices – just remember to rinse canned legumes to remove any excess salt.

Limit your intake of fried calamari, as well as crumbed, battered or deep-fried fish.

Avoid fatty cuts of beef, mutton and lamb, streaky bacon, pork sausages, boerewors and processed meats, such as polony, pastrami and salami.

Fats and oils

Approximately four servings of fats and oils are recommended every day.

1 serving:

  • 1 tsp of oil or margarine
  • 1 tbsp of low-oil mayonnaise
  • ¼ small avocado
  • 2 tsp of peanut butter
  • five olives or whole nuts

The healthiest oils and fats include olive, canola and avocado oil. Unsalted and raw nuts, peanut butter, avocado and seeds, such as sesame, sunflower, pumpkin and flaxseed, are great sources of healthy fats.

Limit your intake of coconut oil, full-cream coconut milk and cream. You can reduce your fat intake by using oil-based cooking sprays and soft-tub “lite” margarines.

Foods that are high in unhealthy fats include butter, butter spreads, brick margarines, cream, crème fraiche and full-fat mayonnaise.

Beverages

Aim for two to four litres of fluids per day.

Water should always be your first choice of beverage, while unsweetened sparkling water and herbal teas are also good options.

Avoid sugar-sweetened beverages, fructose-flavoured sparkling water, fruit cordials and energy drinks.

If you have a question for our dietitians, click here, or to find a dietitian in your area, visit adsa.org.za. To get in touch with us, email healthhotline@pnp.co.za.