Updated: Aug 29, 2020
When I’m in the kitchen about to start making a meal there are a few thoughts that go through my head. These thoughts include looking for:
A range of different coloured foods for antioxidants & micronutrients.
A variety of ingredients to make the meal tasty and keep my gut bacteria happy.
All macronutrients: protein, fat and carbohydrate to support growth, satiety and energy.
A general guide I like to follow when building my meals is 1/3 of my plate coming from carbohydrate sources such as whole grains or starch, 1/3 of my plate coming from non-starchy vegetables and/or fruits and 1/3 coming from protein sources. Plus an additional thumb size serving of fat.
Something I always make sure to have in my fridge is fresh leafy greens! Including fresh greens such as spinach, kale, lettuce, rocket etc in your diet is so important as they are one of the healthiest and nutrient rich vegetables there is! They’re packed with calcium, Vitamin A & C, magnesium, folate, iron and potassium. Also, the darker – the better! Rich dark coloured vegetables have a higher antioxidant content which helps protect our bodies from free radicals and prevent cell damage. As leafy greens have traces of iron it is best to combine these with a source of Vitamin C such a squeeze of lemon juice or other high Vitamin C vegetables/fruits such as capsicums or orange to support nutrient absorption.
Up next is more colour! We’ve got a good green base from the leafy greens.. now it’s time up amp it up a bit more with some non-starchy vegetables and/or fruits! Depending on what type of cuisine/flavour combo I’m going for will depend on what vegetables I’m going to choose. Grated carrot, sliced cucumber, strips of fresh capsicum and bright purple cabbage are great for Asian inspired meals. Fresh corn cobs or frozen kernals, diced tomatoes, red onion and creamy avocado are a great base for Mexican dishes. Cauliflower, onions and green beans are wonderful in Indian inspired meals! And of course, these are nothing without a bunch of herbs and spices to really bring the vegetables to life! Garlic, chili, cumin, curry, mixed herbs etc are essential when bringing my meals to life!
To make the meal something substantial and to keep me feeling feel and satisfied for hours after it needs to include a carbohydrate source such as starchy vegetables or grains. Some of my favourites include white and sweet potatoes, brown rice, quinoa (white, brown & red), cous cous, oats, barley or even some crunchy sourdough! Choosing complex carbohydrates from wholegrain sources or potatoes will promote slow digestion and absorption, provide high quality slow release energy throughout the day and aid in muscle glycogen replenishment when consumed post workout. A plant based diet is naturally high in carbohydrates as fruits, vegetables and wholegrains make up majority of the days food intake. This is great as carbohydrates are high in a range of vitamins and minerals, fibre and water and are low in calories meaning you can eat a large amount and not need to worry about putting on excess weight. CARBS ARE NOT BAD!! Consuming complex carbohydrates in their natural form is so important! It’s when carbohydrate are processed and have other ingredients added to it that makes them ‘bad’. Processing usually removes many of the nutrients and strips away the fibre, while adding in salt, oils and other flavourings, preservatives or additives. So in the end… choose the potatoes instead of potato chips!! I aim to have roughly 2/3 of my plate coming from carbohydrate sources including a mix of grains, starches, non-starchy vegetables and/or fruits.
Moving onto the next macronutrient.. protein! Some of my favourite plant based protein sources include tofu (firm & silken), tempeh, edamame beans, TVP, legumes & lentils plus things like pulse pastas, whole grains and sometimes protein powders. If I do choose to consume a protein powder I’ll be sure to have it alongside something else and not as a stand alone shake. I love having it mixed with my morning oatmeal as it makes the oats super creamy and gives it a delicious flavour… my current favourite is strawberries and cream! Protein is the most satiating macronutrient and is best consumed in even amounts across the day to aid in muscle protein synthesis and repair which is especially important for those who are resistance training and trying to build lean muscle. Most vegetables have traces of protein in them so when you’re consuming an abundance of vegetables and including the higher protein sources I mentioned earlier you’re definitely going to hit your protein requirements. I aim to have a 1/3 of my plate come from plant based proteins.
The final thought I have when finishing off a plate is a source of fat. Fats are an essential part of a healthy diet and are important for many functions in the human body. I follow a whole foods low fat plant based diet which means I choose to consume small amounts of healthy fats from whole food sources where possible. These foods include avocado, nuts including walnuts, almonds etc, seeds such as sunflower, chia, flax etc, no added oil nut butters, whole olives and some coconut products. Including whole food fat sources ensures you’re also getting beneficial fibre along with the vitamins and minerals and when eaten with other healthy foods such as all those listed above aids in maximising nutrient absorption once digested. Some of my favourite ways to include a source of fat into a meal is a dollop of peanut butter or a sprinkle of seeds on my morning oats, a creamy lemon and tahini dressing on a salad for lunch or a scoop of fresh avocado alongside dinner – delicious as a guacamole on a burrito bowl!! I aim to include about a thumb size serving of fat with each meal.
And there you have it.. that concludes the very general/long winded way of describing my thoughts when I am putting together a meal. I aim for high nutrition, lots of flavour and a wide variety of ingredients. Not every meal is spot on when it comes to distribution but you get the general idea!