LEE ANNE GRACE: Planning meals a big help in good nutrition

We all have to eat to live, but to eat intelligently day after day is much like a creating work of art, taking many years to perfect.
I have been getting more comfortable as time passes with making healthy choices, but I still make mistakes that I have to paint over by experimenting with new techniques or returning to a brush stroke that I’m comfortable with. I still learn new things every day, much like a painter honing and perfecting his skill.
Interestingly enough, I still eat about the same volume of food as I did when I was extremely overweight. The difference is that I try to choose foods that are filling and packed with nutrients. In my unhealthy days I would frequently eat foods filled with empty calories that brought momentarily pleasure but didn’t satisfy long-term hunger. My goal each day is to eat at least two servings of lean protein, two to three servings of dairy products, three to four servings of whole grains and five servings of fruits and veggies. Most days I eat closer to seven servings of fruits and veggies. Over time I have acquired a taste for fresh vegetables and fruit. It took a while, but now when I need a snack, I would much rather have a fresh juicy apple or crisp baby carrots instead of chips and sweets. I avoid processed foods, fried food, foods with refined sugar.

Breakfast
Everything you’ve heard about the importance of eating breakfast is true. Numerous studies show starting each day with a healthy breakfast is crucial to long-term weight maintenance. The days I don’t eat breakfast I have trouble staying on track for the rest of the day.
One of my favorite breakfasts is sliced fresh fruit topped with nonfat Greek yogurt and about 1⁄2 cup of a whole grain cereal, such as Kashi GoLean or Fiber One. Greek yogurt is a good choice because it has double the amount of protein as regular yogurt. In additional to adequate protein consumption being important to overall health, protein helps to keep you stay fuller longer. I like to buy large bags of frozen mixed fruit to have on hand so not having fresh fruit or the time to slice it is never an excuse.
Oatmeal is also a good breakfast choice. The instant packets will do in a pinch, but you have to be mindful of the sugar content. I prefer to buy the large canisters of plain oatmeal. I measure out 1⁄2 cup dry oatmeal, then add 1 cup water and zap it in the microwave for about two minutes. Once it’s ready, I add cinnamon and no calorie sweetener. I may top with fresh fruit, or stir in a few raisins or almonds.
Egg white omelets are delicious and are fun to make when I have time. I sauté green onions, mushrooms, chopped spinach, and/or bell peppers in a nonstick skillet. Add 1⁄2 cup Egg Beater egg whites and make an omelet. I like to put the omelet in a FlatOut multigrain wrap and eat it burrito style. They can be used as sandwich wraps, crust for pizza, cut into strips for baked chips – the possibilities are endless. These are available in the deli bread section at local grocery stores.

Lunch
I always pack my lunch. That way I not only save money by not eating out, but I also stay on track nutritionally.
During the winter months I make homemade soup on the weekend and divide it into individual servings and freeze it. I put the container of frozen soup in my lunch box and warm it up at lunch time. I have several easy recipes I alternate. These include a chicken, vegetable and brown rice soup; taco soup; vegetable soup; and black bean soup.
I usually pack fresh fruit (apples, oranges, pears, bananas, grapes, strawberries are all good choices) and some raw veggies with hummus as a dip. A container of non fat yogurt completes the meal.
I also pack salads, leftovers from dinner or wraps (filled with chicken, tuna, salmon or beans, and lots of veggies). I like to use salad spritzers for portion control, or put the dressing to the side and dip my fork in before spearing the lettuce. That way I get a taste of the dressing without a lot of extra calories.
There are many healthy options other than the ones I have listed. The important thing is to not be afraid to experiment and to be aware of the nutritional content of what you are putting in your body.
Remember, plan what you eat, and eat what you plan and if you bite it, write it. (Keep a food journal.)
Next month’s column will be devoted to healthy dinner and snack ideas.

Lee Anne Grace is an elementary music teacher for Tupelo Public Schools. After reaching a weight of almost 300 pounds and failing at numerous diets for over 25 years, she has been successful at losing weight and maintaining her weight loss for three years. She is the mother of two teenage daughters and enjoys running in her spare time.

Lee Anne Grace