Planning Your Meals for Healthier Eating in California

So many individuals and families lose out on eating in a healthy manner because they put no effort into planning nutritious meals. We all know people who frequent fast food stands or buy quick meals from the market just to make eating more convenient.

For a whole other approach to eating in California, take a look at these sections:
•    The importance of eating together
•    Healthy meal patterns
•    Important ingredients to have at home0


The Importance of Eating Together

Often overlooked as a topic under the general umbrella of healthy eating is the importance of a family eating together. In today’s rushed society, in which family members are often doing their own thing, multi-tasking, spending their time on a computer, etc., spending the proper amount of time to eat and appreciate food can often take a back seat to almost everything else. However, those of us of a certain age remember a time when a family meal was a central point of the day. 

Here are some nutritional advantages for a family to eat together. For starters, meals planned, prepared, and shared together at home tend to be healthier and more balanced than meals eaten at restaurants or on the go. Children who eat with their families are known to be better nourished and have lower rates of obesity. Children and young adults who eat with their families consume more fruits, vegetables, milk and milk products compared to those who eat fewer family meals. Children have a natural curiosity about food so exposure to new foods at mealtime is important.

Healthy Meal Patterns

The California Department of Education recommends that adults follow a general meal pattern of breakfast, lunch or supper, and a snack. The CA Department of Education breaks food down into four basic food groups: milk, fruits/vegetables, grains/breads, and meat/meat alternatives. Their definition of “snack” is food taken from two of the four component food groups. For example, fruit/vegetable is considered a single component—thus a serving of fruit plus a serving of vegetable at the same supplemental meal will not meet the nutritious snack requirement. On the other hand, juice (fruit or vegetable) may be served with milk in the same snack to meet the requirement for two component food groups.

The California Department of Education recommends that dairy products be fat free, low-fat, cultured buttermilk, or lactose-reduced milk, and be fortified with vitamins A and D. Frozen yogurt and other nonstandard yogurts do not meet the requirement. Grain products, like pasta, noodles, and cereal grains (such as rice, bulgur, oats, wheat, or corn grits) should be whole-grain or enriched, and cornbread, biscuits, rolls, and muffins need to be made with whole-grain or enriched meal or flour to be nutritiously valuable. The same goes for cereal, including wheat germ, wheat bran, and oat bran. A bread serving is one slice of bread, equivalent to 25 grams (0.9 to 1 ounce) in weight. Dry cereal should be measured by either volume (cup) or weight (oz.), whichever is less. 

For the meat/meat alternative group, no more than 50 percent of the daily requirement should be mixed with nuts or seeds. Nut or seed butter may satisfy 100 percent of the daily intake requirement. Whole nuts or seeds shall be combined with another meat/meat alternative to fulfill the requirement. When determining combinations: 1 oz. of nuts or seeds is equal to 1 oz. of cooked lean meat, poultry, or fish and one-fourth cup of cottage cheese is equal to 1 oz. of meat/meat alternative.

Important Ingredients to Have at Home

For quick and balanced meals, there are some key food ingredients you should have at home. Some of these ingredients, grouped by food category, include:
• Dairy products: low-fat or fat-free milk, cheese sticks or wedges, cottage cheese, and Greek or regular  yogurt.
• Vegetables: avocado, broccoli, cabbage, coleslaw mix, carrots, onions, potatoes, salad  mix, soup, spinach  leaves, tomatoes or salsa, and yams.
• Fruits: apples, berries, raisins, grapes, oranges, mangos, peaches, pineapples, and  tangerines.
• Grains: whole-wheat bread, brown rice, whole-wheat English muffins, instant oatmeal,  flat bread, multi-  grain pancake mix, whole grain pasta and tortillas, and whole-wheat  waffles.
• Meat and Beans: black/garbanzo/pinto/refried beans, chicken, soybeans, eggs, fish  fillets, hamburger or  vegetarian patties, hummus, nuts, peanut or other nut butters,  canned salmon or tuna, and cooked or raw  shrimp.
• Oils, condiments and spices: barbecue sauce, croutons, olive oil, pesto, powdered  garlic.