The USDA has a new set of simple guidelines for eating a nutritionally balanced meal. Fill half your plate with vegetables, choose a protein for another quarter, and use the remaining quarter for foods rich in carbohydrates. Sticking to these proportions will automatically bring your calories in line with healthy eating while you still enjoy a full plate of tasty food -- plus you'll have the energy you need to sail through your busy afternoon. Banish blah diets and enjoy a 500-calorie lunch that tastes indulgent even though it's sensible.
Too many dieters shun salads. "Salad" once meant heaps of iceberg lettuce with a few pallid tomatoes and not enough dressing, but that concept is as outdated as fins on cars. The contemporary take on salad as a meal involves a variety of fresh, crisp greens with an array of tastes and textures to make each bite enticing. Lettuce may sustain a rabbit, but to make your lunch salad satisfying, mix in some toasted pine nuts, chopped egg, shreds of roasted chicken or pork, cubes of dried fruit, crunchy croutons and a delicious dressing to bring it all together. Choose a fat-free creamy dressing and you'll have room in your calorie budget for a piece of fruit or a cup of yogurt for dessert -- if you have room for dessert after this substantial salad, that is.
Omelets and Frittatas
Whole eggs have 70 calories apiece, but egg whites contain fewer than 100 calories per cup. Use this fact to whip up a truly satisfying brunch with a combination of whole eggs and whites. Mixing one whole egg to every two egg whites gives you the rich taste and sunny color that you expect of eggs, but reduces calories significantly. Try an omelet stuffed with vegetables alongside a slice of toast with jelly and two slices of lean ham; your plate and your stomach will be full on about 400 calories. Make up the difference with fresh fruit to bring you up to an even 500 calories. Frittatas are like an omelet poured over a skillet meal; after sauteing vegetables, simply pour an egg mixture over them and cook over low heat until it sets. Sprinkle a low-fat cheese on top for extra flavor, or drizzle on your favorite fat-free creamy dressing.
Go beyond plain white bread when you make sandwiches for yourself and your kids and you'll save on calories. Instead of white bread, choose flat whole wheat breads and turn plain square sandwiches into fun-to-eat wraps or spirals. Wraps and rolls give you more space to pile on the bulky, but low-calorie foods that sate your physical hunger and satisfy your urge to munch. Load your wrap with blanched asparagus, fresh spinach, peppers, mushrooms and onions as well as meats and cheeses that appeal. Switch out caloric spreads for fat-free dressing, nutritious olive tapenade or hummus; you'll get more flavor and fewer calories. Try a taste of something sweet with your savory meal and spread cranberry relish on a turkey wrap or stuff a pork wrap with sliced apples.
Kids might give vegetables on the plate a suspicious look, but put those same vegetables in a bowl of soup and they eat them happily. Make the most of their fondness for soup with lower-calorie versions of their favorites. Broth-based soups tend to be naturally low in calories, so stick with minestrone, chicken noodle and beefy vegetable over creamy or cheesy soups. Season with a dash of dry dressing and seasoning mix to add a kick of flavor. Boost nutrition with extras like protein-rich beans and finely chopped greens. Swap white potato chunks with high-fiber sweet potatoes or low-calorie acorn squash.
Mixing, Matching and Measuring
The more variety you and your family enjoy during the meal, the more satisfying you'll find your lunch. Keep a number of salad dressings and mix-ins on hand to provide variety. On a weekend, prepare a big pot of soup and a number of sandwich wraps, then divide the portions so you and the kids can grab one of each and have a different lunch every day of the week. Pre-portion foods so that any combination of soup, salad, sandwich wrap and fruit or yogurt dessert adds up to 500 calories. For example, a 150-calorie cup of soup plus a 100-calorie salad complete with fat-free creamy dressing and a 250-calorie sandwich wrap is perfect for an active day when you know you'll be extra hungry. Drop the soup and replace it with some slices of fresh fruit for a lighter or more portable meal.