“What should I eat?” or “What should I make for dinner?” How many times have you asked yourself these questions?
I developed the MEAL TRIFECTA because what we “should” eat and what we “want” to eat are sometimes worlds apart. The MEAL TRIFECTA is a protein, a vegetable, and a starch. All three are important parts of the meal not only for their nutritional value, but also for their satisfaction power and significance in weight loss and weight management. They are the building blocks of a meal, or what I refer to as The Anatomy of the Meal.
Meals need to taste really good, satisfy us and provide us with nutrition. Taste is based on individual preference; I can’t change this. But I can help change the way you approach and think about meal planning and “meal picking” (this is what happens when we are not in control of what we are being served, such as a buffet or family style holiday meal.)
Constructing a Meal
First, let’s look at protein. Despite how people think about protein, it is not a magical food, void of calories. Protein’s power is in its ability to satisfy your appetite and keep you satisfied over time.
Next the starch, or what most people call the carbohydrate or “carb”. Yes, you are “allowed” to eat a carbohydrate at your meals, and in fact I recommend it. Why? Because starches, which are made up of carbohydrates, give our meals volume, and keep us mentally satisfied. When we don’t have a starch with the meal we often say, “I am physically satisfied but something is missing.”
Lastly, the vegetable. Poor vegetables, they get a bad rap. People never feel like making them. We all know why vegetables are important, but for meal planning they become even more important because they give our meals more bulk and satisfying power.
Proteins provide the chronological satisfaction
Carbohydrates allow for the psychological satisfaction
Vegetables provide extra physical satisfaction
OK, I know what you are thinking. Where is the fat? Ideally fat is found in one of two ways. They are either found naturally in the food or they are added in during the cooking or preparation process, but in either case they are in small amounts.
The reason why I don’t believe fats have their own place in the MEAL TRIFECTA is because they find their way into the meal one way or another. They are not forgotten, instead, fats are a silent part of a meal.
How Fats Fit In
Fats are naturally calorically dense, which means they have a relatively high amount of calories for the amount of volume they hold. All too often, fats are added in high quantities when home cooks and professional chefs prepare meals. Butter, oils, cream, mayonnaise, cheese, etc. are what I call “fats in the preparation”, that easily find their way into our meals, everyday, and meal after meal. Unfortunately, people usually do not take these into consideration because the fat isn’t visible or voluminous…more about this in another post very soon.
Fats are also found in our meals even if we don’t add them because most foods – including grains, eggs, fish, meat, legumes, poultry-naturally have fat in them. If we are eating a balanced diet, even if the foods we eat are lean and naturally low in fat, when we add them up throughout the day we tend to get enough fat in our diets. Going out of our way to add more isn’t typically necessary.
I find when people mindfully incorporate foods into their meals that naturally have fat in them, they tend to get the most satisfaction; versus when they add “fats in the preparation” to their meals. This is the case because fats such as avocado, nut butters, nuts and seeds, cheeses etc. are also nutrient dense, meaning they tend to be relatively rich in nutrients for the amount of calories they contain.
Why am I spending this much time writing about fats? Well because I think people tend to add too much of them to their meals without even realizing it.
Planning a Sample Meal
For instance, when I am preparing an omelet for dinner, (because who doesn’t love breakfast for dinner sometimes right?). The MEAL TRIFECTA looks like this:
Starch: Whole Wheat Toast
Vegetable: Tomato, Spinach and Mushrooms (in the omelet)
I use nonstick cooking spray to coat the pan to cook the omelet instead of butter or oil. I don’t need to go out of my way to add anymore fat to the meal, the eggs provide enough. Let’s say I wanted cheese in my omelet. Knowing that cheese is high in fat, yes it does contain protein but the eggs are considered the protein in the meal, the cheese then would be considered the fat in the meal. I could then switch the eggs to egg whites since they both are high in protein but the egg whites have less fat. The cheese will supply the fat instead and it will balance out. Voilá – a complete meal.
I will leave you with one last thought to further help take the chore out of meal preparation. Use the MEAL TRIFECTA like a formula when meal planning. Instead of asking “What should I eat?” or “What should I make for dinner? Ask yourself, “What will my protein, my starch, and my vegetable be?” You will see it makes meal planning so much more simple and manageable; it also makes food shopping a snap.