In a typical balanced meal model, the entrée occupies one fourth of the plate. So why do we build every meal around the entrée? If we look back only a short distance in our East Texas history, we find a generation who ate meat less often. For example a meal of red beans, cornbread and greens with milk would have been very desirable and very nutritious as well. But with the post war boom came greater affluence which changed our meal choices as it did many things.
But back to our Balanced Meal Model. Why is it so important to limit our meat servings? The simple answer is calories and nutrients. Calories are concentrated in meat and dairy products. This is not a bad thingas long as we don’t eat them to the exclusion of vegetables, fruits and whole grains. Different vitamins and minerals are found in different foods. So the meat lovers are getting more calories and missing nutrients from plant foods. Not shown in this ideal plate model would be the fruit that we have for dessert.
A balanced plate is more than just nutrients. When we eat foods from different groups (vegetables, starch, meat, dairy, fruit) together in a meal, we increase the satiety of the meal. It satisfies us longer. This means less over eating. Also a balanced meal means better glucose control. This reduces my risk of having diabetes or if I have diabetes, it helps me to hit my target blood sugar level.
Meats are very flavorful. But some accompaniments are worth planning the meal around. While a challenge to our traditional thinking about meal planning the rewards are apparent when you find the right recipe. Take Polenta for example. Polenta derives from early grains such as millet, spelt or chickpeas that were cooked into a porridge. These foods have been enjoyed since Roman times. Corn brought from the new world gave Europe another grain to work with. Today, polenta is popular in Italy and has recently made its way onto American tables. It is a cornmeal based dish that can be flavored many different ways and then baked, fried or grilled. The ingredients will be familiar to your diners and yet bring an exotic touch to your table.
As the springtime unfolds and you are looking to shed some of the calories from winter, trim meat portions to 4 ounces cooked weight. That will leave room on your plate for vegetables, fruits and whole grains. After a balanced meal, let’s go play in the garden!
Tim Scallon is a registered dietitian nutritionist and Director of Clinical Nutrition and the HC Polk Education Center at Memorial Health System in Lufkin. The Polk Center provides education on diabetes, heart disease and weight loss and sponsors monthly classes and support groups on healthy lifestyle. In cooperation with Sodexo Food Service and the City of Lufkin, the Polk Center produces the nationally viewed TV series Memorial Cooking Innovations featuring Tim Scallon and the celebrated Chef Manuel Marini. Memorial Cooking Innovations celebrates the joy of fresh food and healthy eating and can be seen on cable in 46 cities and online at https://www.memorialhealth.org. On the website find healthy recipes, past cooking shows and sound nutrition information. Call 639-7585 for more information.
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