Learning to prepare healthy, well-balanced meals can be a diffiicult task. Sometimes, people are confused by the nutrition resources available to them. Sometimes people have a limited number of meals they know how to make. Sometimes they have limited food available to cook with. Here are some ways I have worked on nutrition and menu-planning with my clients.
I am certainly not a nutritionist. Fortunately, there are many resources available written by qualified professionals. Unfortunately, many of these resources are written in a way that can be difficult to understand. I often use the Canada's Food Guide to explain basic nutrition to my clients, but it requires quite a bit of explaining. I help my clients figure out how many portions of each food group they should be consuming, but then also talk about what this means for individual meals. Often people are surprised to hear they should be having a fruit or vegetable at every meal and every snack.
My employer has cards with pictures of foods on them that are helpful for clarifying healthy and unhealthy foods. I often review how to read a Nutrition Facts label.
Canadian Diabetes Association has a "Just the Basics" guide, and on page 2, there is a picture of a plate showing the appropriate servings of the different food groups. There is also a picture of what a serving size should look like in comparison to a person's hands. I love these resources because they are so visual and practical. It is not realistic to expect people to measure their quantities of foods all the time, and it is much easier to compare it to your hand size.
Sometimes we have difficulty thinking of a variety of items we know how to make. We often end up making the same foods over and over because they are the first things we think of making. This limits the variety of our food, which means less nutrition as well as less enjoyment of our food. I often use an "Ideas for Meals" worksheet where the client lists the foods he or she is able to prepare. Foods are listed according to breakfast, lunch, supper, snacks, and beverages. This can then be posted on the refrigerator as a reminder. I have found this helpful for myself as well.
Many people benefit from creating a menu plan. The format of the menu plan can really vary from person to person. Some prefer a weekly one, some monthly, and some every two weeks. Some people like to make a different plan every time, while others like to re-use the same one. Some people only plan their main meal, whereas others like to plan all their meals and snacks.
The menu-plan format I have used most frequently is the weekly plan of all meals and snacks. I strongly encourage looking through the cupboards and refrigerator and making a list of foods currently available before creating the menu plan. For a while I was diligently planning my meals every week, and I found my grocery bill actually increased! The reason for the increase in price was that I was planning the foods I wanted to eat, and not the foods that I should be eating to use them up. Another good idea is to check the grocery flyers prior to planning the week's meals to be able to incorporate items that are on sale. It can also be helpful to check the calendar to see what events are planned for the week that you may have to arrange your meals around.
Canada's food guide also has a servings tracker that can be helpful for recording nutrition. There are several different versions, based on gender and age, to match the food guide.
I hope you find some of these resources and ideas helpful, and I would love to hear any other ideas.