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How You Can Build a Healthy & Affordable Meal Plan

Do you feel like all day every day you are bombarded with decisions about what to eat? There are endless choices everywhere you go. Not to mention wondering how to make it nutritionally sound, taste amazing, budget friendly, and hopefully something that everyone will enjoy.


Many of us are also contending with supply chain issues at the supermarket, finding that our staples are not available on the shelves when we need them. It can be overwhelming, stressful and often leads to analysis paralysis, whereby you find yourself ordering takeaway. Again. 


But it doesn’t have to be this way. With a few simple principles you can create a foundation to build your nourishing plate that is adaptable to the seasons, the items that are available (or that you can afford), as well as dietary requirements.


Non starchy vegetables - 50%.

Veggies really should be the star of the show when it comes to your meals, and we encourage you to fill half your plate with as many different vegetables as you can. Variety is key here - the more different coloured plants you can consume, the more antioxidants, vitamins and minerals you will be exposed to. Veggies are also a great source of fibre - some of which are known as prebiotics - that is, the food source of our beneficial bacteria that help to keep our gastro-intestinal eco system in balance.


Non starchy veggies include things such as salad greens, broccoli, cabbage, cucumber, zucchini, carrots and tomato. 


Starchy carbohydrate - 25%.

Carbohydrates have gotten a bad wrap over the years, but what is important to keep in mind here is that the TYPE of carbohydrate is important, as well as the amount consumed and the balance overall in your meal or diet. Carbohydrates are our bodies preferred energy source, acting as vital fuel for our organs and other metabolic processes. Starchy carbohydrates are broken down slowly in the body, which allows for sustained energy release and balanced blood sugars. They, like the non-starchy veggies, play an incredibly important role within the gut and can act as prebiotic fibres. 


Examples of starchy carbs include whole grains, legumes, potatoes, sweet potatoes, peas, corn and pseudo grains such as quinoa.


Protein - 25%

The next element on your plate should be protein, taking up about a quarter of the meal (this may change slightly depending on your level of activity, life stage, specific health conditions or body composition goals). Protein, which is broken down into amino acids, helps us to feel satiated, stabilises blood sugar levels, improves energy, is essential for hormone & neurotransmitter synthesis, as well as preventing carbohydrate cravings. 


Common sources of protein include meat, chicken, fish, eggs, dairy foods, legumes, nuts and seeds, tofu/tempeh.


Healthy fats.

I don’t generally like to give a specific recommendation around an amount of healthy fats, other than to make sure you include them! Fats are vital for providing an energy reserve, building hormones, and balancing blood sugar levels, supporting cell growth and repair, maintaining healthy cholesterol and blood pressure, and increasing nutrient absorption. Typically they will be found as a component within the foods already on your plate (for example nuts and seeds, oily fish, avocado or eggs), in the cooking process (cooking with butter, ghee, coconut milk or olive oil) or can be added on top (maybe a drizzle of extra oil, a sprinkling of cheese, or a handful of nuts and seeds). Either way, we want fats on our plate! 

One caveat here is that we want to avoid or minimise the consumption of heavily refined or trans fats. These are found in foods such as pastries, margarine, frozen and fast foods and have been linked with cardiovascular disease, impaired hormone synthesis, compromised immune function, weight gain and improper insulin metabolism.


Add your flavour. 

Anything goes here (well, almost anything), and you can change it up quite easily depending on what you have at home, or what you feel like. Some examples of seasonings and flavour enhancements include spices such as turmeric, cinnamon, cumin, paprika, herbs such as basil, oregano, rosemary, mint, chives and dill, old faithfuls such as onion, garlic, chilli, salt and pepper, or other incredible additions like miso, tamari, lemon juice, vinegar, or even capers or anchovies! The list is endless, so get creative and choose a few that you can add to each meal that you create. Don’t worry if you’re not a professional chef or haven’t experimented in this way before - sometimes the simple flavours are the best.


An important note on food waste.

We live in a world of impulsive eating and with an abundance of food choices around almost all of the time, we can very much start to eat what we "feel like" and neglect what we already have. Did you know that one third of all food produced is lost or wasted!? That is around 1.3 billion tonnes of food each year. Getting creative with the food we already have is a great way to minimise the amount of food that ends up in landfill, as well as being a great way to save money and explore our culinary skills.


So what will you be cooking next? Let us know below!

This article first appeared on Holism Health Co and is published with their permission. 

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