Menu Planning

Each of the basic food groups supplies a different combination of nutrients, vitamins and minerals. Remember, variety is the key to good nutrition. Below are the basic food groups and recommended servings.

Lean meat, skinless poultry and fish No more than 6 oz. (cooked) per day; fish twice a week
Vegetables and fruits 5 or more per day
Fat-free milk and low-fat dairy products 2-4 per day (depends on age)
Breads, cereals, pasta and starchy vegetables 6 or more per day
Fats, oils, nuts and sweets, eggs Use sparingly

Good menu planning is based on balancing the foods you eat. When choosing foods, consider how many calories are in each serving. You should also learn about the amount of saturated fat, total fat, cholesterol and sodium these foods may add to your daily menu. Choose foods low in saturated fat, trans-fat, cholesterol and sodium. Read labels and ingredient lists to find out what a product contains.

Another good thing to consider is how often and when you eat each day.. A recent study published in The British Medical Journal found that people who ate six small meals each day had an average cholesterol level that was five percent lower than people who ate only one or two big meals each day. The study, conducted at the University of Cambridge, found that eating more frequently also lowered levels of artery-clogging LDL cholesterol.

If you don't eat regularly, your metabolism slows down and your body absorbs and stores more of the food you eat, including cholesterol and fat. If you eat more frequently, your metabolism speeds up because your body "learns" that more food will be on the way, thus burning off calories instead of storing them and absorbing less cholesterol and fat. Eating breakfast is a great way to jumpstart your metabolism each day. It's also a good idea to consume most of your food during daylight hours because that's when you're most active. For most people, eating after 7 p.m. is like putting gas into a car that isn't going to be driven.

Here is a typical menu and schedule for a low saturated fat, low cholesterol, high fiber diet. This example would provide about 1,800 calories.

7:30 a.m.
1/2 cup cooked oatmeal; one cup skim milk; one slice of whole wheat toast with one tablespoon peanut butter; one cup of blueberries

10 a.m.
8 ounces of non-fat yogurt with a tablespoon of walnuts or flax seeds

2:30 p.m.
1 Large spinach salad (two cups) topped with carrots, radishes, onion, cucumber and two ounces of tuna (packed in water), a teaspoon of olive oil and a tablespoon of vinegar; six whole-wheat crackers; one apple

3 p.m.
One cup of raw vegetables and one-quarter cup of hummus dip

6 p.m.
Three ounces of grilled, skinless chicken breast; one cup of brown rice; 1.5 cups of steamed broccoli; one piece of fruit

8 p.m.
One piece of fruit or three cups of light microwave or air popped popcorn