THE BLOG
05/17/2013 03:45 pm ET Updated Jul 17, 2013

Tips for Eating Balanced Meals While on the Run: Nutrition Made Simple for Busy Families

As a Latina mom and a nutritionist, not a day goes by that I don't worry about what to feed my family, so I know how difficult it is for most moms to try to prepare a balanced meal (even breakfast) in a snap or find healthy choices when eating out. Research shows that Hispanic consumers are more likely to eat meals away from home -- maybe due to lack of time for cooking and cleaning -- and they look for tasty options that get them ready in a simple way. So, is there a way to go to a restaurant, enjoy a delicious meal out and still follow a healthy eating plan? Well, eating well-balanced meals outside of your home is no picnic, either! Nevertheless, the solution is not so complicated. As a dietitian, let me share a few basic principles of health and nutrition I have learned and practiced not only with my patients but with my own family.

I have compiled a few tips to help you make smart choices when trying to eat balanced meals while on the run.

Always, start your day with breakfast: Skipping breakfast is like running a car on empty. When we skip breakfast, not only are we missing out on essential nutrients, but we are more prone to consume more calories than the omitted ones, due to poor decision-making led by hunger.  Great-tasting options under 300 calories are available! McDonald's, for example, offers wholesome breakfast choices that can fit varying caloric needs -- like the Egg White Delight McMuffin, at 250 calories, is the newest breakfast option perfect for busy customers looking for a wholesome option on the go.

Enjoy the conversation: It is all about the ambiance, the music and the people around you. Try to create a relax environment during your meals; sit and relax instead of being worried and eating while working, texting, standing or walking.  Try to avoid provocative conversations at the table -- instead, offer pleasant and fun conversations.

Find people with comparable goals: Surround yourself with people who motivate and inspire you. Try to spend time with people who inspire a positive attitude in you, and surround yourself with people who support your goals and new style of living.  Create friendships with other people who also want to improve their health so that you can encourage each other during your journey.  Also, remember to make time for you, as few people will remind you to "slow down and smell the roses."

Eat your meals at regular times: It is a good practice to try to consume three meals and two small snacks on most days.  Remember to eat your meals on time and never skip a meal or snack.  Also, consider eating one small snack before going out to eat outside of your home.  You will experience a difference in mood and will have better control over your food choices.

Avoid using foods to pacify emotions: Do not use your restaurant outings to pacify or alleviate your pain and suffering.  Foods are meant to provide the nourishment that our bodies need, and to help aid in daily functions. Foods were never meant to be used as a reward or punishment.  When using foods as reward, you are only developing a habit of overeating in difficult times.  Provide comfort at difficult moments with love, attention and not with foods.

Make it a small portion: A good habit is to request appropriate portions for your body, age and activity. Decide how much you are going to eat from your plate, even though you think that they are serving you more or less what you know your body needs. Leave time between bites so that your brain knows when you are satisfied.  Trust your own instincts, and please do no not force yourself to finish everything on the plate -- never! Learn to share not only dessert but also main entrees and even appetizers.  Send any leftovers back so they can be immediately put them in a take-home container.

Chooses a variety of foods: The simplest way to make sure you are eating a well balanced meal is by making sure your plate has plenty of colors.  This is the easiest way to make sure you are getting a variety of nutrients.  Choose meals with an abundance of fruits and vegetables.  In addition, make sure your daily meals include skim or low-fat milk and dairy products, beans and lean meats, and whole or enriched grain breads and cereals -- and from time to time, surprise yourself with a small treat.

Avoid or limit alcohol consumption: Alcoholic beverages only provide hundreds of empty calories. Also, after two or three glasses, you are not going to have much control over what you are eating. 

Beverages count: Know that there are plenty of low- or no-calorie beverages available for when you have reached your recommended calories for the meal. But also, know that it is okay to give yourself a treat now and then.

Attack hunger, not the bread basket: It takes time for your brain to get the signal that you are already satisfied. When hunger attacks, wait 15 minutes and drink some water -- chances are that you are dehydrated and not hungry. Eat slowly and take time to savor the foods you are eating.  That bread or chip basket can provide hundreds of calories without you even realizing it.

Keep active most days of the week: Try to burn at least 300 calories per day, if you know that you are going to go out to eat.  You will feel better knowing that you burned the extra calories that you are about to consume.

For more by Sylvia E. Meléndez-Klinger, click here.

For more on diet and nutrition, click here.

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