You’ve done your research, you’ve found a meal plan that works for you and your family, and everyone seems to be enjoying it. Shopping is easier, you pre-make your meals for the week, the recipes give you variations of old favorites, and even the kids seem to be less picky.
It’s progressing like a dream…
And then you go on vacation. And all of a sudden, that meal plan goes to you-know where! Your eating times are off, you’re eating in restaurants, and the kids have reverted to their “chicken nugget and mac-and-cheese” go-to meal.
Does any of this sound familiar?
To paraphrase an old saying, even the best plans can get screwed up. It doesn’t need to be due to vacation either. Changes in day-to-day life, such as altered work hours or after-school activities can make just as much of a mess of your carefully planned meal calendar.
But all is not lost.
If you can’t stick to your meal plan, there are several choices you can make to keep yourself and your family eating healthily so you don’t fall completely off the cliff. Even better? Actually, many of these choices should already be a part of the plan itself, so it shouldn’t be that difficult to implement them.
Here are some of the best foods to eat if you can’t stick to your meal plan. Underneath them, I’ll include some to avoid as well.
No matter what else you’re eating, your protein choices should be lean.
It’s pretty safe to say that no matter where you are, you should be able to find chicken. Boneless, skinless breasts or thighs are the best choice, but legs and wings are okay too.
Pork is another good lean protein to eat. In fact, cuts from the loin (chops and roast) are actually leaner than skinless chicken thighs.
Fish and Shellfish
Salmon leads the way as one of the best fish choices you can make. It’s high in omega-3 fatty acids and can be served in numerous ways. Albacore tuna is another good one; fresh is better, but ethically sourced canned is okay in a pinch (just don’t add too much mayo!)
Most shellfish are also acceptable, but you have to be aware of the way they are prepared. Breaded popcorn shrimp is not the greatest choice, while farmed oysters can be an excellent source of omega-3s.
Tempeh and tofu are often used as protein alternatives, especially for vegans, and I think they’re okay in small doses. But both are soy-based, so you may want to limit.
What to avoid? There are a few things to be aware of when it comes to lean proteins.
Many restaurants have recently become more health-conscious when it comes to the usual options. For example, some offer their wings “breaded or naked.” Always choose naked to avoid those extra bread carbs.
If you just can’t eat “dry” foods and need to have some kind of sauce or liquid, opt for items like balsamic or EVOO. If these aren’t available, at least ask for the sauce on the side so you can limit the amount you eat.
All fish aren’t equal.
While salmon and some whitefish are okay, as are oysters, there are other fish to avoid. Chilean sea bass and grouper have started showing up on several menus, but they are known to have high mercury levels, as does bluefin tuna.
To complicate fish choices, there are differences between farmed and fresh versions (i.e., wild-caught, Alaskan salmon (good) vs farmed salmon (bad). If you want to make earth-healthy, environmentally sustainable fish choices, check out this excellent resource from the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
You should be careful of fruits. They’re called “nature’s candy” because of the amount of natural sugars they have.
Blackberries, raspberries, and strawberries are good choices for their lower sugar and higher fiber content – plus they make delicious natural smoothies (watch out for the dairy in those, though).
While many people know that a tomato is a fruit it is not widely known that avocados are as well. They’re low in carbs, high in fiber, and contain several vitamins and nutrients.
So, wait, does that make salsa and guacamole a fruit salad?
Spinach, microgreens, arugula, Swiss chard…it’s hard to go wrong with these low-carb, high-fiber choices, especially Kale, as it is one of the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet.
What to avoid
As with lean proteins, be aware of the preparation of fruits and vegetables. I already mentioned dairy in a smoothie, and many salad dressings are questionable do the sheer number of them that use high fructose corn syrup.
Bananas are high in starch and dried fruits like raisins have had all of the goodness sucked out of them. Raw, natural fruits and vegetables will always be better than anything that has been dried or prepared.
As I mentioned at the outset, many of these food choices should already be part of your meal plan. If they aren’t, see if you can work them in. If they are, you’re already on the right path to making healthy decisions. Stick to the foods that you know will work for your family, be aware of the preparation, and make the best choices possible. Then, if your plans happen to fall apart, you won’t have that much to do to get back on track.
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