How much protein should you eat?

Read about which foods are considered protein foods here. Read about protein and amino acids here.

As always, this post is meant to be informative and educational and is not a prescription or recommendation for you as I cannot know your individual situation and needs. If you have concerns about your protein intake and want a specific recommendation, speak with a dietitian!

My goal in writing these blogs is to give you practical, easy to understand, not overwhelming nutrition information. Breaking down how to eat protein has been more difficult than I expected because there are so many different opinions about what the best amount of protein to eat is.

While this can be confusing and overwhelming, my takeaway for you is this: there is a wide range of protein intake that can be healthy. The amount of protein you eat can be flexible and for the most part can be adjusted to your preferences. (It is harder to get it wrong than a lot of people would like you to think it is.)

Two fast and easy ways to know how much protein to eat:

MyPlate is the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s recommended eating pattern. It isn’t perfect, but if about 1/4 of what you eat is protein food, you will most likely get enough protein – pretty easy to visualize if most of your meals are eaten on a plate.

If you only eat plant protein (vegans, and maybe some vegetarians), this still applies, but it is especially important for you to make sure you eat plenty of whole grains and vegetables as well. Keep reading here, but check out this post next.

Another super quick and easy method is to aim for about a palm-sized serving of protein foods with each meal. I like this method because it scales to the size of each person. A large person (who will need more protein) generally has a larger hand size. A tiny toddler (who needs less protein) has a tiny palm.

Image by Clker-Free-Vector-Images from Pixabay

These two illustrations are also helpful because there is some research showing that eating your protein throughout the day (with each meal) is more beneficial than eating it all at once. (As your body uses protein throughout the day for many many purposes)

Now, as I said above, the amount of protein in a healthy diet can be very flexible, so you can eat more protein than this and totally still be healthy, as long as you aren’t excluding other necessary foods.

Do you like to do math and want to calculate the amount of protein you need? This section is for you.

(If you don’t like math, just skip to the next section 🙂 )

The minimum amount of protein required to prevent loss of lean body mass (muscle) in adults with no physical activity is generally calculated by dietitians as 0.8 grams of protein for every kilogram of body weight. (0.8g protein x kg of body weight). Factoring in a minimal amount of physical activity raises needs to about 1 gram per kilogram of body weight. In case you don’t feel like converting kilos to pounds, this works out to about 0.45g of protein per pound of body weight. If someone is critically ill, more active, or pregnant, this amount could increase, up to 2.0g/kg.

In terms of actual food, 1g per kg works out to about 1 oz of “meat equivalents” per 15 lbs of body weight. This is a rough estimate best suited to finding the base amount of protein you should eat. If you are concerned about your protein intake, or have questions, consult a dietitian! (I know I said it before – but it’s important! Also that’s what dietitians are here for!)

1 oz “meat equivalent = 1 oz meat, poultry or fish – about matchbox-sized
About 7g protein=1 egg
1 8-oz glass of cow milk or soy milk*
1 oz cheese – about thumb sized
1/2 cup beans or lentils
1/4 cup or 1 oz nuts or seeds
2 Tbsp peanut butter or other nut butter
1/4 cup Greek yogurt or 1 cup regular yogurt (check the label)
2 oz tofu
*almond milk, rice milk, and other alternative milks generally have less protein, check the label.

Whole grains and vegetables also contribute a small amount of protein (2-3g per serving)

There are some people who believe that everyone should eat more than this amount, and there are studies showing benefits of higher protein intake – such as improved muscle maintenance and function in older adults (1-1.2 g per kg body weight), improved satiety, and improved blood glucose control, among other things. Most people can eat up to 2g protein per kilogram of body weight without problems (those with chronic kidney disease would be an exception).

For some perspective, The Institute of Medicine recommends 10-35% of calories come from protein. For a 2000 calorie diet (which is the one used to calculate Nutrition Facts on labels), that is between 50 and 175 g of protein, or between 7 and 25 1-oz “meat equivalents”. Quite a large window. If 10-35% of your calories come from protein foods and you are above the 1g per kg minimum, you will probably be fine. Of course, (yes I’m going to say it again) if you have concerns, speak with a registered dietitian.

Question time!

What happens if you don’t eat enough protein?

Too little protein intake results in a loss of lean body mass (muscle) because your body will break down the protein it is already carrying (muscle) to maintain its function. That’s why it is important that you are eating at least the minimum that your body needs. See this post for more information about how protein is used in your body.

Can you eat too much protein?

Yes. But if you don’t have a specific condition that would make it directly harmful, harm from eating too much protein is much more likely to be from two other causes:

1. Not eating enough from other food groups, like fruits, vegetables, and grains because of eating so much protein. This might mean missing out on important nutrients like vitamin C or fiber that come from those other food groups. This is especially likely when eating only animal protein foods.

2. Getting too much of the other nutrients that are often present in protein-rich foods. For example, cheese is high in saturated fat and sodium, which can be harmful for blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Many processed meats are very high in sodium and saturated fat as well. Again, this is more likely to be a concern with animal protein foods.

Extremely high protein intake can be harmful to the kidneys, however this is usually only in extremely high intake (like more than 2.0g/kg) over a long period of time. If you are getting most of your protein from foods, incorporating your other food groups, not taking excessive protein supplements, and don’t have any medical conditions, you are unlikely to be harmed by eating too much protein. Again, if you are concerned that you may be eating too much protein, consult a dietitian.

If you eat a lot of protein, will it make your muscles grow automatically?. No

If you aren’t exercising (or growing, or using steroids) to stimulate muscle growth, that extra protein will just be used for energy or stored as fat. See this post if you want more information about how this works.

Can you eat as much protein as you want without gaining weight? No

If you eat more protein than your body needs for its building and energy needs, it will still be converted to fat, just like any other food. See this post if you have more questions.

However, diets that allow unlimited protein (and limit carbohydrates or fats) have been shown to be helpful for weight loss. So why is this?

Protein tends to be more satisfying than carbohydrates or fats, so the thought is that eating more protein than other food groups makes you “full” faster and so limits the total amount you end up eating, resulting in weight loss.

So protein isn’t a magical weight loss food. But if it helps you eat less and still be satisfied, then it may help you lose weight (and as long as you are getting all the other nutrients you need, that’s fine).

What if I don’t eat meat? What about plant-based proteins?

Plant-based protein post coming next week! (I tried to fit it all in one post but it was too long!)

What other questions do you have about protein? Leave me a comment!

Resources if you would like to learn more:

Simple, flexible “stir fry”

Jump straight to instructions

Back with another recipe that’s more of a framework than a recipe because of how flexible it is. It’s a great way to eat veggies because they’re automatically included in the meal. It’s also an easy way to eat veggies that you might need to use up before they go bad. It comes together fairly quickly – even quicker if you use frozen veggies, and makes good leftovers.

Please note, this is the way I have found easy for stir-frying. Certainly it is not an authentic Asian stir-fry – I don’t even use a wok. But it makes edible, nutritious, and pretty tasty food.

Update September 2020: If you want to learn how to make an authentic stir-fry, I suggest you learn from The Woks of Life . This blog, written by a family of four excellent cooks, is an encyclopedia of Asian cooking. Super informative and interesting to read, I haven’t even made a dent in their content and I’m learning so much. The link above will take you to their post on how to make stir fry.

The ingredients you will need:

stir fry ingredients: garlic, ginger, cooking oil, veggies, soy sauce
  • Garlic cloves, or minced garlic
  • Ginger, or minced ginger
  • Veggies (whatever veggies you would like to have in a stir fry. Some ideas include: broccoli, cabbage, carrots, green onions, sugar snap peas, peas, mushrooms, green beans, mushrooms, zucchini or Italian squash, turnips. You can even use frozen veggies to save chopping time)
  • Cooking oil that can withstand a fairly high heat, like canola, grapeseed, or avocado oil
  • Soy sauce
  • Some sort of protein (Check out a list of protein foods here in case you need ideas. I often like to use chicken, pork, or scrambled eggs. In the pictures I’ve used shrimp and tofu)
  • Optionally but recommended, some grains to serve your stir fry with
bowl of brown rice

I recommend preparing some whole grains to serve with your stir fry – I usually use brown rice, but you could use noodles, or even quinoa if you want. The stir fry cooks pretty fast so you will probably want to cook them beforehand.

First you will need to mince your garlic and ginger. Unless you’ve purchased pre-minced garlic and ginger (hooray! one less thing to do!)

chopped cabbage

Next, you will want to chop up your protein and vegetables into bite-size-ish pieces. Make sure you wash your hands, knife, and cutting board with soap and water after cutting raw meat. If you are using frozen vegetables, they are already probably chopped so you can skip this too! (There are broccoli and carrots under that cabbage, just so you know).

Note, some proteins are already in bite-size pieces, like shrimp or beans

If your protein needs to be cooked (raw meat, poultry or fish, or egg) you will cook the protein first, and then the vegetables. If your protein just needs to be warmed through (tofu, cooked beans, pre-cooked meat) you will cook the vegetables first and then just add the protein for the last few minutes to warm them through.

ginger and garlic in a cast iron pan

Heat a large frying pan over medium-high heat. Add a few tablespoons of oil. Once the oil is warm (it shimmers or moves easily when you tilt the pan), add half your ginger and garlic and stir around. Let cook for just a few minutes to flavor the oil

slighly overcooked ginger and garlic

Here I’ve accidentally cooked this a little too long – those brown bits toward the top will taste a little burnt and bitter. It’s fine to eat, just try not to get to this point.

shrimp cooking in cast iron pan

If your protein needs to be cooked, add it to the pan now and stir occasionally until it’s cooked through. Click here for the minimal internal temperatures for different types of meat. Once the protein is cooked, remove it to a separate bowl while you cook the veggies. If you’re not concerned about overcooking your protein, you can also just leave it in the pan while you cook the veggies.

carrots, broccoli, and cabbage in a cast iron pan

Now, add the other half of the garlic and ginger (and a little more oil if you think it needs it). Then add all your veggies. Look at all these pretty colors! To be honest, that’s sometimes how I pick what to include in my stir fry – how many colors can I include. Stir these veggies around so the flavorful oil, garlic, and ginger is well mixed and so they cook.

carrots, cabbage and broccoli in cast iron pan with glass lid - steamy

Sometimes to help the veggies cook a little faster with less stirring I will add 1/4-1/2 cup water and then cover the pan so that they steam a little bit. I only do this sometimes, but since I don’t have a wok and I put a ton of veggies in here, they aren’t getting as exposed to the direct heat of the hot pan. Again, this isn’t necessary, just helps them get tender faster. Stop cooking once the veggies are your desired tenderness. I like mine pretty crunchy still – especially because they’ll get less crunchy when I warm it up for leftovers

bowl of stir fry with tofu, shrimp and veggies

Once your veggies are cooked, add your protein back in along with soy sauce (as much as you want). Stir and cook until your protein is heated through. Serve over your preferred grain!

Enjoy!


Just the instructions (no pictures)

  • Cook some grains if you like (rice, noodles, etc.)
  • Mince ginger and garlic, set aside
  • Chop vegetables into bite-size-ish pieces (skip for frozen vegetables)
  • Cut protein into bite-size pieces if needed. Wash hands, cutting boards, and utensils with soap and water after touching raw meat, fish, or poultry
  • Heat a few tablespoons of oil in a large frying pan
  • Once the oil is shimmery, add half the ginger and garlic and cook for a just a few minutes (don’t let it turn brown)
  • If your protein needs to be cooked (not just warmed), add it now and stir occasionally until it is fully cooked (minimal internal temperatures here)
  • Remove protein to a separate bowl (or leave it in if you’re not worried about it overcooking)
  • Add the rest of the garlic and ginger and the vegetables. Stir occasionally until veggies are the tenderness you like.
  • (Optionally to cook faster without stirring, add 1/4-1/2 cup water to the pan and cover with a lid to let the veggies steam for a few minutes)
  • Add protein back in along with soy sauce to taste and stir until warmed. Serve over your preferred grain
  • Enjoy!

Simple, easy tomato soup recipe: Only 5 ingredients

Jump straight to the instructions

Why should you make this tomato soup?

  • It’s a great way to get a serving (or two) of vegetables
  • It goes really well with grilled cheese.
  • It can be a great throw-together-from-the-pantry dish
  • If you make it yourself, you can control the flavor, texture, and the nutrition!
  • This recipe is really flexible so you can make it how you like it
  • Think of how accomplished you’ll feel as you sip that nutritious soup!
grilled cheese and tomato soup in a mug
I always like grilled cheese with my tomato soup. This one is slightly burnt but it was still good.

Just a heads-up: this is not a particularly quick recipe. It requires time for the onions and tomatoes to cook down, probably 30 minutes at minimum to get a nice flavor. But it does not require a lot of active time. Most of the time you can be doing something else you want to do as long as you’re making sure the kitchen isn’t burning down. Anyway, if you’re still here:

The minimum ingredients you will need are:

can of tomatoes, chopped onions and garlic
  • Canned tomatoes
  • Chopped onion
  • Minced garlic
  • Salt (not pictured)
  • Cooking oil or butter or margarine – some sort of fat to cook your onions and garlic in

There are some extras you can add to change the flavor or texture to your liking: spices like basil, oregano, chili flakes, chili powder, cumin, pepper, etc.; sugar, broth, milk, or cream. But these aren’t necessary to make a basic soup. I’ll let you know when these would come into the recipe.

To make this recipe even easier, you can buy frozen, pre-chopped onions and minced garlic in a jar. (Not sponsored, just want to make your life easier)

onions cooking in oil

Heat a little oil (or your preferred cooking fat) in a pot over low heat. Add your onions and a pinch of salt. The salt helps build the flavor of the soup and helps draw out the water from the onions so they cook to where we want them faster. (Learned that from SORTEDfood)

cooked onions for tomato soup

Cook those onions on low heat for a long time (like 10-20 minutes) until they are nice and golden and soft. Stir occasionally, but not that often. While you’re waiting for them to cook, you can mince your garlic or wash dishes or read a book (just don’t forget about them)

onions and garlic and herbs

Once your onions are nice and cooked, add your garlic and any herbs or spices you will use. I used a generous sprinkle of dried basil and a bit of oregano here. Let them all cook together for just about a minute. If you cook garlic like this too long it will burn and get bitter.

Add your canned tomatoes and stir to combine everything. Then turn up the heat to high and put a lid on. Let it heat up until it starts simmering (occasional bubbles), then turn it down again and keep the lid on.

At this point, the longer you simmer it, the longer the flavors will meld together. I simmered mine for probably around 20-25 minutes. You can simmer longer if you like (just don’t let it cook so long that all the liquid goes away and it burns), or shorter if you like. The tomatoes are already cooked – they just need to be heated up.

Once it’s simmered, you have options. If you like a chunky tomato soup, just taste it to make sure it doesn’t need more salt, sugar, or spices of your choosing and it’s ready to eat!

tomato soup

If you want a smooth, creamier soup, puree it with an immersion blender or a regular blender (careful, HOT), adding water or broth or cream to get it to the thickness you like (I used water for this one).

Adding milk can be more tricky as the acid from the tomatoes might curdle it. Warm your milk up separately, then add a little tomato soup to the milk, stir it in, then add a little more tomato to the milk. Repeat this until no more tomato will fit in your milk container, then slowly add the milk and tomato mixture back to the pot.

I’ve also read you can add 1/2 tsp baking soda to the tomatoes to neutralize the acid so it won’t curdle the milk, but I haven’t tried that.

Finally, taste! If it’s too sour, you can add a little more salt (believe it or not it helps balance out the sour taste) or some sugar.

Enjoy!


Just the instructions (no pictures)

  • Chop onion and mince garlic (I used a small onion and 1 large clove garlic)
  • Heat a bit of oil/butter/margarine over low heat in a pot
  • Add the onions and a pinch of salt and let cook until the onions are very soft and yellow (at least 10 minutes)
  • Add the garlic and any spices you are using and cook for 1 more minute
  • Add canned tomatoes and stir (I used two 14-oz cans)
  • Turn the heat up to high and cover the pot with a lid, but stay there and watch!
  • Once it starts to simmer (occasional bubbles), turn the heat down to low again. Keep the lid on.
  • Let it simmer for as long as you want, but at least until the tomatoes are heated through (I recommend 20 minutes)
  • If you like chunky soup – taste and add more salt, sugar, spices as needed!
  • If you like smooth soup, blend until it’s as smooth as you want, adding water, broth, or cream until it is the thickness you want (see note about adding milk above)
  • Taste and add more salt, sugar, spices as needed!

What is protein?

Plate full of protein foods: tofu, beans, nuts, shrimp, chicken, eggs

When dietitians speak about eating protein, or “proteins”, they usually mean eating foods like these, that have a lot of protein in them.

Image used with permission by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics

But what is protein actually? Proteins are large and complex molecules made out of different combinations of amino acids. Amino acids are like the LEGO blocks that make up proteins.

Amino acids combine in nearly endless ways to create nearly endless different types of protein. These proteins are the building blocks that make up animals, plants, bacteria, viruses, and humans.

Amino Acids

Image by Alexas_Fotos from Pixabay

Proteins

When we eat foods with protein, our bodies take apart the protein into the amino acids it’s made from (like you might take apart a LEGO structure) and use those amino acids to build new proteins in our bodies that become hair, skin, muscle, hormones, mitochondria, etc.

Our bodies use 20 different amino acids to build the proteins it needs. Nine of these amino acids we must get from the food we eat. The other eleven our bodies can manufacture, but we can also get them from food.

That’s why its so important to eat enough foods with protein in them, so our body has all the materials it needs to grow, maintain bones and muscles, make hormones and neurotransmitters, and heal itself, among many many other things.

Our bodies can also burn protein for energy. If we have enough protein for our building needs, our bodies take the extra protein and either burn it for energy or, if it already has enough energy, will store it as fat for future energy.

On the other hand, if we are not eating enough to meet our energy needs, (and especially if we are also not eating enough protein) our bodies will begin to break down the protein in our muscles to use for energy. Of course, it will also begin to break down stored fat, but most weight loss involves some muscle loss.

Now you know what protein is, but how should you eat it? How much should you eat? What are “lean” proteins? What are plant-based proteins?

Check back next week for the answers! Do you have other questions about protein? Leave it in the comments and I’ll try and incorporate it into next week’s post.

(Sorry, this wasn’t an intentional cliff hanger, it just seemed better to break it up rather than doing a super long post!)

If you want to see a list of foods that have protein, click here.

Need protein? Here’s a list of foods that provide a good amount of protein

This post is a list of foods that provide protein. This list is for you if:

  • you’re not sure which foods have protein,
  • you are tired of the protein foods you are eating and want to find different ones,
  • you’re looking to add more protein to your diet and need ideas

Keep reading to find some new protein foods to try!

Poultry

  • Chicken breast
  • Chicken thighs
  • Chicken drumstick
  • Chicken wings
  • Chopped or shredded chicken
  • Ground chicken
  • Canned chicken
  • Chicken feet
  • Turkey, white and dark meat
  • Shredded or chopped turkey
  • Sliced deli turkey
  • Ground turkey
  • Turkey jerky
  • Turkey bacon
  • Duck
  • Pheasant
  • Liver and organ meats (pretty much any kind)

Eggs and Dairy

  • Eggs
  • Milk
  • Soy milk
  • Goat milk
  • Sheep milk
  • Cheese (pretty much any kind except cream cheese)
  • Cottage cheese
  • Goat cheese
  • Sheep cheese
  • Yogurt
  • Kefir

Beans/Lentils/Pulses

  • Black beans
  • Pinto beans
  • Kidney beans
  • Lentils
  • French lentils
  • Split peas
  • White beans
  • Lima beans
  • Garbanzo beans/chickpeas
  • Hummus
  • Tofu
  • Tempeh

Meat

  • Pork chops
  • Pork loin
  • Pork shoulder
  • Ground pork
  • Ham
  • Bacon
  • Canadian bacon
  • Sausage
  • Bologna
  • Salami
  • Ground beef
  • Roast beef
  • Corned beef
  • Hot dog
  • Hamburger
  • Steak
  • Beef roast
  • Beef jerky
  • Bison
  • Elk
  • Venison
  • Lamb
  • Mutton

Various Plant Proteins

  • Almonds
  • Walnuts
  • Peanuts
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Cashews
  • Pistachios
  • Pecans
  • Nut butters
  • Soy milk
  • Quinoa (at least 1 cup)
  • Seitan
  • Meat substitutes like veggie burgers or vegetarian sausage (always check the label for protein content)
  • Edamame
  • Sprouted peas
  • Green peas (1 cup)
  • Grilled Portobello mushroom (1 cup)

A word about protein powders: Many people find protein powders helpful, however I haven’t included them separately because most of them are made from one of the foods listed above like milk, eggs, soy, or peas.

These foods, in a typical serving size, provide at least 10% of the recommended daily amount of protein (%DV). Note that many of them provide much more than 10% and that the the %DV is based on a very general figure. This post does not give serving sizes or recommend amounts of protein to eat. Protein needs vary widely, and there is a wide amount of protein intake that can be healthy! If you have questions about how much protein you need, speak with a registered dietitian or your doctor!

How To Dad has got it right

Listen, if you haven’t yet watched How to Dad‘s YouTube Channel, you are missing deadpan humor, adorable kids, and surprisingly helpful parenting tips. Checking it out is worth a few minutes of your time – most of his videos are less than 5 minutes long and they always make my day. But today, I’m going to talk as a dietitian about what I like in this video. ↓

Watch this first 🙂

This video illustrates so many true things about teaching kids to eat vegetables – intentionally or unintentionally I’m not sure – but let’s break it down. How to Dad is trying to convince his toddler to eat a plate of broccoli and carrots with varying amounts of success.

She starts out by biting a carrot, and then putting it back on the plate without eating any

This is normal and good and it is how kids explore new foods. Any exposure to new foods is a step in the right direction. Licking, biting, touching, or even just smelling a new (or less liked) food gives a child more experience with a food and means they are becoming more interested or less scared of it. Even if they spit it out, it’s still progress. (And teaching them to politely spit out food can take some of the pressure out of trying new foods)

When the vegetables are covered with cheese or ketchup, she just eats the cheese and ketchup

There’s nothing wrong with using other preferred foods to make vegetables more palatable, but know it won’t always work. Kids will eat what they want. Same goes for hiding veggies – it might work, but kids are also pretty smart and might just see right through it.

“Pounding the table” doesn’t work

In this video it results in oh my goodness tiny adorable table pounding! But in real life, ordering or forcing kids to eat vegetables is more likely to result in a power struggle than learning to eat vegetables. They might eat them, but they’re more likely to view it as a chore than to learn to enjoy eating them, and who likes chores?

They play with their food

This has varying degrees of success – in fact most of the play doesn’t result in eating any vegetables, not until the end of the video. However, it does have the advantage of increasing exposure to and familiarity with the food (see point 1)

She eats the broccoli after watching her dad eat it

This is HUGE. Kids learn by watching and imitating you. If they never see you eating vegetables, they’re much less likely to want to eat them. On the other hand, if they see you regularly eating vegetables along with all other foods like it’s no big deal, they’re likely to grow up learning that vegetables are just something you eat, like hamburgers or toast.

She is having fun

Obviously these two have a positive relationship. Even when the dad is “pounding the table” she thinks its a fun game. And every interaction, even the ones that don’t result in eating vegetables, is happy. Obviously it’s unrealistic to expect you to have 100% happy moments with your kids (especially with a toddler), but making mealtimes an overall positive environment by having positive conversations, promoting good table etiquette, not creating power struggles, etc. can make a big difference in promoting an overall healthy relationship with food, not to mention trying new foods.

She eats the most vegetables when How to Dad isn’t even paying attention to her

The food is there in front of her, but there’s no pressure on her, and no one’s trying to get her to do anything.

There are a lot of attempts and not a lot of actually eating vegetables

Studies show kids may need to be exposed to a food up to 20 times before they even try it, not to mention liking it or eating it regularly. Being exposed to a food can eating it, but it can also include playing with the food, helping prepare the food, and smelling it, touching it or licking it (see the first point). It may seem like kids will never eat new foods, but don’t give up! If they never see it or interact with it, they will surely never learn to eat it!

I know it can be hard and frustrating, but you can do it! They can do it! You’re just helping them practice the skill of eating new foods, which like any skill, takes practice!

In summary, what should you learn from this?

Keep serving the vegetables, keep eating the vegetables (and let your kids see you doing it), don’t make it a big deal, be prepared that it might take a long time, and know that that’s ok.

Note this also applies to any other food that you want your kids to learn to eat, just substitute “fish”, “beans” or “croissants” for vegetables in the article above 🙂

If you’re looking for more information and encouragement on this topic, I also recommend checking out feedinglittles.com or following @feedinglittles . Great accurate information (they are a dietitian and occupational feeding therapist team), practical tips, and overall great positive attitude!

Want to read even more? Here are more resources:

https://www.eatright.org/food/nutrition/eating-as-a-family/end-mealtime-battles

https://www.eatright.org/food/nutrition/eating-as-a-family/keep-kids-out-of-the-clean-plate-club

https://www.eatright.org/health/pregnancy/breast-feeding/introducing-new-flavors-to-babies

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0195666317308784

https://www.romper.com/p/how-many-times-does-a-child-have-to-try-a-food-before-they-like-it-more-than-you-think-17999317

https://www.healthyfamiliesbc.ca/home/articles/preventing-picky-eating-toddlers

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17635306

https://www.ellynsatterinstitute.org/how-to-feed/childhood-feeding-problems/

When Meal Planning Tips Are More Overwhelming Than Helpful

Finding and choosing recipes, constructing meals out of ingredients we have, grocery shopping – these are all valuable skills. But they are skills that take time and effort to learn!

"Meal Planning Tips"
Before buying, see what food you have at home.
Practice "first in, first out" rule to eat oldest food before newer items.
Create menus around foods you have on hand.
Choose recipes for the week that incorporate overlapping ingredients.
This is a post from @eatright_pro on Instagram. Embedding the post directly didn’t work, so this is my solution.

It can be overwhelming to suddenly find yourself cooking at home 5x more than you’re used to, or meal planning because you can’t grocery shop as often as you normally do. (Especially if you are dealing with an extra stressful environment, which so many of us are right now). So if the tips above seem like just ONE MORE THING to think about, it’s ok. You just do your best and it’s the best you can do.

I started Nutrition for Real Humans to make healthy eating less overwhelming. My goal here is to make things like meal planning, and using the tips above, easier and more accessible. I hope the resources you find on my blog, resources page, and my Pinterest help provide some inspiration or helpful advice.

One super useful resource is Yummly, a recipe search engine, where you can look up recipes by the ingredient you want to use. They even have a new meal planner that will generate a shopping list from the recipes you’ve chosen!

Also, I’m super excited about this

I will soon have meal plans available for instant download!

They will include:
  • delicious and nutritious recipes
  • a complete shopping list
  • easy to follow directions, including
  • step-by-step directions for prepping ingredients all at once to make each day’s meal time super easy
  • friendly and positive nutrition notes

Look for them early next week! Sign up for my email list or follow me on social media if you want to know as soon as they are available!

(Scroll all the way to the bottom of the page for email signup and my social media)

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Take care!

Tuna Tomato Pasta: The Pantry Friendliest Recipe I Know

Tuna tomato pasta – simple and flavorful. Basically a meal in a dish although I usually try and add a side vegetable.

So I am writing this post because I wanted to link to this recipe but realized I have been making it so long (and have changed it so much) that I no longer know where I learned the original recipe. It is one of my brainless crowdpleasers and an easy and affordable way to eat more fish (for those healthy omega-3 fatty acids).

This is probably the meal I am most likely to be able to make from what is in my pantry. I realize not everyone has the same pantry, but the instructions are pretty flexible so you can adapt the ingredients to what you might have available.

Here’s what you need:
  • 1/2 an onion (or like 1 small onion, usually my grocery store has giant onions)
  • Garlic, a few cloves (or you could use 1 tsp garlic powder or granulated garlic)
  • 15-oz can tomatoes/tomato sauce or 1 small can tomato paste + enough water to make it about 15-oz/2 cups
  • 1-2 cans tuna (you can probably also use canned chicken or canned beans/lentils)
  • 1/2-1 lb pasta (I like to use whole wheat, but use what you have – gluten-free, lentil pasta, or rice pasta should work just as well)
  • Oil of some kind – I used olive
  • Spices (I like dried basil primarily for this, but last time I threw in some thyme and rosemary as well and it was good. You can also use an Italian seasoning)
  • Salt
In this picture, there are the ingredients I use: olive oil, canned tomatoes, salt, onion, garlic, tuna, whole wheat pasta, and a container of dried basil

You will also need a cutting board and a knife to chop your onions, a small pot/pan to make the sauce in, and a pot to boil your pasta. And a stove.

Here’s how to make it:
  1. Cut up your onion – smaller is better, but don’t stress too much about it.
  2. Put a few tablespoons of oil in a pot over medium-high heat and once that is warm, add your onions and a little bit of salt (like 1/2 teaspoon) and let them cook while you…
  3. Mince up a few cloves of garlic, or if you are using minced garlic or garlic powder, skip to the next step.
  4. Once the onions are soft and translucent, add the garlic and cook for just 30 seconds-1 minute (garlic burns fast).
  5. Add your spices. I like to use a lot of dried basil, but you can use Italian seasoning, rosemary, thyme, oregano, or a combination.
  6. Dump in your canned tomatoes or tomato sauce or the tomato paste that you have mixed with water.
  7. Stir this so it’s combined, then turn up the heat to bring to a simmer (so it is very slowly bubbling). Then cover it with a lid and turn it to low.
  8. While this is simmering, cook your pasta according to the directions on the box – I find this takes 15-20 minutes counting the time for the water to boil which is a good amount of time for the sauce to simmer.
  9. Once your pasta is cooked and drained, drain the tuna as well and flake it into the sauce and stir until it’s combined, then combine the sauce with the pasta

This is even pretty good leftover and doesn’t even smell too fishy when you warm it up. It’s also good with Parmesan on top.

This is what the pasta looks like

As you can see the amounts are flexible – if you like a saucier pasta, use less pasta or more tomatoes. If you want a higher protein/lower carb ratio, use less pasta and more tuna. If you used canned tomatoes and don’t like chunks, mash the sauce or use an immersion blender or food processor (in small batches please) to blend it before you combine with the pasta and tuna.

This batch was made with ~1/2 lb of pasta, 2 cans of tuna, and 1 can of tomatoes, just give you an idea of what those ratios look like.

Below is the recipe card I dug out of the box – in case you want to just have a picture of the recipe 🙂

Happy eating 🙂

Roasting Winter Vegetables

Skip right to the instructions.

I realize it’s almost spring, but it is still the time for winter vegetables – at least in the northern hemisphere. I’m thinking of squashes: butternut squash, acorn squash, kobacha, and delicata squash. I’m also thinking of those hearty root vegetables: potatoes, turnips, carrots, and onions to name a few.

I’m here to tell you that if you have an oven, or even a toaster oven, roasting vegetables is highly recommendable. Why?

  1. Out of the total cooking time, only a small portion actually requires you to be in the kitchen. The rest is done by your oven while you read a book or wash your dishes or make the rest of your dinner or scroll through Instagram. I am writing this post while Brussels Sprouts roast in the oven
  2. It brings out the natural sweetness and tenderness of these veggies – sometimes this can make them more palatable to kids (or adults) who aren’t vegetable fans
  3. Roasted vegetables are versatile: they can be a side for meat or eggs, stirred into pasta or cooked grains, cooled and put in a salad, or pureed to go in a soup or sauce.
  4. Everyone needs to eat vegetables. Roasted vegetables is a delicious way to eat vegetables that is adaptable to almost any diet pattern
  5. It’s a flexible and pretty forgiving method for cooking
  6. It will warm up your house and make it smell good

Imagine half your plate full of delicious roasted vegetables, either tender and sweetly-flavored or savory, browned, and crisp.

Instructions

1. Preheat your oven so it can be heating up while you prepare your vegetables. Preheat to 350 F if you want slow-cooked, tender and sweeter vegetables. Preheat to 500 F if you want crispy, browned vegetables that will roast faster. Or go for something in the middle. If you have something else you are baking (meat, fish, bread) and it needs a certain temperature, you can roast the vegetables at that temperature so it can all be in the oven at the same time. It’s flexible 🙂

2. Wash and cut your vegetables so they are pretty evenly sized (or skip this step altogether by using frozen vegetables, which are already washed and cut for you). It doesn’t really matter what size the pieces are as long as the size is fairly consistent. This is important so they will cook at the same rate. If they’re not exactly the same, it’s ok; they’ll just be cooked to slightly different levels. Watch this video from America’s Test Kitchen for instructions on how to cut vegetables safely. (Have a butternut squash? Here’s a video specifically on how to cut this sometimes tricky vegetable)

3. Put your veggies in a bowl and toss with oil. I like to add oil because it helps the seasonings stick, and it helps the vegetables not stick to the pan.

From a nutritional perspective, using a vegetable oil like olive oil, canola oil, or avocado oil can add some healthy fats, which are important for the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins, like vitamin A (which you’ll be getting from those yellow and orange veggies). Use a small amount if you are aiming for a low-fat or low-calorie diet (a teaspoon will go a long way). If you prefer to avoid adding oil altogether, I will refer you to the Minimalist Baker who has written this great post about oil-free vegetable roasting; it’s not an area where I have much experience.

4. Add seasoning and toss some more. This can be as simple as salt and pepper or a seasoned-salt. You can also get creative – use curry powder or garlic powder and oregano or taco seasoning – whatever sounds good to you. For a lower-sodium option, use only spices for flavor – no salt. Go light on seasoning at first. You can add more after it’s cooked if it’s too bland.

5. Roast! Spread the veggies out on a baking pan. You can line the pan with parchment paper, foil, or a silicone mat to help with clean up, but it’s not necessary (especially since you added some oil to your veggies). Now put them into the oven! Set your timer for 15 minutes.

6. After 15 minutes, shuffle the vegetables around on the pan by pushing them around with a big spoon or spatula and check to see if they are done by poking them with a fork to see how tender or crisp they are.

7. Keep roasting for 5-30 more minutes, (unless they are already done) until they are the texture you like. The amount of time will depend on which vegetables you are using (harder vegetables will take longer), the temperature of your oven, the size of the cut, and the texture you want.

Eat and enjoy!

What vegetables do you like to roast? How do you like to eat them? Share in the comments, or on instagram or facebook with #nutritionforrealhumans

31 Meals that Require Zero Cooking: Sandwiches and Wraps

It seems to me that there are infinite “easy” cooking recipes out there that range from actually easy, to probably easy for someone who grew up in the kitchen, to maybe easy for a trained chef who has a fully stocked kitchen and a sous chef.

The goal with this series (starting with sandwiches and wraps) is to be a list of ideas that require (as the title says) zero cooking. Because maybe you like cooking, but are in a crazy busy season of life and don’t have time. Maybe you live in a place with only a mini fridge and no utensils to prep with. Or maybe you just don’t like cooking and have better things to do than spend time chopping, slicing, braising, sauteing, and/or cleaning up. Granted, some of these things will take a little prep, but – stay with me – it’s mostly opening packages and dumping things together or maybe spreading something with a knife. I’ve even made this list so you don’t even need to heat anything up.

The components for all of these meals are a bread or grain wrap + filling (usually protein) + fruit or vegetable

This model makes sure the meal includes at least 3 food groups on USDA’s MyPlate. If there is already a fruit or vegetable in the filling, adding another fruit or veggie on the side, makes it even closer to the goal of 1/2 the plate being fruit and/or vegetables.

For more information on USDA’s MyPlate, visit choosemyplate.gov

Bread or Wrap:

  1. Sliced whole grain bread
  2. Hoagie roll
  3. Sliced sourdough
  4. Whole grain tortilla
  5. Whole grain pita
  6. Gluten-free sandwich wrap
  7. Whole grain waffles

These are just some examples, as there are so many bread options. Choosing a whole grain option will make for a higher-fiber and more filling meal.

Fruit or Vegetable:

  1. You can use a whole fruit or vegetable that’s ready to eat, like an apple or carrot (just rinse these) or banana or mandarin orange.
  2. You can also use packaged produce that is already prepared, like bagged spinach, baby carrots, or a jar of pickles.
  3. Most grocery stores also sell pre-washed and cut fruits and veggies in the produce section.
  4. A grocery store with a pay-by-weight salad bar can also be a resource for purchasing already washed and prepared veggies in smaller amounts (think shredded cabbage, pickled beets, or sliced cucumbers).

Protein fillings:

  1. Peanut/almond/cashew/sun butter
  2. Nut butter and jelly
  3. Nut butter and honey
  4. Nut butter and sliced fruit
  5. Nut butter and lettuce/spinach + optional mayo (I know it sounds weird, but some people like it)
  6. Turkey (add ketchup, mustard, mayo, Sriracha, horseradish or even guacamole)
  7. Turkey and veggie (add ketchup, mustard, mayo, Sriracha, horseradish, or guacamole)
  8. Turkey and cheese (add ketchup, mustard, mayo, Sriracha, horseradish, or guacamole)
  9. Turkey and cheese and veggie (add ketchup, mustard, mayo, horseradish, Sriracha, or guacamole)
  10. Roast beef (add ketchup, mustard, mayo, horseradish, guacamole, or Sriracha)
  11. Roast beef and veggie (add ketchup, mustard, mayo, horseradish, guacamole, or Sriracha)
  12. Roast beef and cheese (add ketchup, mustard, mayo, horseradish, guacamole, or Sriracha)
  13. Ham (add ketchup, mustard, mayo, horseradish, or guacamole – not sure if guac would go well with ham but fine if you want to try it)
  14. Ham and cheese (add ketchup, mustard, mayo, horseradish, Sriracha, hot sauce, or guacamole)
  15. Baloney (add ketchup, mustard, mayo, horseradish, Sriracha, hot sauce, or guacamole)
  16. Cheese (any cheese besides cream cheese can work as a protein food)
  17. Cheese and veggie (add ketchup, mustard, mayo, horseradish, Sriracha, or guacamole)
  18. Salami/pastrami/hot dog (salami and other sausages are higher in fat and sodium, so better to choose this less often, however – still provides protein)
  19. Tuna salad (many stores sell tuna salad already mixed OR make your own by mixing canned tuna with mayo or guac or yogurt and some salt or pepper)
  20. Chicken salad (see above – you can add flavor to either of these with garlic powder, chili powder, cumin, or a spice mix packet)
  21. Hummus and veggies – particularly ones with crunch – snap peas, lettuce, shredded carrots, small tomatoes, celery, cucumbers, sliced cabbage
  22. Egg salad (buy egg salad already made or mash up some hard-boiled eggs with mustard, salt, pepper, mayonnaise, paprika or whatever other spices you like in your hard-boiled eggs)
  23. Eggless salad (same as egg salad, but mash up tofu instead)
  24. Tofu and veggies (definitely want to add some flavor to this using soy sauce, hot sauce, Sriracha, etc. as tofu is pretty bland)*
  25. Pre-cooked chicken, lettuce, and Caesar dressing*
  26. Beans (baked beans or black beans, pinto beans or garbanzo beans, chili beans or white beans – add hot sauce, garlic powder, chili powder, or taco seasoning to plain beans)*
  27. Bean and cheese *
  28. Bean and salsa/guac/hot sauce*
  29. Bean and cheese and salsa/guac/hot sauce*
  30. Yogurt and fruit*
  31. Yogurt and fruit and nuts*

*These would probably work best as a wrap, but you could certainly make them into a messy sandwich

Some of these ideas might seem obvious, but just because they are super easy and common doesn’t mean they aren’t a good meal. Feel free to share your sandwich/wrap ideas in the comments.

And of course, this are general ideas and guidelines. They are not intended to treat any specific health condition. Speak with your doctor or dietitian about your specific dietary needs.