None of us starts the day thinking, “Oh, today I’m really going to really ruin my diet. I’m going to make poor choices, eat whenever I want, and devour however much I want.” Studies show that we all wake up trying to do right by our bodies—but sometimes (and sometimes more often than “sometimes”) we go astray.
When it comes to eating well, a little bit of planning goes a long way. Your body likes to be on a schedule. It wants to know when its next meals are. And the more you plan, the less you’ll be tempted by unhealthy options.
We’ve created an hourly food and drink schedule to help you to be successful at eating a healthy diet every day. Here are four tips that will help you get off on the right foot!
1. Be sure to schedule a meal every three to four hours. This will keep your blood sugar stable and keep your metabolism kicking all day long.
2. Try to eat balanced meals that combine protein, carbohydrates, and healthy fats. Meals with this perfect combination take your body longer to digest, which keeps your blood sugar stable—and you fuller longer.
3. Always stay hydrated. Drink water often, and keep yourself moving. Don’t let more than an hour go by without getting up and at least walking around a little.
4. Eat a “rotational diet.” Eating the same foods every day can leave you deficient in nutrients that other foods have. Try new foods and new recipes often.
Here’s an example of a perfect day of eating—with enough suggestions and options to keep your palate from getting bored.
6:00 a.m. to 7:00 a.m.
Wake your body up with water.
After a whole night without fluid, your body needs a chance to rehydrate. Don’t head for the coffee or teapot before you replace lost fluids. A bonus is that getting water back in your body will help you better absorb the nutrients in your breakfast. Since most vitamins are water soluble, rehydrating before you eat will help you be healthier.
Want an extra dose of goodness? Add lemon to your morning glass of H2O. The acidity in the lemon will help rebalance your belly and digestive tract by making it alkaline—which helps the “good” bacteria in your gut thrive.
8:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m.
You’ve often heard that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but do you know why? It’s because it gets your metabolism and energy kicking after eight hours of fasting—hence the term “break-fasting.”
You don’t have to eat breakfast as soon as you open your eyes, but experts agree that you should eat within two hours of when you wake up. Be sure to choose nutritious, balanced meal options so that you can start the day off with lots of sustained energy.
Nutritionists recommend that your breakfast consist of at least 10 grams of protein along with complex carbohydrates and a little fat. Try to stay away from sugar and processed food. Steel-cut oatmeal with a slice of Canadian bacon is a great option, as is peanut butter with banana on whole wheat toast.
Do you normally just have a cup of coffee for breakfast? Studies show that doing this works against you and that skipping breakfast or eating a small one can increase your chances of being obese.
Try making a positive change (without ditching the coffee) by turning your morning cup of joe into a mocha milkshake. Mix it with milk, a scoop of protein powder, and 1 tablespoon of cocoa powder.
9 a.m. to 10 a.m.
You know that you’re supposed to have eight 8 ounce glasses of water a day, but not everyone knows it’s better not to drink all of them at once.
Sip a little bit throughout the day to stay fully hydrated.
10:30 a.m. to 11 a.m.
Eat a snack.
At about this time you should be getting a little bit hungry. Aim for having a small snack that totals about 100 calories and up to 10 grams of protein.
A cheese stick, an apple with a schmear of peanut butter, or a handful of nuts should keep you feeling satisfied until lunchtime.
11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
Take another drink of water (and maybe pop a vitamin).
Right about now is when you’ll probably be needing some more water.
Nutritionists suggest taking a multivitamin right before lunch because the B vitamins and some minerals help you use your carbs efficiently so that you have the greatest amount of energy after you eat.
1:00 p.m. to 2:00 p.m.
With so many options, lunch can be the trickiest meal of the day to plan well. Be sure to keep in mind that the balanced meal is the healthiest meal. Try to add as many colored greens and veggies to your lunch as you can. This will keep the calories down and the nutritional content high.
Salads are always great options, so long as you stick with dark, leafy greens, bright veggies (like tomatoes, carrots, cucumbers, or peppers), lean protein (grilled chicken, shrimp, turkey, or beans), and some good fat (like avocados or nuts). Be sure to choose a salad dressing that’s lower in fat and preservative free.
Like sandwiches better? Not a problem! Opt for whole grain bread and lean protein (like turkey, chicken, or roast beef), and add lettuce, tomato, and a low fat dressing or condiment. Steer clear of the unhealthy sides that are served along with many sandwiches, such as potato salad, macaroni salad, chips, or fries.
Keep your consumption of liquid constant by drinking some water right now!
This doesn’t just help you get your day’s worth of water. Keeping your body hydrated will avoid confusing hunger pangs later in the afternoon.
4:00 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Have an afternoon snack.
This part of the day is when energy dips and people tend to crave carbs the most. Your afternoon snack should consist of a healthy mix of both carbs and protein.
Try Greek yogurt with a little honey and berries, some unprocessed cereal and milk, or even a banana with a tablespoon of nut butter.
7:00 pm to 7:30 p.m.
With dinner, your “perfect day of eating” is almost complete! Nutritionists suggest that dinners consist of 50 percent vegetables, some lean protein, a bit of good fat, and fewer starchy carbs than you’re probably used to (a good portion size is a half cup of rice or beans).
For protein, experts love options like grilled fish, turkey meatballs, lean beef (flank, sirloin, or filet), or baked chicken. As an interesting side note, studies have shown that people who have a bowl of soup before their main meal end up eating less overall.
Low-fat, broth-based soup like miso, gazpacho, or minestrone are great choices.
9:00 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.
You don’t have to have dessert, but if you’re craving a little something sweet or a bedtime snack, just try to keep your choice on the healthier, unprocessed side.
Fruit drizzled with honey or chocolate, low fat pudding, two or three small biscuits, or a slice of cheese with a little jam are perfect.
10:30 p.m. to 11 p.m.
Drink water before bed.
Just before you go to bed, drink one last glass of water to round out the day and toast to a job well done!
Get lots of sleep to wake up refreshed and ready to start again tomorrow. You did it!