Friends who know me well know that I don’t judge. They can eat and drink as they please without their nutritionist friend giving them the stink eye. We have an unwritten rule that I don’t offer nutrition advice unless they ask for it.
But apart from dinners or social events, many of these friends are also my clients, asking for guidance and noting what I do – and don’t – eat and drink.
And two of the most common questions I’m asked when presenting to groups or meeting with clients are “What do you usually eat?” and “Why?”
So I’ve given it a lot of thought. I’m not one of those super-regimented people who must eat the exact same things every day (and I love to indulge in good bread and butter or olive oil, and the occasional fried chicken), but I do have a few “must haves” that I like to include in my daily routine.
Instead of obsessing over what not to eat, my preference is to put the focus on the good stuff that I’m adding into my diet. The more healthful stuff we squeeze in, the more we edge out any space for the not-so-good-for-you stuff.
And let’s be clear, nutrition isn’t one-size-fits-all. I’m certainly not saying this is the best nutrition protocol for everyone – or even most people – but it works for me.
I think it’s also important to note that good nutrition doesn’t just “happen” – we have to plan ahead, and we have to prioritize.
Planning ahead includes surrounding ourselves with nutritious options so that it’s easy to make the healthful choice when we’re pressed for time. And that means prioritizing our time as well as our money.
We have to carve out time to go to the store, to cook, to divvy out our little grab-and-go containers. And there are trade-offs in terms of finances. Juicing, for example, isn’t exactly a cheap addition to your diet. But if we bring our lunch instead of ordering out – or make our own java instead of swinging through the coffee shop on the way to work, we can help to offset the cost of other health-promoting items.
So here goes, an up-close look at my top nutritional “must-haves” and how I fit them into my typical day.
Apple cider vinegar and Great Lakes Gelatin Collagen Hydrolysate. Very first thing in the morning, even before my coffee, I stir two tablespoons each of ACV and gelatin into about 8-10 ounces of warm water. The apple cider vinegar is alkalizing, helping to buffer the acidity that naturally occurs as a byproduct of diet and exercise. The gelatin can help to reduce inflammation and improve the health of connective tissue in our joints.
Is my vinegar-gelatin combo delicious? Of course not. But it’s one of those things you just get used to, and every little bit helps.
Coffee with ICONIC. I have two cups of coffee every morning, each with about half a carton of ICONIC (a New Orleans-owned protein drink with 20 grams protein, eight grams carbs, and three grams of sugar per carton, with no artificial sweeteners).
Since I’m not hungry for breakfast right when I wake up, the protein-rich ICONIC serves double duty as a light snack before my morning jog or workout, and sustains me until mid-morning. And although coffee tends to get a bad reputation in the world of nutrition, it’s actually one of the top sources of antioxidants in our diet.
I use a milk frother to heat the ICONIC when I’m home (it turns my coffee into sort of a high-protein latte), and I’ll just add it at room temperature when I’m on the road. An alternative to ICONIC that’s still high in protein and low in carbs is Muscle Milk 100 Calories.
Protein-rich snacks. This is where I need something fast, and something that I don’t have to think about. I’ll often reach for eggs mid-morning — usually hard-boiled, since they’re readily available at work — and typically one whole egg and one egg white.
If I’ve taken the time to make a batch, I’ll have a lightened-up version of Whole Foods’ Sonoma Chicken Salad, made with Greek yogurt in place of mayo.
It could also be leftover protein from the night before — it’s not uncommon for a lean steak, grilled chicken, or even sushi to show up as part of my mid-morning snack.
When I’m looking for a sweet snack (usually more in the afternoon), protein bars can be good in a pinch — I like thinkThin Lean Protein & Fiber Bar (Salted Caramel is my favorite) and Power Crunch Bar in French Vanilla Creme — both are high protein and low sugar, with no artificial sweeteners.
For a salty-crunchy craving, my go-to chips are protein- and fiber-rich Beanitos (in particular Nacho Cheese White Bean or Chipotle Black Bean), ideally paired with guacamole. My husband’s homemade guac is hands-down my favorite, but for the sake of time and convenience, I also have the Wholly Guacamole 100-calorie Minis.
La Croix Sparkling Water and Republic of Tea’s HiCaf Gingermint Tea. I must admit, diet soft drinks are one of my weaknesses, but I don’t want all of the artificial sweeteners and colorings. So for my carbonation fix, I turn to La Croix Sparkling Water, lightly flavored but with zero calories or sweeteners. And for a caffeine boost, I add a pouch of Republic of Tea’s GIngermint Tea to my water bottle — each tea packet has 50 mg caffeine, about what you get in a 12-ounce Diet Coke.
Lunch is usually just a functional get-it-done-and-move-on type of thingconsisting of protein and a vegetable, and is really just whatever is easiest. It might be leftover rotisserie chicken with a vegetable, or a turkey wrap with veggies and a dip made with Greek yogurt. My favorite is sliced turkey, Laughing Cow spreadable cheese, and a bit of fig preserves rolled into a La Tortilla Factory High Fiber Low Carb Tortilla – I’ll make it the night before and just grab it on my way out of the house.
I’m not so much a salad person, but for the rare lunches out or lunch meetings, I’ll keep it simple and just have a salad topped with grilled shrimp, steak or chicken, with vinaigrette.
The Balance Juice Blend from The Green Fork. My energy can dip around 4 or 5pm, and this blend of vegetable juices is a perfect pick-me-up. A mix of freshly juiced spinach, kale, cucumber, a beet, cilantro, parsley, spirulina, ginger, lime, and celtic salt, a variation of the Balance Blend can be made at most of your local juice bars, or juiced or blended at home.
If I’m on the road and need something more portable, I’ll stock up on a few pre-bottled blends like Suja 12 Essentials or Daily Greens Purity – these are two of the only veggie-only juice blends I’ve seen in stores without higher-sugar fruit juices.
Dinners are similar to lunch – the focus is still lean proteins and veggies, with minimal starchy carbs – the main difference is that we usually slow down a little more for dinner, as the day is winding down. If we’re ordering in, it’s almost always from the sushi restaurant around the corner, where I’ll order seared salmon with 1/2 of avocado, with a side of steamed broccoli. If we’re getting Chinese takeout, I’ll order steamed chicken and shrimp with vegetables, with the sauce on the side. And if it’s a nice dinner out, my favorite is a filet with a side of spinach (and good bread with butter, of course).
Casein-rich nighttime snack. Casein is a slow-digesting protein that provides a steady release of amino acids to rebuild and repair muscle fibers. Consumed before bedtime, casein can help to minimize the muscle losses that naturally occur overnight while we’re sleeping.
I like to incorporating casein-rich cottage cheese (topped with fresh berries) as a regular evening snack, and if I’m looking for something more chocolate-y, I’ll opt for a scoop of chocolate casein protein powder mixed into unsweetened almond milk, with a handful of Fiber One original cereal and fresh berries stirred in.
So there you have it, the core elements that shape my day, nutritionally speaking. Again, this isn’t necessary a fit for everyone, but it can be beneficial for all of us to do a little self-assessment from time to time and see where we have room for improvement. There are likely at least one or two things that we can easily trade out for what we’re currently doing that will effortlessly boost the nutritional density of our overall intake.
Molly Kimball is a registered dietitian in New Orleans. She can be reached at email@example.com. Comment and read more atNOLA.com/eat-drink. Follow her on Facebook: facebook.com/mollykimballrd and Twitter:twitter.com/mollykimballrd.