If you want to lose weight, lower your blood pressure, reduce blood glucose levels, reduce cholesterol or just stay healthy, a 28-day meal plan can help. Your meal plan should include complex carbohydrates such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, seeds and nuts as well as lean protein, low-fat dairy and heart-healthy fats.
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Get 40 to 65 percent of your calories from carbohydrates. If you follow a 2,000-calorie-a-day, diet, this amounts to 900 to 1,300 calories or 225 g to 325 g of carbohydrates. Each gram of carbohydrates contains about 4 calories. If you consume more or fewer than 2,000 calories a day, adjust your carbohydrate consumption accordingly. Plan breakfasts on a 28-day meal plan around carbohydrates such as oatmeal, bran, whole-grain bread, blueberries, raspberries, bananas, almonds, walnuts and seeds. Carbohydrates to include at lunch include spinach, romaine lettuce, tomatoes, sprouts, multigrain bread, apples, oranges and pears. For dinner, stock up on carbohydrates such as beans, whole-wheat pasta, brown rice, potatoes, sweet potatoes, nonstarchy vegetables -- broccoli, cauliflower, carrots and cabbage, for example -- and starchy vegetables, such as peas and corn. For desserts and snacks, choose carbohydrates such as fruits with edible seeds and skins, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, peanut butter and celery.
On your 28-day meal plan, include 10 to 35 percent of your calories from protein. This amounts to about 2 oz. to 6 oz. of protein on a 2,000-calorie-a-day diet. This means you can easily include meatless meals on your 28-day meal plan and meet your protein needs. You will keep unhealthy saturated fat in your diet low if you include lean animal protein and vegetable protein in your diet. At breakfast, good protein choices include egg whites, nonfat milk, plain, nonfat yogurt, low-fat cottage cheese, lean baked ham, nuts and seeds. At lunch, avoid processed luncheon meats. Include 1 oz. to 2 oz. of meat or cheese in your lunches or about 1/2 cup of beans. Other good choices for lunchtime protein include veggie burgers and skinless chicken. At dinner, limit protein portions to about 3 oz. Lean choices include salmon, halibut, baked ham, turkey burgers and tofu.
Include fat on your 28-day meal plan, but emphasize healthy fats, such as those from olives, pumpkins and avocados. Keep saturated fat to 16 to 22 grams a day and trans fat to less than 2 grams a day. Animal products provide the main source of saturated fat. Avoid fatty meat, such as beef short ribs, pork chops and hamburger. Butter, cheese and whole dairy products also contain a lot of saturated fat. To keep trans fat low, avoid margarine and shortening and products that may contain them -- fried foods, commercial baked goods, snack foods and frozen potatoes. Cook with olive oil or canola oil and plan to eat about 1 oz -- a handful -- of nuts a day.
Sample Menu Plans
For breakfast, have an egg white omelet filled with vegetables and 1 oz. of low-fat cheese; a bowl of oatmeal cooked with nonfat milk and topped with banana slices and walnuts; or a slice of French toast topped with 1/2 cup cottage cheese and strawberries. For lunch, have 2 oz. of baked turkey on whole-wheat bread topped with spinach, tomatoes and mustard or a salad of romaine, blueberries, almonds and strips of skinless chicken in a mustard-yogurt dressing. For dinner try salmon with a baked sweet potato and green beans; whole-wheat spaghetti in marinara sauce with broccoli- or a tofu and vegetable stir fry.