There is one very easy way to manage your eating that doesn't involve counting calories, measuring food or showing up to dinner parties with your own containers of food. There are a couple of versions of this, so you may have seen it before, but it's called the 'Your Plate' diagram. It's the kind of thing that if you memorize it (and it's super easy to memorize), you can do a good job on your nutrition whenever, where ever you are.
A couple of things to mention before we go through the picture though. It really only pertains to lunch and dinner. If you're the kind of person who eats non-breakfast foods at breakfast (and that's an okay thing!), you can use this for breakfast too. If you like typical, Western-style breakfast foods, just leave this diagram for lunch and dinner.
So here it is, the 'Your Plate' diagram!
So, You can see how this can work for anything you eat. It's great because it focuses on vegetables, which are high nutritional yield (TONS of vitamins and minerals) and are relatively low calorie. They're packed with fibre too, so they fill you up. You might as well fill up with the healthy stuff! Because there are 3 sections, it ensures that you have a balanced meal (3 of the 4 food groups, if you remember). Easy!
Let's go through the sections one by one.
Protein - this includes either animal or plant protein (all meats, beans, peas, lentils, soy, etc). You should have protein at every meal, however this is the easy one to get out of proportion. In Canadian culture, we are likely to eat more protein than needed. So limiting your portion to a quarter of your meal will get you the amino acids you need, but will limit the fat, cholesterol (from animal proteins), and calories.
Carbohydrates - I'd rather call this one starches, as carbohydrates get a bad reputation! This includes pasta, rice, bread, grains. This is also where the starchy vegetables go. Things like potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn and squash (all kinds). This is the groups people cut out most often, but they are a necessary part to a healthy, balanced diet, so should be included. HOWEVER, note that it is a quarter of your meal, no more, no less. Limiting the portion to a quarter will ensure you get the benefits from these foods (vitamins, minerals), and limit the calories (which can add up fast!).
Vegetables - The more the better. Variety is key to a healthy diet, so try to include at least 2 different kinds of vegetables on this part. If you're having salad, this is easy. But if you want broccoli, and/or forget to make another kind, that's fine, just fill half your plate with the broccoli. But remember what I mentioned in the carbohydrate section, that starchy vegetables don't go in the vegetable section. That means if you're having corn on the cob, it goes in the starch section, and you'll need vegetables for half of your plate.
That's it! It's not too difficult, but does take some practice to think like this. If you're really hungry, you can maintain these proportions with a large volume of food, and if you're not very hungry at all, you can do the same with a small amount of food. If you're having a simple meal, such as chicken, rice and salad, it's easy to load up your plate as per the diagram. However, if you're cooking a one-pot meal, it can be a bit trickier. Using chili as an example, you can do one of two things. One, you can cook the chili as per the diagram, using these proportions. But since chili doesn't typically include starch, you can make it so that it has double the veggies as protein, then serve with with a side of starch (bread, rice, etc). Alternatively, you can think of some starch that you can add to the pot while cooking, then you can just serve it, knowing that the proportions are appropriate.
This can be done at home or at a friends house for dinner, and can also be done at restaurants. However, at restaurants, you might need to be a bit crafty. If you're getting an entree that is protein-based, for example, steak, you will likely not have enough vegetables included in the entree to fit the proportions. Restaurants typically do not serve enough vegetables. That means that you might need to order a side salad or side of vegetables to meet these proportions.
It mostly just means that you will need to think about how much you're eating. It's fine to cook a bunch of healthy foods, but eating them in these proportions will give you even more bang for your buck!
Some of my clients will put this picture on their fridge so they can see it all the time. Some tell me when they're doing their menu planning they think of this diagram and plan meals accordingly. These are all good ideas. While simple, this does take practice, so give it a try, but don't get discouraged if it takes you awhile to get the hang of it!