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Ways to a happy meal…And no, not that kind!

Dictionaries and thesauruses all round mention multiple words and meanings for the term “Happy”. So we’ve got cheerful, delighted, pleasant, joyful, joyous, upbeat, lively, in high spirits and content to name a few. Yet when hit with the title “happy meal”, the first thing that comes to mind are the golden arches. This post has nothing to do with that. What I aim to do is paint a picture on how you can achieve a meal that is joyful, lively, cheerful and simply happy. Here’s how…Slide1

In my eyes, there are a number of ways in which a meal is considered a happy one:

  • When it is shared with people you love, friends and family
  • When it is bursting with colours
  • When it leaves you feeling satisfied and not stuffed to the core

Digging deeper into these points, I find myself thinking about 3 important aspects of meal time: social interaction, nutrient density and ways in which the meal is prepared and cooked. Going back in time, I recall my parents being there at every meal growing up despite both being working parents. We always sat at the table, no distractions allowed, ate, talked and laughed. Even way into my 20s when I moved back in with my family (for a “short”pit stop spanning 3 years), family meals were an absolute must. Well, dinner time really. My point is, the environment in which you consume your meal in is essential from when you are a child and all the way into adulthood.

Meal time should not be a negative experience for anyone. Ways in which you can create a83252903 happy meal with your kids include:

  • Getting your children involved in food; whether it is planning a special meal for the week, choosing vegetables when shopping for groceries or even arranging the salad bowl. 
  • Never force feeding your children and punishing them for not eating. If they do not consume their meal, just simply take it away and do not offer other alternatives. They’ll come around eventually.
  • Encouraging them to try new foods and praising them when they do! 
  • Avoiding distractions at meal time and sitting at the dining table and not in front of the TV. 

As for adults, I always encourage families to allocate 2 or 3 days a week to have a meal together. Couples should also make the effort to cook meals together or take turns cooking, experimenting and hey, getting the romance going! Now, cooking for one can be an “off-putting” experience for many but why wouldn’t you be worth a good meal? Nights in where it’s simply me myself and I, the music is turned on, a glass of wine in hand and the kitchen experimenting begins. It doesn’t have to be a 3 course meal. Quickie meals that are ideal include salads (and not the boring kind), vegetable frittatas and stir fries.

Moving on to nutrient density, a happy meal should nourish your body with all the good stuff. IScreen Shot 2015-03-06 at 11.15.16 PM
always make sure I include at least 3 different vegetables at every meal, keeping the colours vibrant. For example, a frequent side dish is chopped zucchini with mushrooms, baby spinach and cherry tomatoes cooked together with oregano, salt, pepper and lime. Another would include grilled aubergines and sweet potato mash. Get some colour and variety into your meals as that can help you reach the full range of nutrients fruits and vegetables have to offer. Apart from colour, boosting the nutrient density of your meals also includes:

  • Making sure you have a protein source at every meal: Choices can range from baked fish, grilled chicken skewers to baked beans, stir fried tofu or chickpeas. Protein will help you feel fuller for longer and is essential to maintaining muscle function and strength. 
  • Adding healthy fats to your meals: Healthy fats play a role in mental health, skin care and hormonal balance to name a few. Add a sprinkle of sunflower seeds or a handful of walnuts to your salads. Mash up some yummy avocado to use as a spread on toast. Screen Shot 2015-03-06 at 11.17.17 PM

Finally, a happy meal should never leave you feeling stuffed and yucky (couldn’t find a more suitable term). I have always advised people to avoid feeling extremely hungry before a meal or feeling too full after. For this reason, a snack may be important to control your hunger levels in between the longest time gap (between meals). For example, if lunchtime is around 1pm and dinner is never before 7pm then a snack would be ideal around 3:30-4pm. Having a snack such as a  small tub of low fat yoghurt with a handful of walnuts or 2 rice cakes topped with cottage cheese and sliced tomatoes can 1) Prevent the “oh god I’m starving” scenario 2) Prevent overeating at dinner time.

Meals that can leave you feeling stuffed include those that are rich and fatty. A creamy carbonara or steak and chips with a creamy mushroom sauce can create a sensation of feeling impregnated by your meal (oh hello there little belly) and not being able to function after. Fat takes longer to digest than carbs or protein keeping the stomach full for longer. To avoid the post meal slump, opt for tomato based sauces for a pasta dish or grilled chicken breast with sweet potato mash and green beans as an example. 

Bottom line is, keep your meals happy and your body will rejoice! Savour every bite and remember to actually taste what your happy meal has to offer…

 

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