Having a wide variety of foods in the diet is important, as no single food can provide us with all the nutrients we need to stay healthy. Good nutrition is essential for normal growth and development, maintaining health and reducing the risk of developing certain diseases, now and in the future.
The Eat Well Plate shows how much of what you eat should come from each food group. This includes everything you eat during the day, including snacks. It's a good idea to try to get this balance right every day, but you don't need to do it at every meal. You might find it easier to get the balance right over a longer period, say a week. Try to eat from these groups.
Base meals on these starchy foods such as potatoes, bread, rice, chapattis, pasta, noodles, starchy root vegetables like yams, oats, crackers and breakfast cereals.
Choose wholegrain varieties where you can. Eat plenty and choose these foods as snacks, for example oatcakes or plain popcorn.
Potatoes contain many of the nutrients or building blocks required for normal growth and development and good health. Potatoes may be a 'basic' food but they can play an important part in a healthy, balanced diet.
Try to have at least five portions of fruit and/or vegetables a day.
Choose from fresh, frozen, dried, or canned (in juice) and remember a glass of pure juice (limit to 150ml) and a serving of beans (3tbsp), liked baked beans, counts as a portion (but only one a day!).
Add fruit and vegetables to each meal such as chopped or dried fruit with breakfast cereal, salad with a pizza, chopped raw vegetables like carrots and cucumber in a lunch box and remember fruit makes a quick and healthy snack.
Don’t fill up on snacks before meal times. Have a healthy snack mid-morning or in the afternoon to keep you going such as a piece of fruit, a small handful of nuts, oatcakes, vegetable soup or a small bowl of unsweetened wholegrain cereal.
Use all fats such as butter, oil, margarine and spreads sparingly. Measure oil when cooking or use a spray.
Better still, cook without fat by for example using a non-stick pan or foil, dry roasting, grilling rather than frying.
Avoid saturated fat like butter, ghee and lard and trans fats in pastry, biscuits and cakes.
Choose ‘good’ fats rich in polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats like rapeseed, sunflower and olive oil.
Learn to read food labels. Try and keep high fat foods as a treat rather than something you eat every day.
These include cakes, biscuits, fried and pastry items, chocolate, crisps and savoury snack foods.
Look for sugar free drinks, cut down on sugary snacks and treats like sweets, chocolates, biscuits, cakes, pastries and sugar you add to drinks, in baking and on breakfast cereals. Remember sweetening ingredients like honey, maple syrup and fruit juice are still sugar.
Be aware of hidden sugar – low fat fruit yoghurt can contain 5 tsp. of sugar (although the sugar naturally present in milk does not count), a bowl of breakfast cereal 3 tsp. and a 500ml bottle of fizzy drink 13 teaspoons!
Energy density is the amount of energy (calories) in a certain amount of food usually calories per gram. Some foods contain more energy weight-for-weight than others.
Foods with a lot of calories are mostly high in fat and/or sugar with a low water content. These foods can contribute to weight gain and obesity as they contain a lot of calories in a small amount.
Lower energy-dense foods are high in water and fibre and help us feel fuller for longer so you can eat more of them without having too many calories.
For example, 100g of chocolate contains around eight times more calories than 100g of new potatoes:
• 100g of milk chocolate = 520 kcals
• 100g of new potatoes = 66 kcals
Choose a diet based on lower energy-dense foods like potatoes, unsweetened wholegrain cereals, fruit and vegetables, beans, pulses, low fat dairy, non-creamy soups.
Have small amounts and choose those lower in fat such as lean, trimmed meat, chicken without skin and cook without adding fat.
Try to have fish twice a week and make one of these meals oily fish such as fresh tuna, sardines, pilchards, mackerel, salmon and trout for heart health.
Fish with soft bones such as sardines can be mashed up and eaten to provide extra calcium.
Pulses and beans are cheap and healthy and can be added to meat dishes or for a meat-free meal.
Try chick pea curry or adding lentils to your Shepherd’s pie for example.
The key to healthy eating is variety but we also need to watch the amount that we eat, particularly of certain foods that contain a lot of fat and sugar.
We also need to make sure we eat some foods more often than others. So have a large portion of vegetables and a small portion of lean meat and eat at least five portions of fruit and vegetables every day but leave chocolate and sweets for a weekly treat.
Many recipes printed in magazines or books are for four to six people. You can either make that amount and freeze the rest for later in the week or reduce the quantities accordingly.
If the family have left home, adjust quantities and enjoy the smaller grocery bill rather than wasting lots or over-eating.
Weigh a suggested ‘portion’ so you know what it physically looks like. For example look on the side on the packet of cereal and see what a portion size is (usually 35g or 40g). Measure it into a bowl in spoonfuls and make a note of how much room it takes up in the bowl. This will mean you will know how much is recommended to serve and will save you from weighing it out every day.
Made to measure
A 'portion' of potatoes would be:
2-4 egg sized new potatoes
1-2 medium potatoes
1 medium baked potato (about the size of a light bulb)
10 oven chips
2-4 tablespoons mashed potato.
Using the right sized plates, bowls and glasses also helps with portion size otherwise, the temptation is to fill big ones. A small one will look full with less on it. Don't eat from the bag or box. Place foods in a bowl or on a plate so you can see how much you're eating.
If you want to lose weight or avoid putting on weight, you need to keep a check on your portion sizes at home, when eating out, buying takeaways and buying readymade products from the supermarket.
Be careful when you read serving sizes on food labels. There are no standard portions sizes. A 'portion' of food as defined by the manufacturer may not be the same as a healthy-sized portion.
Cooking and eating together as a couple or a family is a pleasure but plan quantities according to appetite and your level of activity.
Men, women and children need different amounts so don’t expect everyone to clear their plates. It’s better to have a small helping and go back for seconds than load up everyone’s plate. This will also encourage healthy habits too.