The Dietary Guidelines for Americans as set out by the U.S. government (and I strongly suggest you download the pdf of the latest edition*) recommends that most adults consume at least 2-1/2 cups of vegetables, 2 cups of fruit, 6 ounces of grain (more than half as whole grains), 3 cups of dairy, 5-1/2 ounces of protein foods, and 27 grams of oils (based on 2,000 calorie/day). They also recommend limiting additional calories spent on sugars, alcohol, additional fats, etc. to 240 calories or 12% of total calorie consumption.
I personally strive for a predominantly whole foods, plant-based eating pattern, and though my aspirations are vegan (kinder to animals, lower carbon emissions, etc.), I don’t always strictly adhere to it. I do eat more than the recommended fruits and vegetables–by a LOT–so my carbs and sugars are always high! I probably come in under in grains and dairy/alternatives by a serving on some days. I generally meet the protein recommendations. I find using a calorie and macro tracking app helpful to make sure I’m meeting my primary nutrient needs.
(Quick side note: the Dietary Guidelines for Americans is just one tool for determining whether you’re on the right track nutritionally. I also consider recommendations for muscle building that range from .8 to 2 grams/kg of body weight. See this article by myfitnesspal.)
So what do I eat on a typical summer day?
This is what a typical day currently looks like for me and is not a recommendation for what you should eat. What I eat evolves with what is fresh and available, what I like, and what I find at the Grocery Outlet discount store near me. It also evolves as I learn more and discover new ways to fuel myself and better ways to live sustainably.
Breakfast: A protein pancake from a mix with 2 tbsp walnuts, 1 tbsp rolled oats, and 2 tbsp vanilla protein powder added to the batter; topped with slices of 1 banana and 1 tbsp of maple syrup. I also drink several cups of coffee–sometimes black, but often with a nondairy creamer.
Snack1: One or more pieces of fruit (today it was 2 plums and 1 apple), and 1/4 cup of raw almonds.
Lunch: Protein powder smoothie with 1-1/2 cups almond milk, 1/2 a frozen banana, 1/2 cup frozen mango, 1/2 cup frozen blueberries, and a big handful of spinach greens blended in. Today I poured it into a bowl and topped with about a tbsp of ground hemp hearts and 1/2 a tbsp of cacao nibs.
Snack2: Depends on hunger level, but this week I’ve been extra hungry, so I had a protein bar about 1/2 hour after I exercised. A protein snack consumed within an hour after a workout is recommended to help repair and build muscle (see that myfitnesspal article on protein linked above).
Dinner: My summer go-to meal is a really big salad that consists of a variety of leafy greens, summer squash, cucumber, tomatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, celery, red/orange/yellow bell pepper, mushrooms, onions, carrots, beets, asparagus, Brussel sprouts, sliced fennel bulb… basically a bunch of whatever is in season and not too expensive. And I get super excited when I can add something from my own garden. I currently have arugula, romain, some leaf lettuces, orange cherry tomatoes, and basil to add. Later this summer I may luck out and have some yellow crook-neck squash, peppers, carrots, and cucumbers.
I topped this with a cup of canned great northern white beans (although garbanzo, black, or kidney beans are also great!), 2 tbsp chopped walnuts, a 1/4 cup mix of dried fruit (cranberries, chopped dates, raisins), and a balsamic dressing.
I also LOVE carrots and usually eat 3-6 large carrots per day. *chomp, chomp, chomp* They’re a great source of potassium and vitamin A!
Dessert: 1 cup green grapes, 1/2 cup blueberries, and 1/2 cup strawberries topped with almond yogurt, and a sprinkle of chia seeds.
For this example day, the calories come in at about 2,150, my macros and nutrients are okay, with protein at 102 grams (19% of calories) and fats a little high at 66 grams (almost 27% of calories), but I’m low in iron, so will plan to add more spinach to tomorrow’s smoothie. My generalized goal is to maintain my current body weight by eating around 2,000 calories (50% carbs, 25% proteins, and 25% fats) and exercising about 1 hour per day. I rarely hit any of those marks precisely, but I am satisfied both physically and mentally by getting close enough.
Eat Whole Foods: Sticking to foods that are unprocessed or lightly processed–mostly whole foods you buy right off the produce shelves or the bulk bins of dried fruits, nuts, seeds, and pastas–will give you most of the nutrients and fiber your body needs to fuel and sustain itself.
Supplement as Needed AND Our Needs Vary: Supplementing with protein powders or bars is convenient, but your needs depend somewhat on your goals and what else you’re feeding yourself that day. For example, if I’d thought ahead and made up some quinoa with lentils and TVP (texturized vegetable protein) to add to my salad at dinner, my overall protein intake for the day would be higher. I could have had carrots and celery with nut butter or a pita with veggies and hummus as a post workout snack instead of the protein bar.
Variety Makes the World Go ‘Round: Eat a variety of colors, mostly fruits and vegetables, but whole grains and protein are essential as well. There are lots of options and lots of ways to make a fairly healthy diet both yummy and convenient. Most importantly, it needs to be sustainable for you, and that means it has to fit your lifestyle and your palate.
If you are really just starting to eat more healthfully, another helpful tool that coincides with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans is the website and app at myplate.gov by the US Department of Agriculture. They have loads of examples of portion sizes for all of the food groups and a bunch of recipes you can search according to your needs, cooking equipment, costs, desired cuisine, and etc. Definitely worth checking out!
Tell me what works for you, or let me know if you have any questions!
*Important to note that the government’s guidelines, while based in science, are influenced by moneyed interests and politics. The guide is published every 5 years, and this last edition stepped away from advising community responsibility for promoting equitable healthy eating patterns everywhere toward individualized responsibility and individualized tastes.
The resources and information shared on this site are solely for informational purposes and aren’t intended to diagnose, treat, or cure any condition or disease or provide any professional advice.