Since there is an entire post dedicated to the formula for a balanced meal with typical lunch or dinner foods, it is only fair to do a breakfast edition. In the United States the foods we classify as “breakfast foods” tend to be primarily in the carbohydrate (carbs) food group. When we consume carbs it triggers a cascade of hormonal responses, which can be explained in a future post. But specific to our food balancing, an all-carb breakfast does not nourish our bodies or energy levels the way we need them to. Depending on the type of carb it will have varying effects, but generally it leaves us feeling “empty” an hour or two later, can trigger sugar and carb cravings the rest of the day, give us a mid-morning “crash”, and does not do our blood sugars any good.
The idea is to bring balance to breakfast by including various food groups, which will leave you feeling satisfied for longer and give you sustained energy and blood sugar levels. The goal is not to eliminate carbs from breakfast, although ideal amounts will vary on the individual and their medical and health goals. Let’s say goodbye to the typical oatmeal/milk/fruit (all carb), yogurt/fruit/granola (all carb), fruit/yogurt smoothie (all carb) breakfasts and bring some nourishing balanced options in! This is the formula for a balanced breakfast.
Step 1: Choose Your Carb
Ideally it will be a high fiber and/or a nutrient-dense option.
Grains: bread, oats, quinoa
Fruit: seasonal and organic (use the Dirty Dozen List to help prioritize), whole fruit, low glycemic options are best
Toast: sweet potato or other toast + almond butter + hemp seeds + cinnamon
Classic: toast + fried eggs + ghee + choose a sprouted bread or an authentic sourdough, add tomato slices and arugula
Breakfast hash: sweet potato cubes + scrambled eggs + avocado slices + bell peppers, mushrooms, zucchini add turmeric, black pepper, salt
Smoothie or smoothie bowl: strawberries + grass fed and organic collagen powder + MCT or coconut oil + baby spinach
Overnight oats: rolled oats + almond butter + grass fed and organic whey protein + cinnamon
Parfait: fruit + plain Greek yogurt and cashew butter + flaxseeds + sprouted almonds
Generally I do not give portion or serving sizes unless I am working with you one-on-one. Portions and ratios of macros are very individualized to each person’s body, medical history, health goals, etc.
Thanksgiving is over, so now what? If you are not a fan of leftovers I hope you either gave them to your guests or left them with the host, because, food waste! I am notorious for being able to construct full balanced meals with food scraps, but it is not a “gift”, I’ve just gotten very creative and comfortable with experimenting in the kitchen. And you can too! I put together a list of ideas on how to repurpose and reuse our delicious Thanksgiving scraps in creative and healthy ways.
Whether it is surplus from the celery, onion, and garlic you used in the stuffing or leftovers from the appetizer tray you can use them.
Dice it: use when you’re making lentils, beans, or grains from scratch. It gives the dish great flavor and a nutrient boost
Crockpot dishes: keep as is and use to make soups, stews, and curries
Snacks: cut into bite-sized pieces, add dip, and you’ve got a snack for the week
Future dishes: dice it all and keep in air-tight container in the freezer for future recipes
Vegetable stems, bits and ends
A lot of vegetable scraps go in the trash (carrot tops, leafy section of fennel, celery hearts, onion ends, etc.) but there are other options. If you do not have access to composting you can still use those scraps.
Vegetable broth: put all scraps in a closed container in the freezer, once it is full you can make your own broth
Pesto: replace basil leaves with carrot tops to make a pesto sauce
Aromatics: use citrus peels and herbs to make your kitchen or home smell delicious
Squash, brussel sprouts, sweet potatoes, beets, or whatever vegetables you roasted can be used in future dishes as a quick way to boost the fiber and nutritional content.
Egg dishes: scrambled, frittatas, egg muffin cups
Grain bowls: add protein and fat too to make a complete meal
Pasta dishes: lasagna, noodles, casseroles
*If you usually steam vegetables instead of roast, the leftovers can be stored in the freezer and used to add to smoothies and smoothie bowls as a vegetable boost and a natural thickener. My personal favorites are spinach, zucchini, beets, cauliflower florets, and broccoli stalks.
Grains and potatoes
This may vary depending on if sauces, dressings or gravies were already mixed in or not.
Here it is, part two of the nourishing Thanksgiving series (find part one here). Now let’s dive right in.
Be a carb snob
People love to blame the afternoon nap on too many bites of turkey, but I’d be willing to bet it’s a blood sugar crash! I usually don’t call out one food or food group, but on a carb-laden day like Thanksgiving (I’m looking at you bread rolls, sweet potato casserole, mashed potatoes, stuffing, desserts, and alcohol) – I encourage you to be a snob. What I mean by that is choose your absolute favorite dishes that you look forward to all year long and skip out on the dishes that don’t genuinely excite you.
For example, if you’re only taking a serving of the yam dish because it’s on the table but you would prefer to have a heftier serving of the stuffing that you have daydreams about…then don’t serve yourself the yams and grab that stuffing! As for desserts, I promise the apple pie still tastes like it did last year and the year before. You don’t need to take a slice for courtesy or because it is being served. Choose your favorite dessert, the one that makes your mouth water, and serve yourself a portion. By being more of a carb snob on Thanksgiving we’re still able to enjoy our favorite dishes and skip out on the ones that we’re eating out of habit or politeness.
Fill half of your plate with veggies
Including non-starchy vegetables does not mean we’re getting rid of the classics, it just means that we’re adding more nutrients. So to be clear – we’re adding bulk to the meal, not taking food away. By adding more fiber, vitamins, and minerals to your plate you’re enriching your health and helping you fill up on nourishing foods. Whether you make the appetizers veg-heavy or you add multiple vegetable side dishes to the menu, there are easy (and delicious) ways to increase your veggie intake the day of Thanksgiving.
Crudité board: radish slices, beet chips, previously roasted sweet potato “chips”, bell pepper strips, carrot sticks + dip of choice
Roasted vegetable dishes: brussel sprouts, carrots, bell peppers, mushrooms, eggplant
Fall salad: arugula + shaved brussel sprouts/cabbage + roasted delicata squash + pomegranate seeds + raw walnuts or pumpkin seeds + dressing (tahini, olive oil, salt, pepper, lemon juice)
Sometimes the smallest tweaks can make a big difference in the nutrition of the meal without sacrificing taste. Not saying we need to re-do all of our favorite Thanksgiving staples (don’t touch Grandma’s family pie recipe!), but if we can alter a few recipes to make it more nourishing then why not?
It will depend on the individual dish, but here are some ideas:
Cut sugar amounts by 1/4-1/3 of what recipe states
Use alternate sweeteners to replace granulated sugar (like applesauce, banana, coconut sugar, dates, or honey)
Switch to high fiber versions of foods like whole grain rolls and nut & seed crackers
Keep the skin on your potatoes, sweet potatoes, and other starchy vegetables to increase fiber
Switch the method of cooking by opting for baking or roasting versus deep-frying
Cut the cream amounts or switch to a healthier fat source (like a coconut milk/cream)
Make items from scratch to control the ingredients used and cut the “junk” (i.e. pie crusts, whipped cream, cranberry sauce, etc.)
Set the vibes
Whether you have a forced family gathering or a complete love fest on Thanksgiving, it is nice to take advantage of the day to connect with others and raise your energetic vibrations. You may not be able to control where or with whom you’re spending the day, but you are able to control the energy you exude and the vibes you bring to the table. So remember that when you find yourself annoyed before you’ve even started the day – you are in control.
I challenge you to practice gratitude and thankfulness, it could mean a quick journal list when you wake up or a group activity with others. It is rare that we get a full day to do nothing but connect, eat, and share good food. That in itself is something to be grateful for! Whether it is sharing a list of what you’re appreciative of, naming each dish after an affirmation (thank you Gratitude Cafe for that idea), or expressing gratefulness in your community by distributing meals – I encourage you to set the vibrational standards high to make it an unforgettable and cherished day.
Download this FREE ebook to by Meg Gerber, RD, LDN, IFNCP. It is gluten and dairy free, rich in plant foods, and low in added sugars. It makes your mouth water and gives you healthier versions of your favorite Thanksgiving dishes!
Whatever your personal feelings are about Thanksgiving, we know this one-day holiday is notorious for overeating and food-induced comas. I am not going to lecture you to lay off the stuffing or skip the dessert because 1) I am not the food police and 2) you are allowed to enjoy your favorite foods. But there are certainly different tips and tricks you can implement into the day to make sure you keep your body feeling good and nourished!
Commonly people skip breakfast the morning of Thanksgiving in order to “save room for later”. It is important to understand that our bodies do not work that way! If anything it leaves us feeling starved by the time the meal comes, which means we eat everything in sight – and way too much of it/too fast! And it leaves our blood sugars in terrible shape.
Think about it, we haven’t eaten all night while sleeping and then don’t eat for another 4-6 hours after waking up, that’s a lot of hours without food! It sends our blood sugars dropping which can cause symptoms like irritability, sleepiness, difficulty concentrating, and other annoying buzzkills to the day. Then we go eat our oversized Thanksgiving plate in under 15 minutes which causes a fast spike in blood sugars. Our blood sugars peak about 1.5-2.0 hours after eating our meal, now queue the (what seems like) obligatory nap! This pattern of very low sugar then a very speedy spike in high blood sugar tosses our bodies and hormones into a weird rollercoaster ride all day and leaves us not feeling our best.
By eating a nutrient-rich breakfast 3-6 hours before THE meal, you’ll be showing some major love to yourself! It sets your body up for stable blood sugars, stable energy levels, and stable hormone signaling. Ideally the meal would be protein, healthy fat, and a side of veggies or another fiber rich carb. And by eating a meal it can help tame that constant snacking that could otherwise takes place, which also causes weird spikes in insulin and blood sugar and leaves us feeling “empty” all day.
Keep breakfast super simple since you will most likely be cooking up a storm for a big portion of the day!
Scrambled eggs + organic grass-fed ghee/butter + big handful of spinach and broccoli + salt, pepper, turmeric + small fruit or a cup of berries
Fried eggs + organic grass-fed ghee/butter + salt, pepper, chili + 1/2 small avocado + sweet potato “toast” or toast of choice
Breakfast salad: a big bowl of baby greens and arugula + 1/2 cup legumes or a small baked potato + protein + baby tomatoes + pesto or extra virgin olive oil, salt, pepper, lemon juice + 1/4 cup of raw nuts or seeds
Protein ideas: fried eggs, deli turkey slices, grilled chicken, edamame
Full-fat yogurt of choice + 1/2 cup berries + 1-2 tbsp. chia seeds + 1/4 cup of almonds or cashews + cinnamon, nutmeg
Move your body
If you know you are going to spend the majority of the afternoon and evening lounging around and relaxing in a sedentary state, take advantage of the morning to get some physical activity in. It can be done alone or with whoever you are spending the day with, inside or outside, so there are no excuses! By starting the day with exercise you are getting your body moving, your digestion going, and helping your body handle the blood sugar spikes later on.
Any type of yoga class
Local turkey day walk/run
Zumba or dance class
HIIT or interval workout
Cardio or kickboxing
Whether it is due to the eating, the talking, or the cooking – we tend to drink significantly less water than normal on Thanksgiving day. Being dehydrated can lead to constipation, increased hunger, and more cravings. If you feel thirsty, your skin is dry, or your urine is yellow/dark then you are dehydrated. The goal is for your urine to be pale yellow/clear and you should be drinking water steadily all day. Depending on your Thanksgiving crowd, there could also be lots of alcohol flowing – at minimum make sure you alternate alcohol and water intake to keep your hydration status up.
Use intuitive eating
If you are not familiar with the term “intuitive eating”, this is a very brief description: tuning in to your own body’s hunger cues and letting it guide your meal size, food choices, and when to start or stop your meal. In other words, rejecting all diet mentalities and listening to your internal messages and signs instead.
A great way to implement intuitive eating is by checking in with yourself halfway through the meal. You may think “I’m starting to fill up, maybe I should take a few minutes to take a break and then see how I feel” or maybe it’s “I’m still hungry I’m going to finish this whole plate”. Whether you finish the plate or not, it’s about taking notice of how hungry or full you feel throughout the meal so that you stop when you are satisfied and not just when you are going to burst or because your plate is clean!
I also encourage you to slow down because the meal and the good company isn’t going anywhere. Take your time to chew your food and savor the labor that went into it and try to make your meal extend at least 30 minutes! It takes about 20 minutes for your brain to even begin receiving signals from your digestive system that you are eating, so keep that in mind before you dig into second helpings 15 minutes into the meal.
Download this FREE ebookto by Meg Gerber, RD, LDN, IFNCP. It is gluten and dairy free, rich in plant foods, and low in added sugars. It makes your mouth water and gives you healthier versions of your favorite Thanksgiving dishes!
Whether you love cooking from scratch or you rely on eating out, this formula will help ensure that you have a balanced meal! Since we tend to eat different foods for breakfast, we’ll keep this formula specific to lunch and dinner. I listed food examples for each category, but of course, this is not an exhaustive list.
Step 1: Pick a Base
This will usually be our carbohydrate group. We’re aiming for high-fiber and nutrient-dense options.
Whether you are vegan, vegetarian, omnivore, or whatever! You need protein at every meal, not loaded all up at dinner.
Plant-based: legumes, edamame, tempeg
Meat/poultry: beef, chicken, turkey, eggs, cheese
Seafood: salmon, tuna, shellfish
Step 3: Include Non-Starchy Vegetables
Ideally, non-starchy vegetables should take up at least half of your plate. But if you’re just starting to include veggies into your diet, start with more realistic goals and aim for at least 1 serving per meal then work your way up.
One serving = 1/2 cup cooked or 1 cup raw or 2-3 cups leafy greens.
Choose seasonal to get the most nutrient-dense options
I’ve already gushed about my love for a good “cheese” sauce in another post. Even though there are many ways to eat it, I’m a creature of habit! And this is a weeknight go-to because it takes under 20 minutes, hits my comfort spot, and is a nourishing meal.
Veggie Loaded Mac & Cheese
1 box of pasta *
1/2 block of tempeh, slice thin to make crispy
Veggies of choice (psst my favorites in this dish are these guys)
Who doesn’t love a big bowl of mac and cheese?! I do. This sauce is 5-star for people who avoid dairy and for the dairy-lovers who want to try something new. I tested it on both, promise.
Cashew “Cheese” Sauce
1 cup raw cashews, soaked *
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup nutritional yeast
2-3 cloves garlic
Juice from a lemon or lime
2 tsp. chili powder (optional)
Salt to taste
Place all ingredients in a blender (I used my Nutribullet) and blend until smooth and creamy.
Pour over meal or store in air-tight container.
*Soak cashews in a bowl covered with filtered water. Overnight or in warm water for 4 hours.
How to Use it
My favorite way to use this sauce is pouring it over a hot bowl of pasta with veggies! But there are many other simple, delicious ideas to enjoy this creamy “cheese” sauce.
Over nachos: tortilla chips, black beans, sauteed red onion + mushrooms + bell peppers, black olives, shredded lettuce or cabbage, salsa with guacamole or avocado
As a dip: use roasted veggies like broccoli, bell pepper strips, sweet potato slices, or eggplant
Mac & cheese: using a naturally gluten-free and high-protein pasta makes it an easy way to get tons of fiber in and is a nutrient-dense alternative to regular white pasta. My typical choices include chickpea, lentil, quinoa, or a blend of these flours. Like this yummy veggie loaded mac & cheese!
This may not be the most photogenic meal, but trust me, it makes up for it in flavor!