Nutrition advice from Jessica Siegel, registered dietitian at Gelson’s Markets

Here’s the ideal meal to enjoy the night before your big fight. Just add the salad of your choice along with mashed potatoes or perhaps a pasta dish like fettuccine alfredo with broccoli.

When you think about it, the following thoughts from Jessica Siegel’s online advice column can be likened to free verse poetry: “I want you to keep in mind the importance of eating with gratitude and enjoyment. Practicing these things requires you to be present and mindful, not distracted and rushed. This approach will, in turn, help you pay attention to what and how much you are eating. Meals should be well-planned, balanced, and healthful.

First, make structured meals and snacks a priority. Eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day, even if your previous meal was huge. Eat at regular meal times and have snacks between meals if you are hungry. Skipping a meal is not a way to compensate for eating too much. Actually, it will set you up for overeating again. Tune into your internal cues of hunger and eat the amount you are hungry for. Breakfast is especially important because it influences your appetite and the healthfulness of your food choices for the rest of the day.

Also, plan your meals and snacks in advance. This can help you prevent the skipping of a meal, eating haphazardly, or arriving somewhere starving. Having a plan, rather than relying on willpower will set you up to be successful with your eating.

Next, make pleasure part of your meal. Sit down, slow down, use dishes and silverware, take smaller bites, chew thoroughly, and savor your food. The faster you eat the less attention you pay to your food and the more calories you consume. Connect eating to gratitude and health. Say grace; it doesn’t have to be religious. It’s just about expressing gratitude for what you have in front of you. Acknowledge the fact your food did not just appear on the table. Someone grew it and then harvested it. Someone processed it, someone bought it, and finally, someone cooked it. You can say thank you out loud or to yourself. This is a great way to slow things down and become more in the present before starting to eat. This will help you stay connected to how much you are enjoying your food, and when you start to feel full, you’ll be responsible enough to eat only the amount that’s right for your body.

Family Meals

Try to have family meals with at least one other person—relative or friend. Family meals and structured eating go hand-in-hand. Part of your meal conversation could even include naming things you’re grateful for. Healthful eating is really about the overall quality of your diet and having a healthy relationship with food. With these tools, you can successfully savor and appreciate everything you eat. Get yourself organized and plan in advance.

We all have barriers that prevent us from regularly getting a good family meal on the table. It could be a near-empty pantry or fridge, a family of picky eaters, a busy family schedule, or even not being in the habit of eating together. However, the benefits of everyone sitting down to a meal together, especially a homemade meal, are enormous. Keep in mind any meal can be a family meal—breakfast may be easier than dinner for most families, and if you can make both breakfast and dinner family meals, that’s even better!

Family meals are a commitment. Eventually, they become second nature, but too often they get derailed. Research shows that children who eat meals with their family perform better in school, eat a better diet, have better mental health and verbal development, and are at a lower risk for obesity, substance abuse, and other risky behaviors. Family meals help children learn to like new foods by exposing them to variety and adult role models who hopefully eat and enjoy an array of foods. Adults who eat with other people tend to have better mental and physical health, stronger social connections and a lower risk of high blood pressure and obesity.

Your Menu is your Framework

My goal is to teach you how to take one day a week to plan and shop for five night’s worth of dinners. But if you’re not yet in the habit of having family meals, first get into the rhythm of sitting down together to share a meal without worrying about the nutritional value or quality of the food.

As listeners know, my family uses the Mediterranean diet as a framework for our eating. We usually make breakfast and lunch our vegetarian meals and dinner our higher protein meal where we basically have fish or chicken with a variety of non-starchy and starchy vegetables. I use organic extra-virgin cold pressed olive oil for cooking, olive oil being an essential part of the Mediterranean Diet. We have fruit for dessert most nights and portion-controlled “real dessert” about twice a week. The keys to success involve (1) finding recipes that match your cooking abilities and time limits, (2) using recipes your family likes, and (3) organizing those recipes so that they are easily accessible when it is time to plan your menus and cook.

It’s important to have a reliable resource for healthy, easy and tasty recipes. I use my own recipes that are conveniently posted on the website. and are two more great sources for finding great recipes because they are reviewed by people who have tried them.

Planning your Menu

When planning dinners, try to envision a dinner plate arranged with at least one-half vegetables, a quarter protein, and a quarter starchy vegetables or whole grains. You’ll want to include a variety of colors, flavors, and textures on the plate. Once in a while, a “one-pot” dinner, a flavorful Irish Stew, is nice.

To get started, first, decide which protein you will have each night and build from there (for instance, fish on Mondays, poultry on Tuesdays, vegetarian on Wednesdays and Fridays and red meat on Thursdays). Plan to use the most perishable foods like fish and poultry early in the week so that they are at their best when you use them.

You also want to be mindful of which flavors and types of foods go together—certainly, Chicken Parmesan and teriyaki vegetables are not a good mix. You can also choose a theme for each night, like Mexican (Taco Tuesdays) or Italian (Milanese Mondays). Gelson’s Markets has created a Weekly Dinner Menu Planner you can download from to help remind you of all the important components in a food group plus they’ve added tons of recipes

Whether in person at one of the Gelson Markets or on the internet delivering one of her informative podcasts, the Staff Dietitian for Gelson’s Markets and author of Nutrition Notes, a monthly newsletter about wellness, food and cooking, Jessica Siegel has managed to convert thousands of grocery shoppers into more intelligent eatersm8.

Again, here’s an attempt to draw a comparison with Jessica Siegel’s free-flowing narrative above with the poetry of Charles Ghigna (Father Goose), the author of more than 30 books of poetry for children and adults. Mr. Ghigna’s poem, “A Poem is a Little Path” conveys the same message.

Jessica Siegel’s thoughts about a good diet and how best to dine are so like Ghigna’s message. Both narratives have you on a path of discovery. If you follow their suggestions, you too can reap their almost incalculable benefits.

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