Is it a good idea to have five to six small meals a day?
I am sure you know how following a balanced diet regime could be the best way to stay healthy.
The question now is: can you achieve this goal?
Is it practical to include grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, eggs, milk and dairy products—everything that a balanced diet is composed of, into your busy daily schedule?
My answer is: YES. But you will have to plan and take baby steps to achieve this objective.
The first good step in this direction would be to have five to six small meals rather than three large meals in a day. I am suggesting this because this not only will stimulate your metabolism but also keep your energy levels high throughout the day, saving you from the lethargy and bouts of drowsiness that having three large meals will inevitably entail.
Next, you have to plan to find time to exercise without really going to the gym (especially when you can’t afford the membership) and that too in an entertaining way. This is necessary to help keep you in good physical shape which no diet can ensure.
Many readers have asked me if these two goals are achievable and if I have been able to practice what I preach. So here is my own example of how I and my family have tried to incorporate a balanced diet regime. You may, of course, not follow this routine exactly and adapt/modify to suit your own regional and cultural preference.
Image Courtesy of Free Digital Photos.net/Stuart Miles
6 a.m. This is the time when my whole family wakes up. After brushing teeth, we have tea (normal tea bag quality) with half a slice of lemon (squeezed in), adding NO milk or sugar, but a teaspoon of honey instead. I prefer black tea for its known anti-oxidant properties, but don’t add milk or sugar as they are supposed to neutralize these properties. Lemon gives me a boost of Vitamin C and honey an additional dose of anti-oxidants. In between the sips, we munch on a dried fig, and six pieces of almonds and one dried apricot (both soaked overnight) to help us take advantage of the myriad benefits of these three wonderful nuts.
7-8 a.m. This is the time when our entire family goes for a long walk to a nearby park. I can’t tell you how soothing I find the early morning breeze and greenery to the eye and the mind. We feel a bit lazy while leaving our house but when we come back from a 40+ minute walk, we feel very refreshed and ready for the day.
8-9 a.m. We take a shower, get dressed and report for breakfast.
9-10 a.m. This is the breakfast time. I usually have an egg on most of the days (boiled, scrambled, poached or as an omelette) with a glass of milk (usually with coffee), toast (of whole wheat bread, oat, or multi grain) with a little butter and marmalade or cheese slice, two walnuts/pecan nuts with a few raisins and sautéed peas.
I don’t normally take sausages because they are supposed to be made of the worst quality of meat, and bacon, because of its high salt content. Most of the stuff that I have, take less than 15 minutes to prepare. And if you sequence and parallel process, then you can easily make a decent breakfast in less than 15 minutes. In this way, you ensure that you are not skipping breakfast or only surviving on tea and coffee.
You may have also noted how bread and muesli gives us our carbs and roughage, egg, cheese and milk our proteins, butter our fat, marmalade or peanut butter our glucose for instant energy and coffee our daily dose of caffeine.
Image Courtesy of Free Digital Photos.net/Amro
10-11.30 a.m. We are all off to work.
11.30-11.45 a.m. This is what we call a fruit break. We usually have some chopped papayas with pomegranates. If you find chopping papayas and peeling pomegranates tedious, then you can easily carry a banana and an apple/pear to your workplace/college.
The sweet fruits give us instant energy, at a time when those energy reserves may be dipping a little, and the vitamins and roughage that they in addition provide are quite a welcome bonus. We try to avoid taking tea or coffee at this time, if we can.
1-1.30 p.m. This is our lunch break. We, as all Indians, usually have rice, dal (lentil curry) and two vegetable dishes or a chicken, mutton or fish dish with a veggie dish. This way we have our carbs in rice, vitamins, minerals and roughage in our veggies, proteins in our lentils and chicken/fish, and fat in the oils or butter used in the preparation of all these dishes. In addition, we harness the myriad benefits of our wonderful spices like turmeric, coriander, ginger, garlic, cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, etc which are used in routine in Indian dishes.
We usually carry lunch from home. You can also do the same depending upon your convenience. You may carry your own home made sandwich or some chicken/fish with some vegetables that were left over from dinner. If your workplace has a kitchen with a microwave and your colleagues don’t really raise an eyebrow then this could be a convenient option.
However, you may have to plan this in advance. May be cook in the evening when you have time. Try to cook your meals in 30 minutes or so. This is achievable if you sequence your actions properly.
4.30-5 p.m. I usually have a glass of milk with coffee to boost my energy levels. My parents usually have Jasmine tea with some peanuts. This is also the best time to have a sweet or a dessert, because of the energy boost that they can provide at the time when you most need that kick.
6-7 p.m. This is usually our exercise time. We exercise in our own homes. If you have the time and the money, do consider a Gym membership. But don’t waste money on a gym membership, and then go to the gym occasionally which will not be an efficient utilisation of your resources.
As for me, I have invested in a Sony PS3 PlayStation with a camera and a motion controller and some fitness software programs (which come on a blu ray disc) to have an effective workout. Of the many fitness games that I have experimented with, I would recommend My Fitness Coach Club by Ubisoft (which I am not affiliated with).
We have regularly used this product and have found great fitness benefits out of it. This game is quite interactive with hundreds of exercises relating to Cardio, Flexibility, Balance, Upper Body, Core Body, and Lower Body. In addition, you can choose exercises from Yoga, Pilates, Latin Dance and Kickboxing. This game makes exercising fun, entertaining and something really to look forward to. The wide variety of exercises is guaranteed to keep you motivated (at least it has done that to my family).
With the help of a camera and a motion controller, you can get real time feedback on your performance. The best part is that buying a PS3 is only a one time investment and you can work out within the comfort of your home. I have not tried Sony PS4, X-Box or Nintendo Wii, so I really cannot comment on those.
7.30 p.m. This is our second fruit break after exercise. We usually try to have a platter of 5 fruits. Try to eat any kind of fruit you like: Pineapples, Oranges, Kiwis, Strawberries, Apples, Pears, Grapes, etc. After having our fruits, we usually go out for a stroll in the park in the evening. This is just meant to catch a fresh breath of air. This feels really refreshing after sitting in office for the entire day.
8.30-9 p.m. This is the time we have dinner which is usually light. We have soups with some Indian bread, vegetables, sometimes a chicken or a fish dish and some Greek yoghurt. There is usually NO dessert, because as I’ve mentioned, the best time to indulge your sweet tooth is around 4.30 p.m.
Perceptive readers may have noticed the absence of salads in this schedule. As I have already said, salads can no doubt increase the health quotient of your meals many, many times provided you go easy on the dressings and even oil. However, assembling a green salad with lettuce and other edible greens is not easy in India. The Indian salad, therefore, is generally composed of cucumber, carrots, tomato, onions, and radish, which I’m personally not very fond of. So I prefer to get my fill of fibre and vitamins from fruits instead.
You may, of course, not follow what we eat but I suppose you would have by now got an idea of how we try to have all elements of the “Food Pyramid” in routine.
After our dinner, we usually catch up on our favourite Television programmes. These are mostly pre-recorded, on a satellite TV HD recorder, to save on time.
10.30-11 p.m. This is the time we usually go to sleep.
As I have said earlier that I have used my routine simply to give you an idea. You may come up with your own routine. You may not be able to follow my routine depending upon your unique situation. For example, you may not be able to carry lunch to your office because that is not really the culture in your workplace. You may invite a few stares from your office colleagues for doing such a thing unless you do not care what others think.
You may be able to carry only sandwiches to your lunch instead of a proper lunch. You may not be able to make your own dinner if you are working late at office. You may not like the idea of exercising using PS3 and would prefer going to the gym or exercise in the park or go for some sport like squash or tennis. All that is fine.
No matter what routine you follow, there are certain alterations that you can definitely make to your lifestyle.
Ensure that you have 5-6 small meals a day: You can gain ideas and inspiration from my routine and can ensure that you too have 5-6 small meals a day. This keeps you full throughout the day and does not let your energy levels dip. This also protects you from hunger pangs and ensures that you don’t overeat during any of your two or three “main” meals.
Try to include as many fruits and veggiesin your diet as possible: For example, if you are making grilled chicken for dinner, then also make veggies in pizza/pasta sauce. Not only does this add variety to your chicken but also the goodness of veggies in your diet. You may cook your pasta with veggies or have stir fried prawns with vegetables.
You need to find time to have 5 fruits in a day. If you don’t like fruits, then try developing a taste for them. For me, I really love the sweetness of kiwis, the sourness of strawberries and the crispiness of apples and I really wonder why people eat fruity flavoured candies when they can have the real thing.
Find time to cook your own meals: Only by cooking your own meals, can you ensure what you are consuming. You have full control over the ingredients you put in, be it the quantity and quality of oil, spices or processed ingredients. If cooking on weekdays be difficult for you due to your hectic routine, try cooking on weekends in large quantities and then freezing in smaller packs. In this way you will only need to re-heat your dinner when you come back home.
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, don’t miss it: You should try to never avoid your breakfast. A good breakfast keeps you active throughout the day and also reduces hunger pangs. With proper planning, you can create your breakfast in less than 15 minutes.
When I was studying in London and had barely learnt to cook, I could still have a boiled egg with muesli and a glass of milk. Later on I could manage a scrambled egg, some sauté peas, along with muesli and a glass of cold milk, all in 15 minutes. If I could do that, I am sure you can manage it too. Do not survive only on tea or coffee.
Find time to exercise: Exercise can really help you to beat stress, improve stamina and maintain form. You may not find PS3/X-Box/Nintendo Wii your ideal way of working out. Work outs during evenings may not suit you. You should still try to find some time to exercise. If you like jogging in the park in the mornings, go for it. If you like going to the gym, do that. Find something that excites you and stick to it. Do you like dancing? How about Yoga or Pilates which too are very relaxing? Or do you enjoy a challenging kickboxing workout?
Get enough sleep: Rest is as important as eating healthily and exercising. Try to get at least 6-8 hours of sleep every day. This may not be possible if you are working late or socialising but still try to get a good sleep wherever and whenever it is possible.
This mission is dedicated to all those friends, relatives and acquaintances who have sampled my mom’s cooking either at my home or at my work place from my lunch-box. I’m starting with Indian cooking, so that the fear of “cooking curries every day” (that my friends in University College London would so often comment on) is banished forever.
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