Nutritionally Balanced Meal Alternatives

Analyse the sample meals suggesting alternatives to improve their overall nutritional balance of the meal. The meal is prepared for a family including a toddler, school aged child, male and pregnant female. Also consider budget limitations and that this is one meal out of the whole day.

Meal 1:

a. Ham sandwich on white bread with butter

b. Bag of crisps

c. Bottle of fruit squash with sucky spout

d. Chocolate bar

a. This lunch option can be made more nutritionally beneficial by making a few changes. Butter can be replaced by using a low fat spread. The white bread can be swapped to a wholemeal option which contains more fibre, vitamins and minerals. Children shouldn’t have too much wholegrain food in their diet, as the fibre can fill them up meaning they are not hungry to eat a wide variety of food needed to provide their daily nutritional requirements, so the other foods provided during the day will need to be considered before choosing this for the younger members of this family. Children often find wholemeal a strong flavour and may not be willing to switch from white to wholemeal, if this is the case 50/50 bread options are available where the flour contains no parts of the husk or seed and half of the mix is wholemeal. During pregnancy whole-grains are recommended e.g. from wholemeal bread as the increased provision of fibre helps to decrease the risk of pre pre-eclampsia especially during the first three months.

Ham has been cured by soaking in brine so is typically high in salt. Healthier options would be to choose canned tuna (as long as the pregnant mother and toddler have not exceeded their weekly recommended limit of 4 cans of tuna) or salmon or to use rotisserie chicken from the deli. If you have cooked a roast chicken you can save the leftovers for sandwiches the next day. To reduce fat content the tuna can be served with a little olive oil and vinegar instead of mayonnaise, salmon would not need any dressing as it is an oily fish. Chicken needs to be cooked thoroughly especially for toddlers and pregnant women in case of bacteria and salmonella.

b. A popular and easy lunch and snack option, crisps are often high in saturated fat (due to the cooking method), high in salt and often high in sugar. Replacements that offer greater health benefits would be rice cakes, there are many different flavours available and low salt or plain options to which you can add a topping. Nursery and school age children will need to be avoid nut based spreads as these are usually not allowed in packed lunches in case of allergy. Toddlers may like Hippeas, which are a baked chickpea mix that look like wotsits, but with 1g of salt per packet you may prefer to serve half a pack with lunch to keep the daily salt intake below the recommended amount. The adults in the family may prefer to have a handful of nuts and seeds instead of crisps this would increase the micronutrients in the diet as well as the good fat from the nuts.

c. Fruit squashes are best avoided for children and adults as the sugar content increases the likelihood of dental issues. The use of a sucky spout increases the time of the drink on the teeth causing even higher risks. Alternatives would be to ideally switch to water. Toddlers need 525 mg per day of calcium for growth and development of bones; a glass of milk at lunch time would provide about a quarter of their daily requirement. Full fat milk is recommended for children under 2 years. Adults should consider reducing their fat intake and drink skimmed milk. Another possibility would be to have a glass of fruit juice, a 125ml glass can contribute to one of the five portions of fruit and vegetables needed each day. Low sugar or no added sugar varieties should be chosen to gain greatest benefits. Drinking juice with a meal is preferable to between meals as the food helps to protect the teeth. The vitamin C from orange juice helps the body absorb iron which is important during pregnancy when anaemia is common.

d. Chocolate bars are often eaten to satisfy a sugar craving rather than as a tummy filler. A handful of dried fruit can be just as sweet as chocolate with a lower sugar and fat content. Reducing the sugar intake in your diet can reduce the risk of weight gain and tooth decay. If the chocolate flavour is desired then a cup of cocoa made with water or milk (skimmed for adults and full fat for children) can be a good replacement.

Meal 2:

a. Cheese and onion quiche

b. Chips

c. Salad with dressing

d. Jelly and ice cream

e. Fresh fruit juice

a. Quiches have a variety of fillings, while cheese and ham may increase the salt content of the meal, a vegetable option can help the family to meet their 5 a day. The saturated fat content of a quiche is indicated as being high on the traffic light system of food labelling largely due to the pastry base. An alternative would be to buy a quiche which is crustless. This is similar to making an omelette at home. By creating homemade options from fresh ingredients you can make a meal using favourite fillings and avoid any additives such as preservatives. It would be important to ensure that the eggs were fresh and cooked thoroughly to avoid illness particularly in young children and pregnant women.

b. Chips are seen as unhealthy because of the way they are cooked; in lots of oil. If the crunchy coating and soft filling is the only option for this family meal making chips or wedges at home may be a healthier option. The amount of oil can be hugely reduced by using a brush to lightly coat the cut potatoes. Mashed potatoes can be another replacement a reduced fat spread can be used to increase the creaminess of the texture. As potatoes are the carbohydrate provider of the meal replacing them with an alternative such as wholewheat pasta which can then be mixed into the salad can be a healthier suggestion.

c. A salad will be nutritionally beneficial for all of the family, not only to meet several of the 5 a day recommendation but also to provide essential micronutrients. It is important to choose a variety of vegetables in the salad so that there is a selection that everyone likes and that a wide variety of the minerals and vitamins are covered. Choosing different coloured vegetables and those from different family groups will ensure that variety is met for example, spinach, tomato, yellow pepper and carrot. Pre made dressings are often high in calories, fat, salt and sugar. Homemade dressings can be made simply with a small amount of oil, balsamic vinegar as a simple option and then adding in herbs, spices, mustard or honey for more complexity. Honey would not be suitable for children under 12 months and any homemade dressing should be checked for ingredients that need to be cooked or pasteurised to prevent illness in both pregnancy and young children.

d. This dessert is more of a treat that should only be eaten on a rare occasion to maintain a healthy and nutritionally balanced meal. An alternative can be fresh fruit chopped and served with plain yogurt. Children in particular could be involved in choosing and preparing their own fruit salad. There are low sugar jelly mixes to buy. Either the jelly or the ice cream can be replaced so reduce sugar in part of the dessert and replaced by fruit. Quite often desserts are a habit and adults may be able to increase their fruit or vegetable intake with their main meal and not need to have anything else. The same can be said for children although to help them meet nutritional requirements dessert may be particularly helpful.

e. A glass of fruit juice with a meal can be beneficial. If enough fresh fruit is eaten with meals and snacks the juice can be replaced with a glass of water. The water tends to be sipped more slowly, this is important for children who may gulp a sweet juice down quickly filling their smaller stomachs and not leaving room for more nutrients to be consumed though the main meal.

Meal 3:

a. Shepherd’s pie (made with minced beef, onions, carrots, gravy and potato mashed with butter)

b. Peas

c. Chocolate mousse

a. To make this meal more balanced you can make sure that the beef used is lean so that there is less saturated fat in the meal. The onions and carrot offer a good variety of micronutrients along with the side serving of vegetables. Some gravy can be loaded with salt so it is a good idea to check that the option chosen is reduced salt, particularly when serving to children who have a lower daily recommendation of salt. The mashed potato can be served with low fat spread or a splash of milk for texture rather than butter, again to reduce saturated fat and salt in the meal. As this can be cooked in a large dish portion sizes can be more accurately and appropriately served as a man will need more calories per meal that the children for example. Any leftovers can be put into a clean container and saved for the following day in the fridge or frozen for a meal another time.

b. Peas are a good source of vitamin C, B1, folate and fibre. They are low in saturated fat. Toddlers can enjoy eating them with their fingers. Pregnant women need 100µg extra of folate per day of which peas can contribute to. To increase the health benefits of this meal an extra portion of vegetables can be added such as green beans which can be cut to the size of the peas for easy consumption by the children and for quicker cooking in the same pan as the peas.

c. The pregnant woman and the toddler would not be able to eat the chocolate mousse if it was restaurant or home made as it would likely contain raw egg. Shop bought mousses do not contain the raw egg and would be safe to eat. Although some versions of the mousse are safe they are not a healthy or nutritionally balanced option. Plain yogurt with fresh fruit can be a good alternative. If you like home made options a chocolate mousse can be made using avocado, cacao powder, almond milk and vanilla and honey to taste.

Meal 4:

a. Fish (battered)

b. Chips (deep fried)

c. Mushy peas

d. Fruit salad and cream

a. Battered foods are high in calories and trans fats. Trans fats increase the bad cholesterol in your blood and over time can increase risk of heart disease. It is beneficial to your health to avoid battered foods and to buy plain fish fillets and to create your own topping to flavour. For example by combining breadcrumbs with cheese and chopped spring onions and sprinkling over the fish before adding to the oven can leave a nice crunchy topping.

b. Try oven baked chips or home-made wedges that can be cooked with much less oil reducing calories and trans fats. Various herbs and spices can be added to the oil before brushing over the uncooked potatoes to give the wedges a personalised flavour.

c. Mushy peas give a slow release carbohydrate so are great for keeping you feeling full for longer, stabilise blood sugar levels and are great for keeping energy levels up when exercising and playing. Shop bought mushy peas are made with salt and sugar added although these are labelled with a green traffic light you will need to consider this as part of your overall daily intake. If you want to cut out the added sugar and salt making mushy peas at home is done by simply boiling frozen peas and then blending or mashing them to the desired consistency with a little butter for smoothness and taste.

d. Fruit salad is a great way of adding 1 or 2 of the recommended 5 a day. If it’s from a can make sure the fruit is in water or it’s own juice rather than flavoured syrup which will be much higher in sugar. If you are creating your own fruit salad everyone can pick their own favourites to combine in a bowl – this is a great way of getting children involved in preparing meals that they will eat. For a nutritionally balanced meal the cream can add unnecessary calories, fat and sugar so can be left off of the menu entirely. Plain, natural yoghurt can be used as an alternative if necessary to have an accompaniment. This is also a good idea for children and pregnant women to boost calcium intake for developing bones.

Meal 5:

a. Chocolate flavoured cereal

b. Milk

c. Tea

d. Toast, butter and jam

a. While cereals are very convenient they are also highly processed and often with added sugars – particular the chocolate varieties. Eating a high sugar breakfast will cause blood sugar levels to spike, increasing your risk to illnesses such as heart disease, obesity and type 2 diabetes plus leave you with a sugar crash shortly after consuming. These crashes leave you tired and hungry so encouraging more frequent eating. If cereals just work for you in the morning choose some that do not have added sweeteners and sugars. Porridge slowly releases energy throughout the morning keeping you fuller for longer and regulating your blood sugar levels. It is possible to soak oats overnight in milk, water or (unsweetened) juice and create your own muesli, each person can then add their own dried fruit/ nuts/fresh fruit depending on their own needs and allergies. If you have the time to prepare a hot breakfast, omelettes are a nutritious way to start the day and can have added vegetables. Smoothies can also be a great alternative to cereals.

b. Milk is an important source of calcium and protein as well as providing a range of vitamins and minerals. Children under 2 should drink full fat milk as this provides them with much needed calories. From 2 years children can then have semi skimmed milk and from 5 years skimmed milk. It is important for teenagers to drink milk as this is when most calcium is deposited into the bones. During pregnancy a glass of milk will go part way to providing the extra protein, plus B2 and B3 vitamins needed to help the developing foetus.

c. During pregnancy caffeine should be limited to 200mg per day which is about 3 mugs of tea, this should be considered when planning what to drink and when. Fruit and herbal teas are caffeine free alternatives. Children are recommended a maximum of 45 mg per day of caffeine, this is because children’s brains (central nervous system) are much more sensitive to the stimulation this ingredient provides. It may be advisable to avoid giving children tea and perhaps offering warmed milk as an alternative. Children that go to school may find that caffeine in the morning is over stimulating and can make it more difficult for them to focus or make them more anxious about going to school.

d. Adults will benefit from eating toast made from wholemeal of grain bread as these provide more fibre which is needed for good gut health. For children too much fibre is not good for them as their digestive system is immature and cannot deal very well with it. 50-50 is a healthier option than white bread as it does contain some fibre and is low in saturated fat. It is important to read the labels with bread as the fat, salt and sugar content varies widely between brands and types of bread. Butter is high in fat and can be replaced with a low fat spread or not used at all. Jam is often high in sugar although no added sugar varieties can be bought, alternatives to jam and butter could be a nut butter spread (excluding the toddler until they are old enough to eat a gloopy nutty spread which is recommended around the age of 4). Other variations to this part of the meal can be rice cakes with a spread, or a homemade wholemeal muffin as all of the ingredients can be tailored to the members of the family perhaps with dried fruit to sweeten or cheese for savoury.

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