• Heather EdM, MA, RDN, CLT

Are You Eating in Balance Yet? Here's the How & the Why and a Hamburger Helper Recipe

Meal Planning Part 2- Lunch & Dinner

Read on if you want to be at a place where your hunger is viewed as a signal that your body needs energy instead of it being a nuisance that it shouldn't even be a thing. You aren't alone if you sometimes feel annoyed you have to take a break to eat or prepare meals. It's one of the top skills my clients hone when working with me. I have found that they work through accepting this biological fact (see below for some hunger education) while practicing how to listen to that voice and have the food in place to do it. And remember practice, experience and tying it to your personal values are what improves the outcomes, not knowledge. After all, we know a lot of stuff we just don't do. Yet you've done hard things and have had times of failed attempts and still get up again when it's linked to something meaningful! To help out with healthy and balanced recipes, at the end is a Homemade Hamburger Helper recipe and links to balanced recipes to supply you with the resources to increase balanced meals.

Let's get down to it

There seems to be a consistent, cultural message that hunger is bad and we should use food to "treat yourselves" that put us in a bit of a bind because we need to eat if we want to live and if we're using food to treat ourselves too much, likely we'll find ourselves out of balance.

I'm explaining this because I hear these two concerns regularly. There is a continuum to the degree a person will experience this and how it will affect their health goals, but I urge you to check it out for yourself to see if it making some tweaks could ultimately make you happier (and healthier).

How biology prevails (Nerd Alert!)

Usually when hunger is ignored there is a greater likelihood more calories will be consumed than what the body needs. This overcompensation occurs because hunger builds. For example, if you've skipped lunch, you might reach a point that you don't feel hungry. This is because your body has gone into a mild ketosis and ketones blunt hunger. When food is seen, smelled and tasted our biological drives are activated-food is eaten more quickly, the food that is available is totally consumed because the body needs to address the intensified hunger and biological fear that food is scare. It's not lack of willpower, it's a biological drive coupled with a lack of preparation and balance. This causes us to eat more, feel overly full and feel badly that we can't control ourselves. The other, though less common occurrence is a restrained eater who may be able to "control" their eating, but as a consequence of restricted calories may often feel tired, irritable and experience increased negative emotions. The body's metabolism is affected in both cases and usually does not produce the intended goal of managing weight or health long term.

How to strike a better balance

Since many of us are at home (a big thanks to the essential workers who are still reporting to work) and learning to navigate "the new normal" I was hoping to give some guidance and inspiration on how to be ready for meals because this challenging time could be met with an opportunity to build better habits! Last week, we learned about snacking so you can check that out if you missed it.

The Basics:

· For most, eating 3 meals with 1-3 small snacks fall in line with the body’s circadian rhythms and liver’s stores that affect blood sugar fluctuations. This equates to not going longer than 4-5 hours between meals. Having discreet meals/snacks helps the body feel more satisfied. It’s typically recommended to separate meals and snacks by at least 2.5 to 3 hours.

· Choose at least 3 food groups per meal to meet the body’s nutrient needs and address the body’s hunger. For most, you'll need to include a fruit and/or vegetable at each meal, but if you weren't hungry or missed it, then including them as a snack is an option. By taking a few moments to reflect on when and what you last ate is really helpful at staying aware of how well you're meeting your needs and can help you to make wiser choices, not settle for autopilot eating.

Food Groups:

Calcium suggestions (1 serving = 200 to 500mg. Aim for 2-3 servings/day)

Milk of choice, yogurt, kefir, cheese, tofu, sardines, canned salmon (with bones)

Fat suggestions

Peanut butter, cheese, cream cheese, salad dressing, mayonnaise, sauces, muffins, bacon, nuts, olives, avocado, egg yolks, sautéed foods, some meats

Fruit or vegetable suggestions Serving goal: 4-9 servings/day

Any fresh, cooked and canned fruit/vegetables. For most-limit juices to 4-8 oz per day.

Grain/Starch suggestions (3+ sources from whole grains/day)

Cereal, bagels, bread, crackers, rice, potatoes, pasta, corn, quinoa, polenta, English muffins

Protein suggestions (Recommend 20-30g of protein per meal, ~3-4 oz)

Meat, fish poultry, eggs, cottage cheese, Greek yogurt, soy or cow’s milk, cheese, dried beans, ¼ cup hummus, tofu, tempeh, edamame, 2 tbsp peanut butter, other nut butters, ¼ cup or 1 oz nuts

“Fun food” suggestions (I encourage moving away from calling food "bad" unless it's to describe that it has in fact spoiled! Fun and treat food recognize that there is room for treat food to be enjoyed-10% of choices or about 1-2 servings/day)

Any dessert, cookies, cake, ice cream, pudding, doughnuts, croissants, candy bars, chips, fries, candy, non-diet soda, milk shakes, alcoholic beverages, etc.

Snack ideas

Any of the above categories to balance your choices throughout the day. In order to meet needs most people need to have a fruit and or vegetable snack to get in the minimum recommendation of 5 fruits and veg servings per day.

How to Incorporate this:

At lunchtime: A turkey and cheese sandwich with banana and baby carrots; 1-1.5 servings chips

How it measures up: 1. grains, 2. protein, 3. calcium, 4. fruit, 5. vegetable and 6. fun food

At dinnertime: Homemade Hamburger Helper (see recipe) and a side of vegetables

How it measures up: 1. grains from the pasta, 2. protein from the beef, 3. calcium from the cheese, 4. fat from the beef and optional oil and the night we had it, we made steamed 5. broccoli, but baby carrots and snap peas would be very refreshing. I often use raw veggies that my family likes at meals, even if at first glance it doesn't seem like it will go. Weekday meals don't need to be gourmet or perfect. Take the pressure off and allow meals to be "good enough" to move towards getting in more nutrients that are missing and less towards it being regarded as a 5-star meal. If your dining companions complain it's a PERFECT opportunity to enlist their help in figuring out meals. That's my last tip: Being the sole decision maker for meals leads to stress and burnout because even the top chefs make meals that aren't always winners. Inspiration generally occurs when more people get involved. If you are in charge of dinner and you're finding yourself under appreciated (or you're reading this and think you're the one who's being under appreciative), it's a signal something needs to change. You can change your mindset and/or work towards getting your family involved. If you're single/widowed/empty nester, organize a dinner club with some friends with the mission being basic and balanced home cooked meals. This is so key, especially if you struggle with cooking for one.

Here is is the Homemade Hamburger Helper Recipe as promised. Thanks to one of my dearest friends Katie who passed this along. Whether it's this one or others, memorizing a few one-pot or easy recipes reduces stress and builds confidence. This could be a great recipe to use mid-week when starting to get tired and could also enjoy as leftovers. The only addition would be having an idea of what a quick vegetable and/or fruit could be. Vegetables supply vitamins, minerals that promote health and the fiber, water aid in fullness.

Personal and Client Favorites:

Asparagus and Chicken Sausage Risotto

Asian Beef and Udon Noodle

Weeknight Bolognese

Sloppy Joes

Hang in there!

To your health and wellbeing,


Homemade Hamburger Helper

Slightly Adapted from: The Defined Dish


1 1lb 85-93% lean ground beef

1 small yellow onion, diced finely

3/4 tsp. kosher salt

1/2 tsp. black pepper

1/2 tsp. garlic powder

1/2 tsp. paprika

1 tbsp. tomato paste

12 oz. dried elbow pasta

2 cups chicken or beef broth

2 cups milk

1 cup shredded cheese

1/4 cup freshly chopped parsley (optional)


  1. Heat a very large skillet, or a pot, over medium-high heat. Add ground beef and onions. Season with the salt, pepper, garlic powder, and paprika. Saute, breaking up the ground beef with the back of a spoon, until the beef is cooked through, no longer pink, about 5-7 minutes.

  2. Add in the tomato paste and stir to combine.

  3. Add the pasta, the beef broth and the milk. Stir to combine and let cook until pasta is tender (I like to cook mine al dente) and the liquid is soaked up, which is usually close to the same time as the box of the pasta says. Mine took about 11 minutes with the Jovial Elbow Pasta.

  4. Remove from heat and add in the cheese, if using, and stir to combine.

  5. Serve and enjoy! Add your vegetables of choice. Crunchy snap peas and baby carrots compliment this comforting dish!




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