The new year is always time for a fresh start and many people want to improve their health and eating habits. But instead of providing you with menus and meal plans, I am giving you a meal format to use.

Photo By: Sura NualpradidThis format will help you eat at any restaurant or plan your meals. This is especially helpful for vegetarians or those of you who are thinking about becoming one.

So whenever you eat out or plan a meal, first ask yourself, “What is my whole grain or grain product?” At least one meal a day or 30% of your meals should contain a whole grain such as short, medium or long brown rice, hulled barley, whole oats, millet, corn –on-the-cob, wheat berries, buckwheat and rye. The other two meals can be from a whole-grain product, such as pasta, bread, couscous, noodles, rolled or steel-cut oats, corn grits, bulgur, seitan, polenta etc. If you eat out, look at the menu and see what grain is available. Even if it is white rice, it is o.k.

Photo By Suat EmanThe second question to ask yourself is, “What’s my vegetable?”.  It could be something as simple as a salad or a vegetable that is steamed, sautéed, blanched, roasted, or raw. The more vegetables the better, but at least include one vegetable side-dish at every meal…even breakfast.

Soup is a great way to start your meal because not only does it help with digestion, but it warms and relaxes you. If you are having a vegetable soup, you can always add beans, pasta or leftover grain to the soup.  If it is just soup, you can always eat it with a piece of bread, which would be a grain product.

Photo By: ThanunkornThe next question should be, “What’s my protein?”. If you are no longer eating animal protein, make sure you have a bean or bean product with one meal during the day.  A bean product is tofu, tempeh, soybeans, hummus etc. If you are still eating animal protein, limit its size to a side dish portion.

We all need sweets in our life. Seasonal fruit is always a great way to satisfy a sweet tooth and in a healthy way.  Desserts can be made with all sorts of natural sweeteners instead of sugar. Brown rice syrup, barley malt, maple syrup, agave nectar and stevia are just some of the natural sweeteners that can be used.

With this format, you can eat anywhere and plan any meal. I hope you find it as easy as I do.