Now, none of these rules are set in stone, and you can play around with them once you get comfortable. But when you're looking through your cabinets, trying to think of things to eat, it can be extremely helpful to know, "What can I combine in order to make food happen?" It's what makes the difference between "food" and "a meal."
Components of a MealEach meal should consist of:
- A protein source
- A starch
- One or two vegetables
- Some seasonings
- Maybe a little bit of fat to tie it all together
The ratios aren't set in stone, but I find them to be helpful. They help you, for example, avoid eating "starch with a side of starch" (a pitfall I am particularly prone to) and make the whole "balanced meal" thing pretty easy.
So, when you're looking at your cabinets, how do you decide what elements are what? Here's a handy guide!
Categories of Food in Your Kitchen
- Meat, including red meat, fish and poultry
- Legumes like beans and lentils
- Soy products like edamame and tofu
- Nuts and nut butters
- Bread, including tortillas
- Potatoes in all of their myriad forms
- Oats and oatmeal
- Quinoa and any other exotic whole grains you want to experiment with
- Greens like spinach, collards, turnips etc.
- Summer and winter squashes
- Brassicas like cabbage, broccoli and brussels sprouts
- Root vegetables like carrots, turnips and sweet potatoes
- Basically anything else you find in the produce section
- Oil, especially olive oil
- Lard and other animal fats
- Cooking sprays
- Mayonnaise and other spreads
Putting it All TogetherSo, let's take what we've learned and apply it to the simplest food item imaginable: A sandwich!
Sandwiches are great. They're easy to make, easy to eat, and you can feed yourself with them even if you're not so great at cooking.
The necessary components of a sandwich:
- Some kind of bread to hold it together: A pita pocket, a tortilla, slices of any kind of bread imaginable
- Some kind of protein to put inside the bread: Lunch meat, hummus, slabs of roast animal, grilled tofu
- Some vegetables: Lettuce, tomatoes, onions, pickles, mushrooms, whatever
- A fat to spread on the bread and keep it from getting soggy: Butter, mayonnaise, cream cheese, yogurt
Not every sandwich combination will taste good, since some flavors don't play well with each other (a topic we'll discuss in the next lesson!) but this will generally help you experiment and keep from starving.