One secret I have found to migrating from a low calorie weight loss plan to a long term maintenance plan is learning how to use frozen meals like those from Weight Watchers (Smart Ones) and Lean Cuisine as a base, making a few improvements to suit your needs. Here are a few of my thoughts and suggestions—ideas that work for me.
Start With the Right Attitude
A lot of success in any area is learning how to think about what you are doing, and that is true in this case as well. Any change or adaptation should be done for a reason.
These meals are often fine just as they are, and I appreciate the way they help make weight loss easier by offering good meals with sometimes a very limited number of calories. You do not need to “fix” anything unless there is a legitimate reason to do so.
Often, however, there are good reasons for improving dishes as far as enabling them to better meet your personal needs as you transition to a long term healthy eating pattern. My intentions here are to share some of my goals and how I try to reach them.
Adding More Size to the Meal
While working hard to lose weight, it is obviously necessary to eat a good number of meals that we think of as just a way to get by until we can eat a snack or another meal. We discipline ourselves to do it because we are committed to our weight loss goal. But this is not a good long term permanent approach to eating.
There are a number of ways to add to a meal designed to assist with weight loss and make it a fully satisfying one for a long term regular healthy eating. I have been experimenting with these ideas for some time, to some extent even before I thought about allowing myself to increase my daily calorie intake much.
The easiest way is simply to add to some existing ingredient. Many meals have some variety of vegetables in them already. Often I will partially cook a half cup or so of such an ingredient first, then after getting my frozen dinner partially cooked I will open it and stir in my extra amount of this food—one of my favorites is broccoli like these florets from Green Giant.
Sometimes you can follow a similar plan only add a new ingredient to the mix. For example, there may be some vegetables already but a mix that does not include carrots. In this case you can add a quarter or half cup of carrots to the mix.
A third approach is to add a totally new side dish. This is very easy. A good example of this would be to add a side dish of asparagus or even a slice of whole wheat bread. One of our local stores carries a very good whole wheat bread that will only add 45 calories a slice to the meal. This small addition can make the meal much more filling.
The truth is, I have been really impressed with the good taste of some of the prepared meals I have been using over the past year. Yes, I know, a lot of them are not so hot as well, but a surprising number are really quite good.
In many cases, however, there are meals that are generally pretty good, but have one or more parts that are somewhat lacking in taste shall we say. Many times it only takes a little doctoring to fix such a meal, making it something we can really enjoy.
A good example in my experience is a meal with green beans. Many of us are not too excited about green beans in the first place (although I can grow more unusual varieties in my garden that taste much better than the usual store varieties).
For my taste, there is a way to fix green beans, however, that makes them quite good. A patty of butter and a sprinkling of basil makes a world of difference to a serving of green beans while adding lesss than 50 calories. A great taste fix.
Saving time is a big issue. Most of us are busy with other things than cooking meals. That is why the fast food business has become such a big business.
This convenience factor is even more of a factor for those of us who are still learning how to cook—which describes most of our situations even if we have been working at it for years! Adding a little more food to an existing meal is quick and easy.
Learning how to flavor different dishes is always challenging. It is so helpful to grab a frozen dinner of chicken with basil and broccoli which already tastes great and then add more chicken or broccoli, or even both, to make a more substantial meal, and then perhaps add a side dish of fruit.
We may or may not plan to prepare many of our meals in this fashion forever, although in some cases we are likely to find meal bases we like enough to stay with. But for the short term, this is one way to make it convenient to migrate from a weight loss diet to a long term maintenance diet without risking a return to old fattening eating habits once we reach our weight goal.
As we learn to cook our own new healthy meals quickly and efficiently, we can substitute those for the quick fix frozen meals. This makes for an easy and effective transition to a permanent healthy, tasty eating pattern.
I want to end this discussion by offering a real life illustration of what I have done. My lunch today is a good example.
My starting point is with a frozen dinner from Healthy Choice called Golden Roasted Turkey Breast. This dinner contains turkey breast pieces in gravy with stuffing, green beans, and a cherry-blueberry desert. All this for only 260 calories.
This is a good meal as is and I have eaten it often while focused on losing weight. But now I am willing to add a few calories because I want a little larger meal, although I do not add much since it is more substantial than most diet meals already in spite of the low calories it has. I also wanted to change the taste a bit to satisfy my preference for more spicy food.
My changes were these. First I flavored the green beans as I described earlier with about a half-patty of butter and some basil. Then I sprinkled the turkey with a little freshly ground pepper. Finally, I added a quarter cup more blueberries to the desert which I found to be a little short on fruit and long on sauce.
All this added only a few calories, less than 100, and greatly improved the meal in my opinion. It was tasty and, while satisfying enough for me, I could have added more green beans or other vegetable if I had wanted even more to eat and still stayed under 400 calories which is very adequate for long term weight control.