Project Louise: Three Meals A Day — Is That So Hard?


Salad: It's what's for lunch. And it's easy if you put it all in a bag. (Fir0002/Flagstaffotos via Wikimedia Commons)

Salad: It’s what’s for lunch. And it’s easy if you put it all in a bag. (Fir0002/Flagstaffotos via Wikimedia Commons)

By Louise Kennedy
Guest contributor

Sometimes I wonder why it’s so hard to lose weight when, really, we all know what it takes: Eat less, move more. I mean, that’s all it is, right? So why don’t we just do that and be done with it?

Well, I’ve spent a fair amount of time so far thinking and talking about what gets in the way of moving more. That can be fun and interesting, because I’m trying new things, setting new patterns, learning new ways of getting my body to be stronger and more flexible.

But when it comes to food, it can feel like … right, I know what to eat, I’ve known it for years, I just have to do it, and now it’s time to go to the grocery store. Again. And cook dinner. Again. And pack lunch. Again. Where’s the novelty in that?

I’ll be honest with you: So far I haven’t found much novelty. But I do have a few tips and tricks that I’ve picked up over the years, and I’ve been finding that – when I actually use them, consistently, every day – they really do make a difference. They also seem like the kind of gradual, permanent change that my coach, Allison Rimm, recommends. Building on my initial pledge to “eat more vegetables” and my more or less consistent embracing of the DASH diet, following these habits is helping me change my diet for the better – and for good.

Eat the same simple breakfast every day. I am, to put it mildly, not a morning person. So I don’t like thinking about food when I first wake up. For years this meant that I skipped breakfast, grabbed a bagel or a granola bar on the way out the door, or succumbed to the office pastries when I was starving mid-morning.

Now, instead, I have a piece of whole-grain toast with a little peanut butter, tea, and a piece of fruit. It’s not exciting, but I’m not looking for exciting. And if I get bored, as I occasionally do, I have a soft-boiled egg instead of the peanut butter. Or maybe go really wild with oatmeal, topped with a few almonds.

One meal down, two more to go.

Embrace the Salad Bar in a Bag. Salad is an obvious choice for lunch, but I never feel motivated to make it before work – and chopping vegetables at night, after cooking dinner, doesn’t seem like much fun either. But now, thanks to my fabulous assistant, Jessica Coughlin, I’ve been eating salad for lunch almost every day.

Every Monday, Jess brings in a grocery bag filled with lettuce, cucumber, carrots, dressing and whatever else strikes her fancy. I contribute the odd grape tomato, chickpea or leftover veg. We’re lucky to have a refrigerator at work, but you could use a small cooler, adding ice as needed. Bring a knife and a plate, and then, when you get hungry, chop up whatever you want that day and dig in. I find it’s a lot easier to compose an enticing salad when you’re actually hungry for it, rather than trying to imagine good combinations at home in the icy, hurried dawn.

Because of DASH, which calls for me to eat six servings of grain every day, I try to add a pita or some whole-grain crackers to this, but sometimes I forget. I’m thinking I should start carrying in some bulgur, whole-grain pasta or other grain to solve that problem. A little dairy wouldn’t hurt either – low-fat cheese, or yogurt for “dessert.”

Occasionally I eat lunch out; on those days, I look for a salad or a lean protein, knowing that the protein means I’ll be going vegetarian at dinner, which is fine. Or, if monotony looms, I get a Chipotle veggie bowl or bring in a thermos of soup. Lunch solved … and that leaves the working mom’s bugaboo, the family dinner.

Plan, plan, plan. On the weeks when I plan dinner for every night and prep as much as I can on the weekends, things go pretty well. When I don’t … well, as much as I try to tell myself that veggie pizza or Chinese takeout can work for my diet, the scale has other opinions. (The Chinese options would be fine, probably, if my family weren’t addicted to dumplings and General Gau, and when they’re on the table I just find it impossible to say no.)

So I try to think about the week on Saturday or Sunday, then shop, then chop. On a really good day, I’ll also make a big batch of soup, dried beans or “turbeef” – ground beef and turkey mixed together and cooked, then stored for use in chili, pasta sauces and whatever else I need. (A little bit of beef gets the family eating a lot more lean turkey than they would otherwise.) Or I roast a big pan of vegetables to eat that night, with leftovers for lunches, soups and sides during the week.

If you hate planning or just need some fresh ideas, I find that Leanne Ely’s Saving Dinner website can be a lifesaver. She gives you a week’s worth of menus, with shopping lists and recipes. No thought required! She also offers menus for meals you can make ahead and freeze, and I’m always happy when I have a few of those in the freezer.

But what about snacks? I never thought of myself as much of a snacker, until I realized that sticking my hand in a bag of chips when I’m hungry after work, or finishing off the kindergartner’s tortellini, or taking spoonfuls of ice cream from someone else’s bowl, certainly does count. So I’m working on that too.

Snack smarter. Now if I get hungry between meals, I see it as an opportunity to fill in some of the food groups that I tend to skimp on in the DASH plan: dairy, fruit or veg, and grains. That translates to a Greek yogurt with fresh fruit stirred in, an apple or some carrots, or a handful of reduced-fat Triscuits. Hey, they’re whole grain! And they’re not Cheez-Its.

Readers, what works for you? Do you have any nutrition tips you’d like to share, or problems you’d like help solving? Ask your questions here, and Louise will consult a nutritionist to get them answered.


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  • Lianda Ludwig

    I think you started with the biggest mistake: the thing that “everyone knows- you have to eat less and move more”. FALSE. 95% of ALL diets fail to keep the weight off for more than a few months to a couple of years. But it’s so hard to break through the common knowledge even when the evidence shows eating less slows down your metabolism, and gets you into a yo-yo syndrome. Exercising more- also can increase your stress level- which again slows down your metabolism.

    There is another way- but it’s NOT dieting, or over-exercising. It’s actually eating what you want – mindfully, using eating as stress relief and self-nurturing. That’s what I write about in my best selling book: Diet Industry Lies that Make You Gain Weight: Why Eat Less and Exercise More is a Hoax Designed to Keep You Coming Back. (Kindle on Amazon)

  • Linda Morse

    I make my “fruit” for the week – I store it in old Healthy Choice deli meat containers or some other container – I chop up cantaloupe, honeydew melon, strawberries, blueberries, sometimes kiwi, sometimes watermelon. I then prepare 5 1/2 c portions of plain, nonfat greek yogurt – have found that the Whole Foods brand has the absolute least amount of sugar and that is the “dessert” for my lunch. After having done this for a couple of years, I still honestly enjoy it and consider it a treat, miss it when I don’t eat it every day. I do have processed meats at lunch with a lot of lettuce, tomato and either one of those sandwich rounds – flax and whole grain – very little sugar or a pita round that has flax and only 60 calories. That actually fills me up pretty well and keeps my hands busy eating the fruit! I did weight watchers a couple of years ago to lose 15 pounds because I wasn’t happy and I’m in my mid 50s and terrified of looking “matronly” so wanted to get it together. My big problem is dinner time and portion control at that point. I do want to suggest a book called The (Honest) Truth about Dishonesty by Dan Ariely – ch 4 – explains the science behind why we are so weak/give in to temptation at the end of the day and under stress. I find it helpful to keep that in mind. I’m struggling to keep all 15 pounds off and trying to maintain the lower weight I want, but I’m game for the struggle. Keep up the good work! Changing diet and food desires permanently is extremely difficult. How do we get to NOT wanting cupcakes???

    • Louise Kennedy

      These are such great tips — and such a great summation of the fears and issues, too. “Matronly” — that’s my nightmare word, too! I’ll check out the Ariely book — I’ve seen his work quoted but haven’t read him firsthand, and that sounds interesting. Perfect to read over a dessert of fruit and yogurt!

  • Argentus

    “lean proteins” coupled with starches are just never going to work, long term. When are people going to realize that low-fat is not our natural way of eating, and that processed foods, “white” carbs, and easy access to sugary everything (from soda to candy to fruit, yes, fruit!), all the time is what’s making society obese?

    • Louise Kennedy

      Well, “white” carbs are something I avoid; the grains I’m eating are all whole, and I’m not even doing many potatoes these days. I don’t drink soda or eat candy (dark chocolate is an occasional exception), and fruit has many important nutrients. So I guess I respectfully disagree — at least for myself. If I eat a lot of fat, I get fat.

      • Argentus

        If you’re eating lots of fruit and grains, and fat, yes you will get fat. That’s because we’re not supposed to eat grains (though yes, whole grains are better, but in extreme moderation), and we rarely got fruit more than a few months out of the year, just before we’d need to pack on the pounds for a long winter. You may respectfully disagree, but the science is on my side.

        • David Streever


          You aren’t offering a scientific argument, however. You are offering an anecdote and a story combined with a commandment; “thou shalt not eat grains”.

          Who says we “aren’t supposed” to eat grains?

          Even our paleolithic ancestors ate grains, and in the extreme, when they were lucky enough to find them. We’ve even found primitive grain mills in digs now.

          If your theory rests on the hypothesis that evolution takes a long time, you are sorely incorrect in your assumptions. Yes, evolution can take many generations, but much of our ability to digest, use, and react to food results not from our own genes but from those of the bacterial colonies inside us–the colonies that have 100s of generations in the time we have one–leading to them evolving quite quickly indeed.

          Science has studies, tests, and data to back it up; not an allegory and a fable–not an invisible man telling us what we do and do not eat.

          Bacteria studies to review:

          2010 experiment led by Eugene Rosenberg of Tel Aviv University into fruit flies

          Bordenstein and colleagues study published July 2011 in Applied and Environmental Microbiology

          • Louise Kennedy

            I’m planning to take a deeper look at the so-called Paleo diet at some point, and it sounds like that’s what Argentus is advocating. I have a lot of doubts about it, frankly — and those doubts are in fact based on science. The NIH reviewed a bunch of diets, including both DASH and Paleo; DASH came out tops, and Paleo near the bottom. For me personally, with high cholesterol, eating a lot of red meat just doesn’t seem to make sense. And check out this report in the Guardian yesterday, which says that high-meat diets are terrible for diabetes risk — another one of my biggest familial worries. I don’t know everything about this, but I’m more interested in arguments based on scientific research than on the “Back then” school of history — e.g. when we say “we ate this or that,” which “we” are we talking about? People in the Arctic or on the savannah? In European caves or on tropical islands? I think history, including paleohistory, is a lot more complicated than the “our ancestors did this” argument tends to allow.

          • David Streever

            Louise: well said! I do think you should review the paleo diet and the “science” behind it, because you’ll quickly find it is nonsense; Argentus’ comment to you was condescending and insulting, and I’m sorry I didn’t rise above that level in my response.

            It just really galls me to see people shut-down, dismiss, and attack others and say they are “using science”. There was nothing remotely in the realm of Argentus’ attack on you; just an ignorant attack based on anecdotes and a very successful marketing campaign.

          • Louise Kennedy

            Thanks, David — I thought your response was well phrased as well; I just wanted to add my two cents! And I will be revisiting this at some point. I also realized after posting the Guardian link that there’s one closer to home — from NPR!

          • David Streever

            thank you for sharing–great article!

          • Argentus

            Our paleohistory is rich and diverse, you are correct. Still, we’re not built to fly or climb trees. We are built to hunt. Where we came from is not as important as what we are designed to do, and a big part of that is predation on other species. Our eyes are on the front of our head and we have very narrow peripheral vision, comparatively speaking. We are hunters. Alpha predators. We eat meat as a rule. Our teeth are designed for eating many things, but meat is one of them. Most of us still have canines, even.

            Please feel free to look into the health benefits of a low carb diet. The science is there, I promise.

          • Argentus

            Yes, we are not fruit flies, nor bacteria, and OUR evolution takes millions of years, because of the length of our generation cycle. Now, what *you* are advocating is faux-science. There is a process called the Krebs cycle, in which our bodies convert different sources of energy into ATP, or store it for future use. It is quite clearly setup to work on a fat-burning metabolism most of the time. This is not something that our gut bacteria can change. Not now, not ever. Look it up.

  • bostongirl

    “On the weeks when I plan dinner for every night and prep as much as I can on the weekends, things go pretty well. When I don’t…”

    You nailed it – as a working cooking parent, it takes a ton of planning and advance preparation to cover the weeknights. I feel like a rock star when I’ve done it well. But when I haven’t done it well, oh boy, have I dropped the ball! I like to prepare several tupperware boxes of veggies at a time so all I have to do is reach in the fridge and grab one to take with my lunch (and for my son, too!).

    Love your blog and this project. Keep it up! Totally impressed with your weight loss so far!!!

    • Louise Kennedy

      Thank you so much! And love the Tupperware!