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How to Design Your Daily Meals and Snacks

You know how many servings from each of the food groups you need. Now you need to decide how to combine them to make healthy, satisfying meals and snacks that keep temptation at bay. Here are some basic rules:

• Have at least three meals a day. Eating on a regular basis prevents extreme hunger that can wreak havoc on your resolve to eat better and exercise more.

• Stay fuller for longer by combining protein (found in the greatest amounts in foods from the milk and meat/beans food groups) with fiber (found in whole grains, vegetables, fruit, and legumes) at every meal and snack. Noshing on fat-free yogurt and an apple, or a hard-cooked egg and a small whole grain roll, is more satisfying than spending the same number of calories on soda crackers, which are very low in fiber and devoid of protein.

• Conserve calories. Choose the lowest-calorie choices from each food group. For example, opt for 1% reduced-fat milk or fat-free milk instead of full-fat; 93% lean ground beef instead of 85%; and light popcorn instead of popcorn smothered in butter.

Prevent Portion Distortion, At Home and Away

All foods fit on a balanced weight control plan, but proper portions are paramount. Most people rarely go overboard on carrot sticks and celery, but it's a different story when it comes to cheese, pasta, fatty red meats, and other favorite foods.

If you're uncertain what constitutes reasonable serving sizes -- and let's face it, most of us are -- invest in a reliable kitchen scale, measuring cups, and measuring spoons to determine portions at home. If exactitude isn't your style, learn how to compare correct portion sizes to everyday objects, such as a baseball, a deck of playing cards, and a light bulb.

Correctly eyeballing portions is particularly helpful when dining out. It's a useful skill to have, because it's unlikely you'll be eating every meal at home.

"On average, Americans eat six meals a week away from home," says Hope Warshaw, MS, RD, author of Eat Out, Eat Right.

Even when you're dining on reasonable portions, the calories can add up.

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