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Meal Planning Skeleton

Halloween time may bring the skeletons out of the closet, or change our adorable little kids into dancing little skeleton costumes, and there is skeleton décor hanging all around until the haunted night of October 31st!

But what if the skeletons aren’t just for Halloween?  

The Skinny Gene Project has been using a diet “skeleton” to help clients with daily meal planning!

Diet Skeleton

Just like each of us is unique, our diet skeleton is a little different, as well.  The skeleton is based on an individual assessment of each person’s calorie, carbohydrate, protein, and fat needs per day.  For a family of four, the diet skeletons may be similar, but the difference will lie in the serving sizes of each food, depending on the needs of each family member.  Here is an example of how a typical dinner may vary for each family member.

Mom Dad Younger Sister Older Brother
1 Serving Protein 2 Servings Protein 1/2 Serving Protein 2 Servings Protein
2 Servings Grains 2 Servings Grains 1/2 Serving Grains 2 Serving Grains
2 Servings Vegetables 2 Servings Vegetables 1 Serving Vegetables 3 Servings Vegetables
1 Serving Fat 2 Servings Fat ½ Serving Fat 3 Servings Fat
1 Serving Dairy 1 Serving Dairy 1 Serving Dairy 1 Serving Dairy

*All portions based on standard serving sizes for adults.

Based on the different needs of each individual family member, meal planning can become a difficult challenge that you may face every day.  Here are a few strategic tips to help make meal planning an easier task.   When planning meals, our usual instinct is to think first about the meats and carbohydrates for each meal, but maybe we should try a new approach.

New Approach to Meal Planning

First, choose the vegetables for your meals.  By choosing vegetables first, your meal is more likely to focus on incorporating a variety of vegetables.  Look through your crisper and see what you have to work with.  Green onions, cilantro, bok choy, spinach, broccoli and mushrooms make a great start to a soup.  Bell peppers, zucchini, red onions, mushrooms, carrots, and cabbage can be stir-fried together with olive oil.  Or maybe you only have spinach and broccoli in the refrigerator.  Try sautéing chopped garlic in olive oil and adding spinach and broccoli for a powerful green side to your dinner.   If you are rushed for time, try grabbing a bag of edamame or carrot sticks to add to your dinner on the run.  The great thing about starting with vegetables is that you can be generous on the portions served.  Additional vegetable servings provide more benefits than harm!

Next, choose a protein source that is low in saturated fat, including fish, chicken breast, 94% lean ground beef, pork chops, tofu, eggs or egg whites, and beans.  These protein sources may be incorporated into your vegetables or served on their own.  The usual portion for proteins is 3 oz, which is the size of a deck of cards. A serving of beans is a ½ cup, which is about ½ the size of your fist.   Typically, the American diet is heavily focused on protein, usually exceeding what our body needs.  Although protein is essential for the body, excessive amounts may be stored as fat.

The next nutrient to add to your meal is the fiber-rich, whole grain breads and pastas. This category may also include brown rice, sweet potatoes, beans, lentils, and legumes.   The serving size for this category is:

  • 1 slice of bread
  • 1 small to medium sweet potato with skin
  •  ½ cup measurement of pasta, rice, beans, lentils, and legumes.


Similar to our protein servings, we often over-serve our grains, which will lead to additional fat storage, as well.

Fat plays an important role in our body.  Our instinct is to limit all fat, but a small amount of the healthier fats is essential to our metabolism.  When planning your meal, choose the right fat in the right amount for your meal.  A couple of safe fats to stock in your home are plant based fats such as olive, canola, and soy oils, avocadoes, nuts, and ground flaxseed.  The proper portion size for these fats is:

  •  1 teaspoon of oil, about the size of the tip of your thumb
  •  1 oz of avocado, about 1/5 of medium avocado
  •  1 oz of nuts, less than a small handful.


If your protein source is fish, you can count that toward both protein and fat servings.

The last two important foods to include in our daily skeleton are fruit and dairy.  Each person should have a minimum of 3 servings of each per day.  A glass of low fat milk goes well with each meal, but your dairy servings may also be fulfilled with 1 cup low fat yogurt or 1 oz cheese for a snack or added to your meals.   Fruits go well with dairy, for example, a blended fruit smoothie, cottage cheese and fruit, or Greek yogurt topped with berries.

In addition to incorporating your fruits together with dairy, a single piece of fruit alone can help keep your appetite in control between meal times or provide you with a sweet treat for dessert to finish your day.

The diet skeleton can give each of us an outline of what our body needs, but the important decision is to fill in the skeleton with the right foods and in the right amounts.

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