TLN's Simple Reference Guide for Choosing Healthy Meals

Tough Love Nutrition’s Simple Meal Guide is a no frills tool to help create meals that get the job done nutritionally and eliminate doubts of whether or not a healthy choice is made.

No goofy diet plans or food values handbook necessary! The Simple Meal Guide lays it out for you no matter where your next meal is coming from.

By selecting foods as instructed, you can conveniently side-step processed food pitfalls and make-up or order a nutrient and energy-rich meal that is balanced with lean protein, quality carbohydrates, dietary fiber and beneficial fats (and for those keeping count, around 500 calories or less if using half-portions).

As you choose foods from each category, habitual meal combinations will be the norm (like a sandwich), but also mix-and-match for creativity as well as when availability of food choices and preparation time is limited (like grabbing a can of tuna, banana and handful of cashews). The latter is especially relevant because with our busy schedules, not every meal can be a gourmet affair. Sometimes it is necessary to eat a “get the job done nutritionally” meal and move on with our day.

To make servings more realistic, whenever possible, a visual description of the portion size is included along with traditional food measurements. Don’t fret over a portion being exactly as listed. An extra ounce or two is not going to dramatically affect the overall nutritional profile of a meal. For smaller meals, you can take the protein, carbohydrate and fat suggestions below and simply portion them in half.

And finally, to seal the deal and not spoil a good thing, none of the food choices below are to be fried, battered or prepared in manner that compromises their nutritional soundness.

Protein Foods

(Each serving provides 30-40 grams protein)

Choose ONE from below:


Breast (without skin), 5 oz. (palm-sized piece)

Canned (white meat, in water), 5 oz.

Deli Sliced (not pre-packaged), 5 oz. (1/3 lb.) or 5 thin slices


Breast (without skin), 5 oz. (palm-sized piece)

Deli Sliced (not pre-packaged), 5 oz (1/3 lb.) or 5 thin slices

Ground (white meat), 5 oz. or palm-sized burger


Lean Cut Steak (like top round or sirloin), 5 oz. (palm-sized)

Lean Ground Beef (ideally ground sirloin), 5 oz. or palm-sized burger

Deli Sliced Roast Beef (not pre-packaged), 5 oz (1/3 lb.) or 5 thin slices


Canned Tuna (light or white, in water), 6 oz.

Foil Pouch Packed Tuna (light or white), 6 oz.

Canned Salmon (boneless, skinless), 6 oz.

Filet (ideally cold water like tuna, cod or salmon), 6 oz. (palm-sized)

Foil Pouch Packed Salmon, 6 oz.


Low Fat, Plain Cottage Cheese, 1 cup

Whey Protein Powder, unflavored, ½ cup (blend with fruit or juice)


Large or X-Large, 5 whole eggs

Large or X-Large (some yolks removed), 3 whole eggs, 3 whites

Also Try: Cooked Shrimp (1 cup), Lean Cut Pork (5 oz.)

Protein Meal Boosters

(Each serving contains 10-20 grams protein)

Choose ONE from below if athlete, very active (3 or more days per week), or day’s other meals lacked adequate protein:



Deli Slices (not pre-packaged), 1 oz. or 1 thin slice

Shredded, 1 oz. or 1 small handful

Solid, 1 oz. or 1 inch cube

Reduced-Fat Milk (1 or 2%), 1 cup

Low Fat Cottage Cheese, ½ cup

Low Fat, Plain Yogurt, 1 cup

Whey Protein Powder, unflavored, ¼ cup (mix with juice or oatmeal)


Large or X-Large, 2 whole

Large or X-Large (no yolks), 3 whites



Sautéed Cubes, 6 oz. or 6-1 inch cubes

Cheese, 2 oz. or 2 slices

Soy Nuts, 1 oz. (1/4 cup) or 1 large handful

Also Try: Soy-Based Meatless Hot Dogs, Burgers or Breakfast Sausage (1 serving as suggested on product’s Nutrition Facts).

Carbohydrate Foods

(Each Green and White serving provides up to 20-30 grams of carb)

Choose ONE below from Green, ONE from White:

If strictly watching carb intake, choose TWO from Green only:

If athlete or very active (3 or more days per week), choose additional ONE serving from Green or White:

Green Carbs

Veggies, fresh or frozen (not canned), 1 cup or more

Salad (with variety of fresh veggies), 1 cup or more

Beans and Legumes (canned or from dry), ½ cup cooked

Fruit, Frozen, Sauce, or Snack-Size Cup (no added sugar), 1 cup

Fruit, Dried, 2 tbs. or one small handful

Fruit, Juice, 1 cup (ideally to mix with protein powder)

Fruit, Whole, 1large piece or 1 cup

Oatmeal, (rolled oats, not instant packet), 1 cup cooked (1/2 cup dry)

Also Try: Different varieties of Fresh Fruits and Veggies. The more colorful, the more beneficial their antioxidant properties. Antioxidants help to protect us against harmful, cell-damaging free radicals.

White Carbs

Pasta, ½ cup cooked

Bread, 2 pieces or 1 pita or 1 tortilla (whole grain)

Bagels, 1-3 ½ inch diameter (whole grain)

Rice, ½ cup cooked (whole grain)

Potato, 1 medium or ½ cup cooked

Also Try: Couscous or Tabouli (1/2 cup prepared). If you are watching carb intake due to lack of activity or attempting to shed pounds, ideally eat NO White Carbs. But if in need of a fix, a serving of 5 classic “rich” or “saltines”-type Crackers (natural, no hydrogenated oils) contain half the carb content of the above White Carb selections.

Fats and Oils

(Each serving is targeted to provide primarily beneficial unsaturated fats)

Choose ONE from below:

Choose TWO if athlete or very active (3 or more days per week):

Olive Oil, up to 2 tbsp.

Nuts and Seeds (Unsalted), ¼ cup or 1 large handful

Nut Butters (No Sugar, No Hydrogenated Oils), up to 2 tbs.

Avocado, 1/3 Medium or up to 2 tbs. as Guacamole (Natural)

Mayonnaise (Natural), 1 tbs.

Salad Dressing (Oil-Based, Natural), up to 2 tbs.

Butter, up to 1 tbs. (1 pat equals 1tsp.)

Also Try: Hummus as a spread or dip (up to 2 tbsp.), Grapeseed, Macadamia Nut and Sesame Oil (up to 2 tbsp.) and other varieties of Nuts beyond Peanuts. They tend to contain even better nutrient values than the common Peanut. .

Other Meal Components:

Herbs and Spices—Use liberally. Dried garlic, onion, ginger, mint, basil, paprika, cinnamon, pepper and a myriad of other herbs and spices provide a more flavorful dish and contribute to better health. Each contain unique phyto-nutrients that help our bodies to function better. In regards to salt, go easy on the shaker, if using it at all. Eating more fresh foods and less of pre-packaged ones greatly reduces salt (a.k.a. sodium) intake. Typically, the longer the shelf life, the higher the sodium content.

Sauces and Spreads—Stay “thin”. In other words, avoid thick, cream or cheese-based toppings, soups, spreads or dips. They are chock full of saturated fat, cholesterol and concentrated calories.

Sweeteners—For foods, entrees or beverages that are far better with some added sweetness (like oatmeal), reach for Pure Honey or Maple Syrup (1 tbs. or less). Calorically, they are about the same as nutrient-less white sugar, but are unrefined and contain beneficial trace nutrients.

Beverages—Plain and simple. You can never go wrong choosing filtered or bottled water. Everything else—even the good stuff—is a distant second to this essential nutrient.

For a printable PDF version of the TLN Simple Meal Guide plus further resources on determining more specific nutritional needs, protein requirements and meal frequency, download a copy of the TLN Just Eat Right Guide!

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