Nine Aspects of a Healthy Meal

If we really want to prepare a healthy meal we need to take into account all possible aspects which have an impact on the final outcome. First we need to take into account the choice of ingredients, their quantities and the quality of ingredients; then the influence of rhythm and type of a meal we are preparing; and then the individual needs and personal attitude to food and nutrition. When we eat with other people we have to include also the social aspect – that is, the challenge of how to cater for the different needs of people. Finally, all these aspects need to be brought into harmony by creation of an attractive meal.

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If you look at NUTRITION AS A BRIDGE TO THE WORLD you can see that each meal is a bridge between man and the outer world. In the picture above you can see a summary of all influences which contribute to the final quality of this relationship. People who are working in food production, nutritionists and other people might be aware of a few aspects, but usually – when there is a talk about healthy eating – all the possible aspects which have to be taken into account before anybody can claim that a specific food or diet is healthy are not mentioned.

IIt is of crucial importance to raise into awareness the great complexity of the question of what is best to eat and drink. Only in this way can we then gradually improve the quality of what we eat. As is evident from the picture above we cannot talk in absolute terms about healthy or unhealthy meal, but we are dealing with more or less healthy meals. In fact, we are dealing with the cumulative effect of various influences which all contribute in various degrees to the final outcome.

Without the knowledge of all aspects which influence the meal we can very easily make wrong decisions. One-sided truths in regard to the question of what is healthy food are dangerous. But with the help of the above picture we can avoid any traps and strive to make positive changes wherever and whenever possible in particular life circumstances.

Here are short descriptions of nine aspects which contribute to the final quality of a meal: [1]

1. Quality of Ingredients

All activities involved in food production and preparation have an impact on the final quality of food ingredients: farming, food processing, transportation, storage, and cooking. Each of these activities can either improve or retain food quality, or be detrimental to it. If you are in doubt what are good quality ingredients see HOLISTIC FOOD ‘PYRAMID’.

2. Quantity of Ingredients

Although it is possible to give general recommendations on quantity for various types of food (see QUANTITY GUIDELINES), it is really for each individual to find out for themselves their right amounts of any foods. It is crucial to keep in mind that what is the right amount for one person may be unhealthy for another.

3. Choice of Ingredients

The choice of ingredients is referring to the choice of different foods available in the place where we live. This will vary in different parts of the world. It might even be very limited in regard to what is available. However, with the emergence of a global food market the choice of available foods has risen in affluent societies dramatically. Besides, we have many foods which are so adulterated that it is hard to regard them still as foods. This means that making right choices while buying food has never been more challenging than nowadays. Luckily we can still obtain some unadulterated, natural foods (see CHOICE OF FOODS) from farmers markets, local growers, and natural food shops. [2]

4. Type of Meal

IIt makes a difference whether one is preparing breakfast, lunch, supper, snack, etc. Each meal has specific requirements in regard to its preparation and this may vary according to different food cultures. We need to be aware that the way we prepare food changes its taste and aroma, and also changes its shape, texture and temperature. This has differentiated effects on our organism. For example, the effect of warm clear soup is very different from that of wholemeal bread: while one is warming and easy to digest, the other calls for more vigorous digestive activities, including chewing. We should strive to include food of different shapes and textures in our menu and thus avoiding one-sidedness also in regard to this aspect of nutrition. [3]

5. Rhythm of Meals

In the past people had a proper daily rhythm of breakfast, lunch and supper, in accordance with the course of the day. Today in affluent societies food is easy available and one can eat whenever one wants. But this means it is much more challenging to establish a healthy eating rhythm. This is especially hard if people live alone. Due to modern life circumstances it is sometimes impossible to keep to set times for our meals. However, it is more health sustaining if we establish and follow the daily rhythm of meals as much as we can.

6. Personal Attitude

Here we are referring to personal preferences, our likes and dislikes in regard to food. Our food preferences are influenced not only by our wish for pleasurable experiences, but also by deep seated eating habits we developed in our past, our capacity to digest various foods, and our overall health condition. Besides these, our choice of food can also be dependent on our ability to perceive the more hidden qualities of food, and our understanding of the purpose of nutrition. The main point is that our personal attitude towards food has a powerful impact on decisions which contribute to the final quality of a meal. [4]

7. Individual Needs

What we all need is good quality food and drink. But choosing the right foods depends on individual needs. Whoever tries to find one type of diet suited to all people is on the wrong track. And whoever is following any type of diet or eating-style without taking into account their individual needs (which depend on one's lifestyle) might cause themselves trouble. It is the task of each person to find out which diet can best cater for their individual needs.

8. Social Aspect

If one eats with other people, then the question of nutrition also becomes a social question. A way has to be found to cater for all individual food preferences and needs with a common meal. Occasionally these needs can be very similar, but it often happens that the needs of people sitting at the common table are very different. This means that we need to find ways to overcome these differences. If we want to tackle the social issue successfully, we need in this or that way to include all people who are eating together in the process of choosing what they eat. In the long run we are dealing with the question of what kind of food culture people want to have.

9. Harmonising

Even when taking into account all the previous eight aspects of a healthy meal, two cooks may create two very different but still balanced and healthy meals. There is no single possible outcome from a specific set of circumstances in a particular life situation, for human beings can be creative. It is at this point that cooking really becomes an artistic activity. The new art of cooking will arise from awareness of all aspects –presented here in outlines – which have impact on the quality of breakfast, lunch, supper, celebratory meal, or any other kind of dish that appears on our daily menu.

For complementary perspectives see:

HOLISTIC FOOD 'PYRAMID'

ARCHETYPE OF A BALANCED MEAL

NOTES

  1. Grouping into the nine aspects is one way of listing all possible influences on the final quality of the meal. However, this doesn't mean that it is the only way. There are aspects which have been put inside the nine aspects although they could be in a separate group (e.g. different nutritional needs of children and elderly that are included within Individual Needs). However, adding new categories would make the whole thing too complex.
  2. We are here referring to the situation in the affluent societies of the western and northern hemisphere. It is a sad fact that there are still millions of people who cannot get enough food and have the opposite problem in regard to the choice of ingredients. We could even say that while one part of humanity is suffering from too much choice and an abundance of low quality food, another part of humanity is suffering from too little choice and a lack of food.
  3. The importance of this aspect is evident from the modern phenomenon of children who are very sensitive to texture and inner consistency of food which can be perceived in the mouth when we eat. The consequence of such sensitivity can manifest as an extremely one-sided eating habit when the child is willing to eat only a few specific foods.
  4. For additional perspectives on the relationship between personal attitude to food and individual needs see NUTRITION FOR BODY & SOUL - Basic Level or NUTRITION FOR BODY & SOUL - Advanced Level