Are you crushing your healthy meals with too many cheats

Are you sabotaging your healthy meals with too many cheats?

Posted on Posted in health + fitness, parenting

The menu ran an entire A3 size art paper, printed on both sides. Each item superlatively described. As my eyes glazed over the words, my stomach sounded a pleasant rumble.

I settled for the  crispy chicken with waffles and maple syrup on the side and my daughter opted for a beef and portobello burger. And a calamari to share, leaving the spam chips and pasta for the next "cheat" day - the day that we would stray from our healthy meal plan.

O boy! they were so darn good!

If  a "cheat" meal could be so good, wouldn't we want more?


Sumptous burger at Coastal Settlement Singapore
Juicy medium rare beef with bacon and portobello burger with a generous helping of thickly cut fries and greens.


crispy chicken waffle
Crispy tender chicken and wholemeal waffles on rocket leaves and truffle fries.


Lightly spiced calamari with curry leaves and special mayonnaise blend on passion fruit.

I confess that I used to have one too many "cheat" days. I would say to myself, " I'll start eating healthy tomorrow." And there will be a tomorrow everyday.

The more I deprived myself of carbs, the more I craved for freshly baked mentaiko baguette. The more I had steamed white fish, the more I yearned for crispy deep fried fish and chips.

The cheat day just opened up the leeway to overindulgence in the "forbidden fruit."

It was so easy to eat out. And it was so convenient to order takeouts. And the best part? No piled up dishes to wash. No greasy kitchen stove to clean. No stained pots to scrub.

As you have guessed it, my healthy meal plan was pushed aside. 

A plan is useless unless it is put into action.

Feeling heavy and lethargic and looking not the best, I told myself, "This has to STOP!"

My health was at stake. So was my daughter's.

If I want my child to thrive to be a healthy growing human being, I have to nourish her well.

If I want my child to be responsible for her own well being, I have to be the model for her to emulate.

There is no better way to teach our children to eat right than lead by example. Let's walk the talk.

Healthy eating habits need to be initiated at home and best nurtured when young, while we can be the gatekeepers of what goes onto our children's plate. With a good foundation from the start, the impulse for them to make right nutritious choices would remain even when they are grown up.

As most health advocates would agree, being healthy is 80 percent attributed to nutrition and 20 percent dependent on exercise. Nutrition from fresh, unprocessed, untainted, quality food. If you were an Audi, would you rather run on gasoline or be powered by high octane fuel?

Health has to be sustained. We don't need a chronic illness to set the alarm to take the leap. We don't plant the seed only when the family starts to starve, would we?

How can we possibly enjoy the richness that life can offer in the absence of good health?

Going back to the question: If "cheat" days could be so good, wouldn't we want more?

Even though we knew fully well that a:

Cheat meal could lead us to go on an overdrive on sugary donuts and cakes or greasy foods like finger-licking-good deep fried chicken with its fatty skin on, or processed meats like spam or nuggets;

Cheat meal could instil guilt more than joy in eating;

Cheat meal could create addictions that control our choices and make our will to return to healthy food an uphill battle; and

Cheat meal is, as ironical as it is, a reward for sticking to healthy eating?

If cheat day is such as badass, why couldn't we give it a hard kick on the butt and eliminate it altogether?


How to curb the temptation to cheat?

Temptation To Yield To The Lazy Sloth In You

Sometimes, the little sloth inside you will awaken from its slumber. In a voice that sounds so familiar,

"Hey, the pizza joint down the road has a 1 for 1 offer. Why bother to labour in the kitchen when you could get two for less than the cost of your groceries?"

"Are you sure you don't want to order a takeout pizza? You could enjoy it while watching the final episode of Masterchef Australia."

Do NOT be swayed. 

Keep the cooking simple without spending all day in the kitchen or breaking the bank.

Cook simple dishes that your children can learn. If only we allow them, they can do much more than making peanut butter sandwiches.

Use minimal pots and pans to minimise washing which can be so time consuming and tedious. The thought of cleaning up will rob you the joy of cooking. The sight of the huge pile up will deter your children from stepping into the kitchen to learn to cook.

Buy seasonal produce of vegetables and fruits when the flavours are at their peak. When the produce is in season and in abundance, you can get great value for money. If possible, shop frequently for fresh fish, seafood and meats. When the core ingredient is fresh, you will not need an entire rack of spices to enhance its favour.

Temptation To Indulge Your Child

As much as I hate to admit, I had been an indulgent and permissive mother, giving in to my daughter's requests for instant gratification of food without much resistance. Chicken nuggets from McDonalds, Starbucks' blended beverages or huge portions of Monster Curry.

I have learned not to oblige. The trick is to allow her to hold the thought for half an hour. With her attention diverted to BuzzFeed or Steven Universe, the craving will subside within that time.

Keep this up for at least 30 days, the sloth will move on and your children will thank you for it.

Temptation To Cave Into Cravings

Diet is an awful four letter word. It connotes deprivation, induces cravings and more often than not, is unsustainable.

If we had been eating healthily, we won't need a diet. And that is something that we need to nurture in our children. Our children needs to inculcate healthy eating habits when young so that they can make the right food choices when they leave home for college or don't hang out with us anymore as they  grow up.

Come up with better names. A meal that omits grains could be called a Protein Upsized Meal instead of low-carb diet. An all veggie plant based egg and tofu meal can be named Veggie Monday instead of vegetarian diet. Sounds a lot better, right?

Replace "cheat" with "treat".

A treat not because we felt deprived and the need to satisfy a craving. But for a refreshing change in ambience. For dining experiences with family and friends. For taste-testing new trending dishes that we would hardly prepare at home.

Temptation To Make Excuses 

♦  lack ingredients

How often could you shop for groceries in a week? Once? Twice? When the kids are at school? Or on weekends? Whatever the frequency, set the day and time that works well for you. And stick to the time tabled.

I go to the market on alternate days. I like my ingredients fresh. Especially for fish and seafood, it is best to buy the freshest catch of the day. As long as the meat is fresh, I don't have to put in too much effort to make the dish taste good.  A grilled salmon fillet can be very tasty with just a light seasoning of sea salt and pepper. A simple bed of lettuce perfumed with aromatic herbs and  zesty lemon can titillate the olfactory senses to, like a conductor, orchestrate a symphony of tastes in our mouth. It will take only 17 minutes to prepare this meal, faster than the delivery from Pizza Hut.

Prioritise grocery shopping into your schedule. Shop with a well thought-out shopping list and there won't be a reason to have missing ingredients or low stocked fridge.

♦  lack preparation

You should also look at what your have planned to cook for the next day the night before, to prepare mentally what you need and how to prepare the meals. Do you need to thaw any meat first? Or marinate the meat hours before cooking? Visualise the process and the steps the night before to be more prepared.

In order not to forget, pair it with something that you must do habitually daily. Like after you have brushed your teeth before going to bed or while having your nightcap of hot chocolate. Once you do this routinely for a few weeks, it will become a habit.

♦  lack flexibility

You might need to make a contingency adjustment because your mother has decided to drop by for lunch. Or you might even have to prepare the food earlier in the day because you have to bring the cat to the vet and the clinic could only fit you into the last appointment slot for that day which clashes with the hour that you would usually prepare dinner.

Variables do change from time to time and I have to adjust the menu accordingly.  For example, when the fishmonger does not have a good catch of fresh fish as the wet weather has kept the fishermen from the sea, I would have to substitute grilled fish with teriyaki chicken. Or when my child needs something soupy due to a bad sore throat or cold, the menu would have to exclude tonkatsu curry and be replaced with chicken macaroni soup. The menu can be changed but the duty to cook stays.

Make it a point to review what  you had planned to cook for next day.


How To Eat Healthy Without Having to Track Calories To The Tee?

There is too much math in keeping track on calories. Even with calorie count apps, one has to be extremely diligent to clock in daily for every single item that enters our gut.

Despite all intentions of being meticulous and precise, calorie count does not take into account subtle nutrient differences within a food type.

Think about it. Surely a slab of sirloin from a corn fed cow in the US differs from that of a grass fed cow in Australia; the Harum Manis mangoes that fall to the ground when ripe would not be the same as the ones that are hand plucked before they reach their prime to be packed and trucked to another province; or a wild salmon that swims against the current in the strong rapids can't be in the same category as those that are farmed and fed with food pellets that are artificially coloured to give the fish a desired shade of pink.

Calorie count is not my cup of tea. I would embrace the Healthy Eating Plate diligently instead. It's an extremely simple logical format designed by the nutrition experts at Harvard School of Public Health. All you need to remember is half plate of vegetables and fruits, with more on vegetables, a quarter plate meat and a quarter grains. With good fats and plenty of water.

My Healthy Plate


The Healthy Eating Plate suggests a balanced proportion of foods on the plate. But what about the portion size for each individual? What would be the size of the plate for your child? Or for you?

You could use the amount of protein that your body needs as the benchmark for the amount of grains and vegetables and fruits for your plate (remember the 25%protein/ 25% grain/ 50% vegetables and fruits portion rule).

To calculate the recommended amount of protein, you could use the online protein calculator,  and the USDA Food Composition Database to convert its equivalence to meat, fish and other seafood, eggs, and plant based protein foods like tofu and tempeh. 

The point is to have a balance healthy meal, not conforming to any diet. Use your intuition to eat heathy. When you don't feel bloated, foggy or lethargic anymore, you know you are eating right.

Health is something that cannot be compromised. Take the effort and make the time. Be consistent. Start with baby steps. Many small steps will add up to big steps. No matter how busy you are, set the stage for healthy eating at home.

Pin this on your Pinterest board.

Share your thoughts and suggestions. Would you encourage your children to learn to cook as a life skill before college or stepping into the work life? Email me. I appreciate and read every mail.


Credit: Featured image downloaded from

You googled. You read. A lot. You even cross referenced information on one site with another. Your brain is cluttered. You are too frazzled to even digest all that your brain has absorbed. When,

all you need is the half and half-of-half rule.

Download "What's for dinner?" template so that you can keep all you need to stay in sync with your balanced healthy meal on one simple page.

Liz Dju

Liz Dju

Liz has been a full-time homemaker and dedicated mom to a beautiful daughter for a major part of her adult life. And being so, her passion has naturally been navigated towards education, food and nutrition. 

She loves food - all food especially spicy authentic Asian dishes. She sometimes wonders if she eats to live or lives to eat.
As much as she is adventurous with food, she also likes to cook. A proponent for home cooking for better health, she believes that it's only when we start to cook that we become more aware of what goes into the food we eat and vigilant of our food portion sizes.

She's a relatively good home-chef and could make a mean Salt Baked Chicken. But she claims that her late mother-in-law was way much better and her only regret is, in her own words,"Darn…I wish I had written down her recipes."
Liz Dju

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