Whole grains and larger meals can provide more energy: advice from a dietitian

  • A 42-year-old man submitted an average day’s worth of meals for Insider’s Nutrition Clinic to review.
  • They told Insider their goal was to gain energy to fuel their days by working full time and raising four children.
  • A dietitian recommends eating more whole grains and replacing caffeine with water.
  • If you would like to have your diet reviewed by an expert, complete this form.
  • The advice in this article is not a substitute for professional medical diagnosis or treatment.

Nikki, 42, submitted her eating routine to Insider’s Nutrition Clinic, where trained dietitians offer advice on readers’ eating habits.

They told Insider their goal was to gain more energy. Nikki has four children and works full time with children with disabilities.

“I wake up at 7 a.m. and have a really hard time getting up and starting my day,” they said. “Once I bring the kids to school, I go to work. I barely have a moment to breathe all day even though I have a lunch break.”

Nikki works until 4 p.m. when their children come home.

“I can barely get through dinner and homework,” Nikki said. “At 8 p.m. I collapse. I spend the rest of the evening in bed on my phone or laptop. I really have things to do – housework, laundry, cleaning, etc. – but I can’t even move.”

They usually fall asleep between midnight and 1 a.m., but dietician Priya Tew advises going to bed earlier.

“It can be hard to put into practice because they probably want time to themselves in the evening, but good quality sleep will really help those energy levels and that sense of well-being,” Tew said.

Nikki has cereal for breakfast

Nikki has her first meal of the day around 8 a.m., which consists of cereals, such as honeycomb oats and low-fat milk, and sometimes a sweetened coffee.

“Sometimes I snack on peanut butter pretzels in the morning,” they said.

For a more energizing breakfast, Tew suggests a whole grain breakfast cereal with fruit and a few crunchy seeds on top.

Nikki grabs some handy food for lunch

At noon, Nikki eats something from a nearby store, often a slice of pizza or a tuna sandwich, they said.

Tew said given Nikki’s busy schedule, they would benefit from a heartier lunch – try adding berries and yogurt or a handful of nuts.

“Nikki does a good job of eating regularly throughout the day, but they rely on meals on the go that don’t give their bodies the nutrition they need, resulting in low energy levels” , said Tew.

Nikki has a mid afternoon snack like cookies

Chocolate chip cookies

Nikki snacks on cookies.


Around 4 p.m., Nikki has a snack like cookies, frozen dinner, or half a bagel with tuna or cheese.

“I drink Diet Coke throughout the day to function,” they added.

Tew said a more nutritious afternoon snack could help keep Nikki’s energy levels up.

“The bagel is a great idea, other options could include nut butter and banana on toast or cheese, grapes and whole grain crackers,” they said.

Although the caffeine in Diet Coke may seem helpful, Tew said it doesn’t help in the long run because it can keep you up at night. She suggests drinking more water.

Nikki has dinner with her family and an evening snack later

Nikki and her family have dinner around 6 p.m., often meatballs and spaghetti, chicken and rice, Chinese takeout, two slices of pizza or pasta with cottage cheese, they said.

For their last meal of the day, Nikki nibbles on another portion of dinner or a sandwich, followed by cake or cookies around 10 p.m.

According to studies such as this 2016 study published in Experimental and Therapeutic Medicine, by including more fruits and vegetables in their meals, Nikki’s diet would benefit from fiber intake which helps stabilize energy.

If Nikki focuses on building a good routine with nutrition, sleep and movement, they should find it easier to maintain their energy as a busy parent, Tew said.

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