Healthy Eating

Top Tips to Make Your Meals More Filling

Find out what you can add to your plate to bring more balance.

By: Lexy Parsons

Between busy lifestyles and the temptation of endless convenience food options, it’s all too easy to turn to quick, easy-to-throw-together meals. Sure, these meals may satisfy your cravings in that moment. However, they often leave you feeling hungry soon after. And the thing is, while these meals could be less healthy options, they could also be seemingly healthy meals like fruit smoothies, plain oatmeal bowls, and even salads. It’s not that these meals should be avoided. Rather, think of them as incomplete. In order to increase satiety, curb cravings, and avoid feeling hungry soon after eating, it’s all about loading up your meals with the right sustenance! Not only can this help increase satisfaction from your meals, but it can also help you achieve your health and weight loss goals.

Ahead, learn what satiety is, what factors influence it, and the top tips to make meals more filling.

Understanding Satiety

What is satiety, and how does it influence our hunger and fullness levels?

Satiety refers to the feeling of fullness and satisfaction experienced after eating. It’s influenced by various factors, including the quality and quantity of food consumed, nutrient content, and individual metabolic factors. It’s important in regulating our hunger and appetite levels, where it helps alert the body as to when we’re hungry as well as when we’ve consumed enough food.

How Is Satiety Induced?

When we eat a meal, several mechanisms come into play to induce satiety. This includes the physical stretching of the stomach walls as it fills with food, the release of certain hunger and fullness hormones like leptin and peptide YY (PYY) from the gastrointestinal tract, and the activation of neural signals that communicate with the brain to regulate appetite and energy balance, including neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine.

How Do Our Food Choices Influence This?

Beyond the fundamental physiologic processes that take place, we also have to consider the macronutrient composition of each meal we consume — this includes the ratio of protein, carbohydrates, and fats. For example, meals high in protein have been shown to increase feelings of fullness and satiety more effectively than meals high in carbohydrates or fats. This is partly due to the thermic effect of protein, which requires more energy to digest and metabolize, leading to greater energy expenditure and sustained feelings of fullness. Not to mention, the glycemic index of foods, or the presence of (or lack thereof) dietary fiber — more on this below!

6 Tips to Make Your Meals More Filling

#1 Prioritize Protein

Compared to other macronutrients, protein-rich foods have the highest thermic effect, meaning they can enhance satiety due to their ability to increase calorie expenditure during digestion. Research has shown that diets higher in protein not only increase feelings of fullness, but also improve weight management. For example, a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that increasing protein intake from 15% to 30% of total calories resulted in significant reductions in overall calorie intake and feelings of hunger.

To boost satiety and promote better appetite control, aim to include a source of protein in each meal and snack. High-quality protein sources include: fish such as salmon or tuna, eggs, Greek yogurt, chicken breast, and plant-based protein sources like lentils or chickpeas. This could include adding shredded chicken breast to a bland salad, mixing Greek yogurt into your pancake batter, or topping your avocado toast with smoked salmon or eggs.

RELATED: The Top 9 Protein-Rich Snacks To Curb Cravings

#2 Include Healthy Fats

While protein plays a crucial role in enhancing satiety, healthy fats are also key. In addition to being more calorie-dense (and thus more filling), healthy fats help regulate blood sugar, slow down digestion, and promote the release of satiety hormones, such as leptin and cholecystokinin (CCK). These hormones signal to the brain that you’re full, helping to reduce hunger and prevent overeating. 

To incorporate healthy fats into your meals, include foods such as avocados, nuts, seeds, olives, and fatty fish like salmon or sardines. 

Here are some ideas:

  • Add a tablespoon of chia seeds to your overnight oats or warm oat bowl
  • Roast your veggies with avocado oil 
  • Add a teaspoon of olive oil, ghee, or coconut oil to your blended coffee or latte
  • Sprinkle nuts and seeds onto your salad or wrap

RELATED: The 12 Best Omega-3-Rich Foods to Add to Your Diet

#3 Balance Your Macronutrients

To make your meals more filling, aim to achieve a balanced proportion of macronutrients — including protein, fats, and carbohydrates (particularly those high in fiber) — in your meals. This combination (when obtained through whole food sources) helps to regulate blood sugar levels, prolong feelings of fullness, and maximize nutrient intake.

Here are some examples:

  • Sweet potato toast with sliced avocado and a hard-boiled egg
  • Overnight oats made with rolled oats, Greek yogurt, nut butter, berries, and chia seeds
  • Warm salad bowl including dark leafy greens, grilled salmon, walnuts, and quinoa

#4 Increase Dietary Fiber

Fiber-rich foods such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains, not only support gut health and provide essential nutrients, but they also add bulk to your meals and promote feelings of fullness. These foods are digested more slowly than refined carbohydrates, which can help you feel fuller for longer, regulate blood sugar levels, and reduce the likelihood of overeating. While the majority of Americans lack adequate fiber, getting enough through your diet is easier than you think. 

Here are some tips on how to make your meals more filling by increasing fiber intake:

  • Add a cup of fresh raspberries to your yogurt or oatmeal bowl 
  • Include chia seeds in your smoothie or overnight oats recipe
  • Add avocado to your salad or lunch bowl
  • Opt for a lentil-based pasta as a fiber-rich alternative to traditional or whole-wheat pasta

#5 Opt for Whole Foods

Whenever possible, opting for whole foods over processed or refined options is key. Rich in fiber, nutrients, and phytochemicals, these foods are much more filling and satisfying than their processed counterparts. And because they’re low in added sugar, sodium, and refined fats, whole foods are less likely to contribute to overeating and weight gain compared to processed foods. To incorporate more whole foods into your diet, try to shop the perimeter of the grocery aisle — it’s here you’ll find foods in their most natural form!

#6 Consider the Glycemic Index

When eating for nutrient density and satiety, considering the glycemic index (GI) of foods — a measurement of how quickly carbohydrates in food raise blood sugar levels — can be a helpful tool. Foods with a high glycemic index cause a rapid spike in blood sugar, while foods with a low glycemic index are digested more slowly, which can help maintain stable energy levels and feelings of fullness. To make your meals more filling and satiating, opt for carbohydrates with a lower GI in order to regulate blood sugar and cravings throughout the day.

Foods with a low glycemic index include: various fruits, dark leafy vegetables, non-starchy vegetables, legumes, avocado, nuts, and seeds. And if you are reaching for something with a higher glycemic load, make sure to pair it with protein, fiber, and healthy fats to regulate your blood sugar! Think about what you can add to your plate, rather than take away.

The Takeaway

When eating for fullness, remember that it’s not just what you eat, but also how you eat it (or rather, how you construct your meal!). By opting for whole foods, prioritizing protein and healthy fats, loading up your meals with fiber, and balancing your plate, you can enhance satiety, regulate appetite, reduce cravings, and support your overall health and fitness goals. Use this guide to help you get started, and remember to listen to your body’s natural fullness and hunger cues!