5 Steps for Cooking the Perfect Flex Meal

Article posted in: Nutrisystem
woman cooking a Flex meal

Nutrisystem weight loss plans are the best way to help you shed excess pounds right now. But that’s just the beginning. Nutrisystem works because the most powerful benefit comes in the years ahead, as you maintain your healthy lifestyle and weight. That’s because we don’t just teach you how to lose weight; we also teach you how to keep if off.

As you lose today, you are learning a new way to eat and to prepare food for yourself. Flex meals let you practice your new knowledge about healthy ingredients and portion sizes. And eating properly couldn’t be more simple! All it takes is choosing from five building blocks: SmartCarbs, PowerFuels, Vegetables, Extras and Free Foods.

We’ve defined each of these building blocks below and provided examples for each. We also put together some tasty Flex meal and snack combination ideas that you can refer to when you need a little inspiration!

Please note that Flex meal guidelines will vary depending on your specific Nutrisystem program. Be sure to check the NuMi app and the pamphlet that came with your order for the number of PowerFuels and SmartCarbs you need for each Flex meal occasion.

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1. Get Smart: Start with a SmartCarb

healthy carbs

Your healthy meals begin with picking from the many different kinds of SmartCarbs. You may have heard that you need to avoid carbohydrates of all kinds when you’re losing weight. However, Nutrisystem isn’t your average weight loss plan. We’re all about letting you enjoy the foods you love while you drop pounds and get healthy!

Not all carbohydrates are alike, though. SmartCarbs are nutrient-rich carbohydrates, which are packed with fiber and rank lower on the glycemic Index. This means that they may help to keep your blood sugar steady and prevent spikes after meals and snacks. The fiber helps them digest slower, keeping you feeling full for longer than other carbs.

One SmartCarb is between 80 to 120 calories with at least one gram of fiber. Examples include foods like fruits, starchy vegetables (like corn, peas and sweet potatoes), beans and whole grains.

When shopping for pasta, rice, bread and cereal, be sure to get whole grain varieties. Cans of low-sodium black beans, chickpeas and other beans are a quick and easy way to add protein along with healthy carbs to your meals. When you’re craving sweeter flavors, pick fresh fruit. You have so many options, from apples to oranges to peaches, that you’re sure to find one that fits into your meal. Check out this list of SmartCarb examples with serving sizes:

  • Apple or Orange, 1 medium
  • Banana, 1 medium
  • Barley, cooked, ½ cup
  • Beans, cooked, ½ cup
  • Berries (blackberries, blueberries, whole strawberries), 1 cup
  • Bread, whole grain,1 slice
  • Cantaloupe, cubed, 1 cup
  • Corn, ½ cup
  • Couscous, whole grain, cooked, ½ cup
  • Crackers, whole grain, ¼ cup
  • Dried Fruit, no added sugar, ¼ cup
  • Fruit Cocktail, canned, in water, 1 cup
  • Grapefruit, 1 medium
  • Grapes, 1 cup
  • Hummus, ¼ cup
  • Mandarin Oranges, 2 medium
  • Oatmeal, prepared with water, ½ cup
  • Pasta, whole wheat, cooked al dente, ½ cup
  • Peach or Pear, fresh, 1 medium
  • Peas, green, ½ cup
  • Pineapple, 1 cup
  • Pita Bread, 6-inch whole wheat, 1 pita
  • Rice, brown, cooked, ½ cup
  • Sweet Potato or Yam, cooked, ½ cup
  • Watermelon, cubed (limit; high Glycemic Index), 1 cup

2. Power Up: Pick a PowerFuel

proteins and healthy fats

PowerFuels satisfy your hunger and are essential fuel for your body. These high-quality proteins and healthy fats include delicious options like lean meats, fish, low-fat yogurt and nuts.

One PowerFuel is between 80 to 120 calories with at least five grams of protein or at least eight grams of total fat (with no more than four grams of saturated fat).

Chicken breast, turkey, fish and seafood are healthy choices when you want a hardy meal. Keep canned tuna or salmon, peanut butter and nuts on hand for when you need PowerFuels that are ready to eat. Pair protein-rich low-fat yogurt with fresh fruit or low-fat cheese with whole grain bread for a healthy balance of PowerFuels and SmartCarbs. Need a super-quick PowerFuel on a busy day? Whip up a Nutrisystem protein shake. Check out this list of PowerFuel examples with serving sizes:

  • Beef, lean, trimmed, 2 oz.
  • Cheese, low sodium, 1 slice
  • Chicken Breast, 2 oz.
  • Cottage Cheese, 1% fat, no salt added, ½ cup
  • Crab meat, 3 oz.
  • Edamame, cooked, deshelled, ½ cup
  • Egg, 1 large
  • Egg Whites, 3-4 large
  • Fish, fatty (e.g., salmon, tuna, mackerel, swordfish, trout), 2 oz.
  • Fish, white, baked or broiled, 3 oz.
  • Ham, low fat, lower sodium, 2 oz.
  • Milk, low-fat or soy, 8 oz. (1 cup)
  • Parmesan Cheese, low sodium, grated, ¼ cup
  • Nut butter or tahini, 1 Tbsp.
  • Nuts (almonds, cashews, peanuts, pecans, pistachios, walnut halves), 2 Tbsp.
  • Pork, lean, trimmed, 2 oz.
  • Protein Powder, (e.g. whey, soy), 2 Tbsp.
  • Salmon, canned in water, 2 oz.
  • Seitan, ½ cup
  • Shrimp, 3 oz.
  • Tofu, ½ cup
  • Tuna, water-packed, ½ cup
  • Turkey Breast, 2 oz.
  • Veggie Burger, 3 oz.
  • Yogurt, nonfat, plain, 1 cup

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3. Veg Out: Pile on the Non-Starchy Vegetables

Close up of various colorful raw vegetables

Starchy vegetables like potatoes and corn are SmartCarbs, but many other varieties are categorized as “non-starchy.” They are full of fiber, low in calories and packed with vitamins that keep your body functioning at its peak.

Eating four servings of non-starchy vegetables each day is an important key to successfully losing weight and keeping it off. A typical serving of non-starchy vegetables is a half-cup cooked or one cup raw. You can eat as much of these veggies as you like. They are unlimited on Nutrisystem, so you can use them to make filling snacks and side dishes for lunch and dinner.

You can choose from so many different veggies, you will never be bored by them. And if you’re not a big fan of vegetables now, you can slip them almost unnoticed into so many dishes. Add lettuce, spinach or cucumber slices to sandwiches. Replace ordinary white rice with riced cauliflower. When covered in sauce, zoodles look and taste like spaghetti, but they’re made with zucchini. For a satisfying snack, dip carrots, celery or sweet bell peppers into salsa or hummus (a SmartCarb). Check out this list of Non-Starchy Vegetables:

  • Alfalfa Sprouts
  • Artichoke Hearts
  • Asparagus
  • Beets
  • Bell Peppers
  • Broccoli
  • Brussels Sprouts
  • Cabbage
  • Carrots
  • Cauliflower
  • Celery, 2 medium-sized stalks
  • Collard Greens
  • Cucumbers
  • Green Beans
  • Hearts of Palm, canned, ½ cup
  • Kale
  • Leeks
  • Lettuce, any kind
  • Mixed Greens
  • Mushrooms
  • Okra
  • Onion
  • Rhubarb
  • Spaghetti Squash
  • Spinach
  • Tomatillos
  • Tomatoes
  • Turnips
  • Vegetable Juice, low sodium, 4 oz. (½ cup)
  • Water Chestnuts, canned, ½ cup
  • Zucchini or Summer Squash

4. Be Extra: Add Some Extras

different sauces and condiments in bowls.

You can take your Flex meals to the next level of tastiness with “Extra” ingredients. Some add sweetness to your dish, while others bring a bit of healthy fats that make your food just a little more satisfying.

One Extra has between 10 and 35 calories per serving. You are limited to three Extras per day on your Nutrisystem plan. Be sure to follow the recommended servings carefully because it can be easy to overdo it and load up on excess calories.

Salad dressing or balsamic vinegar make an ordinary bowl of vegetables more appetizing. Mayonnaise and ketchup help bring out the flavor of sandwiches and burgers. Sugar-free jelly or maple syrup are the tasty finishing touches on whole grain toast or waffles. Check out this list of Extras with serving sizes:

  • Almond Milk, unsweetened 1 cup
  • Avocado, pureed, 1 Tbsp.
  • Balsamic Vinegar, 1 Tbsp.
  • Butter substitute, light version (e.g., Benecol, Smart Balance, Margarine) ½ Tbsp.
  • Chocolate Syrup, 2 tsp.
  • Coffee Creamer, fat-free, 1 Tbsp.
  • Cream Cheese, reduced-fat or fat-free, 1 Tbsp.
  • Honey, 1 tsp.
  • Jelly, sugar-free, 1 Tbsp.
  • Ketchup, 1 Tbsp.
  • Maple Syrup, 1 tsp.
  • Maple Syrup, sugar-free 1 Tbsp.
  • Mayonnaise, 1 tsp.
  • Oil (e.g. Canola, Olive, Peanut, Sunflower), 1 tsp.
  • Olives, Black or Green, 6-7 small
  • Popcorn, 1 cup
  • Pumpkin Seeds, 1 tsp.
  • Relish, 1 Tbsp.
  • Salad Dressing, light or reduced-fat, 1 Tbsp.
  • Sesame Seeds, 1 tsp.
  • Sunflower Seeds, 1 tsp.
  • Tomato Paste, 1 Tbsp.

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5. Feel Free: Flavor with Free Foods

Herbs and spices in bowls

The best way to amp up the flavor of any meal is with Free foods. They have less than 10 calories per serving and they are unlimited, so you can enjoy as much of them as want. They come in all kinds of flavors, from savory to spicy to sweet.

Herbs and spices, such as garlic, ginger and cayenne pepper light up your taste buds but add virtually no calories to your food. Salsa brings a bit of zing to sandwiches and makes the ideal dip for non-starchy vegetables or SmartCarbs like whole-grain crackers. Vinegar, lemon juice and low-sodium soy sauce perk up many recipes. Zero-calorie beverages also fall into this category, including coffee, unsweetened tea and seltzer water.  Check out this list of Free Foods:

  • Butter Spray
  • Broth, chicken, beef, vegetable, low sodium
  • Capers
  • Coffee, black
  • Cooking Spray
  • Garlic
  • Ginger
  • Green Chilies
  • Green Onions/Scallions
  • Herbs, fresh or diced
  • Hot Sauce
  • Lemon Juice
  • Lime Juice
  • Mustard
  • Peppers, hot, jalapeno
  • Salsa
  • Seltzer, plain or flavored, calorie-free
  • Soy Sauce, low sodium
  • Spices, such as Oregano, Paprika, Parsley, Red Pepper Flakes, Cumin
  • Sweeteners, natural, calorie-free
  • Tea, unsweetened
  • Vinegar, apple cider, white wine, red wine

Popular Flex Meal Combination Ideas:

Breakfasts, lunches, dinners and snacks all have different Flex meal guidelines. Check out the graph below for a quick overview of what your Flex meals should contain. Please note that if you are on a personalized program and use NuMi SmartAdapt™, these numbers will not apply to you. Find your specific PowerFuel and SmartCarb goals in the NuMi app.

flex meals

Need a little Flex meal inspiration? Check out these tasty combination ideas that we put together for breakfasts, lunches, dinners and snacks. You can easily adjust the below combinations to fit your meal plan. For example, if your Flex lunch calls for two PowerFuels, simply enjoy two servings of the PowerFuel shown OR add on another PowerFuel from the list of examples above. And feel free to add more Vegetables and Free Foods to your liking!

Breakfast: 1 SmartCarb + 2 PowerFuels

Flex Breakfast Idea #1: Egg Sandwich

  • PowerFuel(s): 1 Egg + 1 slice Cheese
  • SmartCarb: 1 slice Whole Grain Toast (2 slices if 40-60 calories per slice)
  • Vegetable: Tomato Slices
  • Extra: 1 Tbsp. Ketchup
  • Free Food: Unsweetened Tea

Flex Breakfast Idea #2: Yogurt with Berries

  • PowerFuel(s): 1 cup Nonfat Plain Yogurt + 1 Tbsp. Almond Butter
  • SmartCarb: 1 cup Raspberries
  • Vegetable: Low-Sodium Vegetable Juice
  • Extra: 1 tsp. Pumpkin Seeds
  • Free Food: Black Coffee

Flex Breakfast Idea #3: Banana and Peanut Butter Protein Shake

  • PowerFuel(s): 1 Nutrisystem Protein Shake + 1 Tbsp. Peanut Butter
  • SmartCarb: 1 medium Banana
  • Vegetable: Spinach
  • Extra: 1 cup Unsweetened Almond Milk
  • Free Food: Cinnamon

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Lunch: 1 SmartCarb + 1 PowerFuel (2 PowerFuels for Men)

Flex Lunch Idea #1: Ham Sandwich

  • PowerFuel(s): 2 oz. Low-Sodium Ham (4 oz. for men)
  • SmartCarb: 1 slice Whole Grain Bread (2 slices if 40-60 calories per slice)
  • Vegetable: Tomato and Onion Slices
  • Extra: 1 tsp. Mayonnaise
  • Free Food: Mustard

Flex Lunch Idea #2: Vegetarian Burrito Bowl Salad

  • PowerFuel(s): 1 slice Cheese (2 slices for men)
  • SmartCarb: ½ cup Black Beans
  • Vegetable: Lettuce
  • Extra: 1 Tbsp. Avocado
  • Free Food: Salsa

Flex Lunch Idea #3: Tuna Wrap

  • PowerFuel(s): ½ cup Tuna (1 cup for men)
  • SmartCarb: 1 Whole Wheat Pita or Tortilla
  • Vegetable: Lettuce and Onions
  • Extra: 1 tsp. Mayonnaise
  • Free Food: Black Pepper

Dinner: 1 SmartCarb + 2 PowerFuels (3 PowerFuels for Men)

Flex Dinner Idea #1: Chicken and Broccoli Pasta

  • PowerFuel(s): 4 oz. Chicken Breast (6 oz. for men)
  • SmartCarb: ½ cup Whole Grain Pasta
  • Vegetable: Broccoli
  • Extra: 1 tsp. Olive Oil
  • Free Food: Garlic, Oregano and Red Pepper Flakes

Flex Dinner Idea #2: Steak Fajitas

  • PowerFuel(s): 4 oz. Steak (6 oz. for men)
  • SmartCarb: ½ cup Brown Rice
  • Vegetable: Bell Peppers and Onions
  • Extra: 1 Tbsp. Avocado
  • Free Food: Salsa

Flex Dinner Idea #3: Tofu Stir Fry Bowl

  • PowerFuel(s): 1 cup Tofu (1 ½ cups for men)
  • SmartCarb: ½ cup Quinoa
  • Vegetable: Sugar Snap Peas
  • Extra: 1 tsp. Sesame Oil
  • Free Food: Low-Sodium Soy Sauce

Snack: 1 SmartCarb + 1 PowerFuel

Flex Snack Idea #1: Apples and Celery with Peanut Butter

  • PowerFuel(s): 1 Tbsp. Peanut Butter
  • SmartCarb: 1 medium Apple
  • Vegetable: Celery
  • Extra: 1 tsp. Honey
  • Free Food: Cinnamon

Flex Snack Idea #2: Cheese and Crackers

  • PowerFuel(s): 1 slice Cheese
  • SmartCarb: ¼ cup Whole Grain Crackers
  • Vegetable: Cucumber Slices
  • Extra: 6-7 small Black or Green Olives
  • Free Food: Hot Peppers

Flex Snack Idea #3: Turkey Roll-Ups

  • PowerFuel(s): 2 oz. Turkey Breast
  • SmartCarb: 1 Whole Wheat Tortilla
  • Vegetable: Roasted Red Peppers
  • Extra: 1 Tbsp. Fat-Free Cream Cheese
  • Free Food: Fresh Basil

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