My 4 Steps to Create a Balanced Meal

A new day brings new goals. Maybe your goal is to eat a little healthier today…

But after years of food restrictions and carrying around the diet mentality, maybe you’ve forgotten how to balance your meals to make them healthy, satiating and delicious. Here are My 4 Steps to Create a Balanced Meal:

STEP 1: Choose a Grain

Carbohydrates play a major role in your body to ensure you have enough energy to complete daily tasks. Carbs get a bad name – primarily from the diet world – but here’s the thing: Not all carbohydrates are created equal.

For instance, let’s compare a candy bar and quinoa. A candy bar is full of refined sugars (simple carbohydrates) that will leave you feeling tired and sluggish. Quinoa, however, is a complex carbohydrate full of nutrients that will give you sustained energy between meal times.

When you prepare your meals, make sure you include a serving of complex carbohydrates. Here are grains to choose from along with the serving size for each…

  • Barley (½ cup cooked)
  • Buckwheat Groats (½ cup cooked)
  • Bulgur (½ cup cooked)
  • Farro (¼ cup cooked)
  • Millet (⅓ cup cooked)
  • Muesli (¼ cup)
  • Oats (¼ cup dry)
  • Quinoa (⅓ cup cooked)
  • Rice (⅓ cup cooked)
  • Spelt (¼ cup cooked)
  • Bread –  Rye, sourdough, pumpernickel, etc (1 slice)
  • Couscous (½ cup cooked)
  • Granola (¼ cup)
  • Potatoes – sweet or white (½ potato)
  • Rolls/Other Breads – Ciabatta, Hamburger rolls, Hot Dog buns, Bagels, etc (½ roll)
  • Tacos – hard shell (2)
  • Thai Brown Rice Noodles (1 cup cooked)
  • Tortilla Wraps/Pita Bread/Flatbreads – 8/10” (½ wrap, pita or flatbread)
  • Whole Grain Cereals (¼ cup)
  • Whole Wheat Crackers (5-7 crackers)
  • Whole Wheat Pasta or Noodles (½ cup cooked)

In addition to a grain source, you’ll also need proteins, vegetables and a healthy fat to balance your meal…

STEP 3: Choose a Protein

Proteins are the building blocks of our bodies – we are literally made up of protein from our organs and muscles to our hair and skin. This macro-nutrient is important for growth and development.

When choosing a protein, aim to eat plant-based proteins like beans, legumes, tofu, tempeh, etc. If you are not plant-based then choose lean proteins like chicken (white meat), fish, or lean cuts of red meat. Aim for 3-4 ounces of protein (about the size of your palm or a deck of cards) when balancing your plate.

Side Note: When you eat carbohydrates and proteins together, it slow down the digestion of the carbohydrate keeping you satiated longer.

Here are plant protein sources to choose from…

  • Beans – Black, pinto, navy, kidney and other varieties
  • Chickpeas (½ cup)
  • Edamame (½ cup cooked)
  • Lentils (⅓ cup cooked)
  • Nutritional Yeast (⅓ cup)
  • Peas and all varieties of peas (¾ cup)
  • Plant-Based Milks – pea, flax, hemp, soy, fortified milks (1-1.5 cup)
  • Protein Powder (1-1.5 scoops)
  • Seeds – hemp or chia (1.5 Tbsp.)
  • Seitan (¼ cup)
  • Tofu (½ cup)
  • Tempeh (¼ cup)

STEP 3: Choose Two Cups of Any Vegetable

“Eating vegetables provides health benefits – people who eat more vegetables and fruits as part of an overall healthy diet are likely to have a reduced risk of some chronic diseases. Vegetables provide nutrients vital for health and maintenance of your body.”

Vegetables provide an array of nutrients including potassium, dietary fiber, folic acid and an array of vitamins depending on the veggie. When making your plate, make half the plate vegetables (about 2 cups worth). Here are some vegetables to choose from…

  • Leafy Greens (spinach, arugula, bok choy, lettuce, kale, mustard greens, etc)
  • Artichokes
  • Asparagus
  • Broccoli or broccoli rabe
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Beans & legumes (1/2 cup = 1 serving)
  • Carrots
  • Cabbage
  • Cauliflower
  • Celery
  • Corn
  • Cucumber
  • Eggplant
  • Onions
  • Potatoes (1/2 large potato = 1 serving)
  • Mushrooms
  • Leeks
  • Bell peppers
  • Pumpkin
  • Squash and zucchini
  • Tomatoes
  • Turnips

While healthy fats are not needed at every meal, they are still important to include in a balanced diet. See what healthy fats to choose from to balance your plate below…

STEP 4: Choose a Healthy Fat (optional)

Dietary fats are also a macro-nutrient; they are essential for energy, cell growth, protecting vital organs and keeping you warm. There are 4 primary fats, but the two healthiest fats are monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.

Fats are more calorically dense compared to proteins and carbohydrates, so you’ll find the serving size of healthy fats are smaller – about the size of the tip of your thumb to be exact. Here are some plant-based healthy fat options to add to your meal…

  • Avocado (about 2 tbsp.)
  • Nuts and Nut Butters (1 tbsp.)
  • Seeds (1 tbsp.)
  • Olive oil (1 tbsp.)
  • Flax, chia and hemp seeds (1 tbsp.)
  • Hummus (2 tbsp.)

Follow my 4 steps to create healthy and balanced meals and it’ll take all the second-guessing out of healthy eating. Plus, more balanced meals means that your body will get the nutrients it needs. Therefore, you may experience more energy and less cravings.

As part of a nutritionally-dense diet, it’s also important to include fruit each day. Fruit is a simple carbohydrate rich in vitamins and mineral to support the immune system. Aim to eat 2-3 pieces or cups of fruit each day (whole fruits with skin are a much better option than packaged fruits).

Checkout this Broccoli, Carrot and Couscous with Dill Sauce recipe to see how I included the major food groups to make a delicious, satisfying and balanced meal!


https://food.unl.edu/NEP/NEP%20Documents/Vegetable%20group.pdf

https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/fats/dietary-fats

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