How To Build A Balanced Meal (cheat sheet + recipes!) (2024)

Want to build balanced meals but not sure how? This dietitian’s got you covered! Let’s talk about what “balance” actually means and how to build a balanced meal in four easy steps.

How To Build A Balanced Meal (cheat sheet + recipes!) (1)

The key to good nutrition? Eat a balanced diet. Simple enough, right?? Then why does it feel so complicated?

Truth is, we all know “a balanced diet” implies eating more carrots than cookies, but applying this strategy to your own life can be confusing if you’re not exactly sure how to do it.

The good news, it's actually a lot more simple than you might think, and today I’m showing you exactly how to do this using the The Balanced Plate Method!

What is a balanced meal?

A balanced meal has four components - a source of lean protein, fiber-rich carbs (think grains, starches, and fruit), non-starchy vegetables, and satiating fat.A great rule of thumb is to fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables at most meals.

As a Registered Dietitian, I'm a firm believer that all foods fit in a balanced diet.

The Balanced Plate Method is avisual guide to setting up well balanced meals and it makes developinghealthy eating habitssuper simple. No calorie or macro counting required —and definitely no cutting out entire food groups! Just clear guidance on how to proportion your plate (without dictating your specific portions) so you can tailor to your hunger levels and needs.

What I love about meals designed using The Balanced Plate Method is that by including all macronutrients on your plate… (carbs, protein, and fat)... You cover your bases with a hefty balance of the differentmicronutrientsas well (vitamins and minerals)!

And by adding a variety, or balance, of foods to your plate means a variety of important nutrients that make a more energizing, satisfying, nourishing and filling meal.

The Balanced Plate Method

Following The Balanced Plate Method you’ll want to lean into your plate having one half fruits and vegetables, one quarter of lean protein, and one quarter fiber-rich carbs with satiating fats to finish!

How To Build A Balanced Meal (cheat sheet + recipes!) (2)

If you're familiar with Harvard's Healthy Eating Plate or Canada's Food Guide, this guide is very similar!

How to build a balanced meal

Remember: these are NOT hard and fast rules! You have full permission to balance your plate in a different way. But including a fiber-rich carb, non-starchy vegetables, lean protein, and a healthy fat is ideal from both a nutrition, fullness and satisfaction standpoint.

Sometimes a balanced plate emphasizes more fruits than veggies or might only have one half vegetables and one half protein.

¼ Lean Protein

We all know protein is essential for building muscle, but it also helps with the feeling of satiety. Consuming a source of protein with each meal helps reduce hunger, control appetite and increase your metabolism (it has a high thermic effect, which means it takes more energy to metabolize protein than it does fat and carbs).

Examples of protein: poultry, lean beef, seafood, eggs, tempeh, tofu, legumes (beans, chickpeas, lentils)

*Note: Cheese, nuts, seeds and their butters (ex: peanut butter, sunflower seed butter etc.) provide a combination of both protein and fats. Since we tend to eat smaller portions of these types of foods, they may provide enough protein for breakfast or snacks, but likely not enough for lunch or dinner.

¼ Fiber-Rich Carbs

Fiber-rich carbs do amazing things for your body, like give you energy, keep you full between meals, encourage the growth of good gut bacteria, lower cholesterol and support digestive health.

By opting for whole grains, you’re eating more of the nutrients and fiber that are retained. Fiber slows the rise of blood sugars and provides more stable energy, appetite, and hunger cues after eating.

Examples: fruit, starchy vegetables, whole grain/sprouted bread and grains, rice, quinoa, oats, and barley.

*Starchy vegetables are things like potatoes and yams.

½ Non-Starchy Vegetables

Not only are non-starchy veggies low in calories and carbs, they’re also dense in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Another role they play in this equation is providing us with fiber. Fiber is bulky, so it physically fills us up and slows digestion. This leads to more stable blood sugars and helps us regulate hunger, cravings, and energy levels.

Generally, I recommend aiming for vegetables to take up the majority of that half plate portion at lunch and dinner. For breakfast, aim for a half plate of either fruit or vegetables—or with a mix of the two. The beauty is that this is a guide, so tailor it to what works for you!

Examples focus on non-starchy vegetables like asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower, leafy greens, zucchini, bell peppers, mushrooms—etc. Almost any veggie will do! Try to eat the rainbow here for optimal nutrient variety.

Finish With Fat

By adding sources of healthy fat you’re supporting things like heart health, your body’s ability to absorb fat-soluble vitamins and contributes to feeling full after a meal.

Fat also carries flavor molecules (yes, there’s a reason why food containing fat tastes so darn good!) and provides a satisfying mouth feel. Basically, if you want to feel both full and satisfied after a meal, fat is your friend!

Examples: nuts and seeds, nut and seed butters, avocados, oils like olive oil, dressing, and cheese.

Examples of Balanced Meals

How To Build A Balanced Meal (cheat sheet + recipes!) (3)
How To Build A Balanced Meal (cheat sheet + recipes!) (4)
How To Build A Balanced Meal (cheat sheet + recipes!) (5)

Now that we've learned how to build a balanced meal, let's put all of this info straight into action. Here are 12 Healthy Balanced Meal Ideas you can try out!

  • Over hard eggs + whole grain toast + sauteed veggies + avocado
  • Greek yogurt + low sugar granola + berries + nut butter
  • Overnight oats with raspberries + chia seeds (or raspberry chia seed jam)
  • Deli meat + crackers + carrots + hummus
  • Turkey burger + sweet potato + mixed greens + salad dressing
  • Rotisserie chicken + rice + peppers + onions + avocado
  • Salmon + potatoes + grilled asparagus + olive oil
  • Greek yogurt pizza dough + sauteed veggies + pizza sauce + cheese
  • Bell pepper nachos with ground chicken + beans + bell peppers + salsa + cheese
  • Chicken + pasta + broccoli + pesto
  • Rotisserie chicken + whole grain tortilla + broccoli slaw + buffalo sauce
  • Shrimp + whole grain tortillas + cabbage slaw + salsa + avocado

The bottom line:

Consuming meals with all three macronutrients is ideal for building a balanced plate from both a nutrition, and fullness/satisfaction standpoint. Adding a variety, or balance, of foods and to your plate means a variety of nutrients that make your food satisfying, nourishing and filling.Because variety is the spice of life my friends, and that’s exactly what a balanced meal has to offer.

Understanding how to build a balanced meal is important, but remember you also need to listen to your body and hunger cuesin additionto building balanced meals. Eating well isn’t about being perfect. It’s about what you do most of the time, not all of the time. There is plenty of room for fun in addition to taking care of you!

And that's it! The Balanced Plate Method! Overwhelming? If so, to help you put all this info into action, I createdthis free guidefor you with how to build a balanced plate visual guide, examples for each category, and 50+ Recipes for you to try out right away!

How To Build A Balanced Meal (cheat sheet + recipes!) (2024)
Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Fredrick Kertzmann

Last Updated:

Views: 6070

Rating: 4.6 / 5 (46 voted)

Reviews: 93% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Fredrick Kertzmann

Birthday: 2000-04-29

Address: Apt. 203 613 Huels Gateway, Ralphtown, LA 40204

Phone: +2135150832870

Job: Regional Design Producer

Hobby: Nordic skating, Lacemaking, Mountain biking, Rowing, Gardening, Water sports, role-playing games

Introduction: My name is Fredrick Kertzmann, I am a gleaming, encouraging, inexpensive, thankful, tender, quaint, precious person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.