How To Create a Healthy Plate: From a Dietitian

How to Create a Healthy Plate: From a Dietitian
Written and Presented by Olivia Farrow, RD, MHSc

Written and Presented by Olivia Farrow, RD, MHSc

Reviewed by Krista Kolodziejzyk, RD, MPH, MBA

Watch the Youtube video!

Ready to build a healthy plate? In this video (click to watch!) and blog, we’ll dive into how you can create balanced meals to nourish your body and feel good. We’ll cover what it means to have a healthy balanced plate, how to structure nutritious meals and snacks, and what to do when your meal isn’t on a plate. For example, you’re having a sandwich or a soup. Let’s get started.

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What is a Healthy Plate?

Healthy means balanced, which means balancing the foods on your plate to give you lots of nutrition. But healthy doesn’t mean perfect or boring. A balanced plate may also include foods that are not quite as nutritious, but maybe just add flavor or enjoyment to your meals.

So rather than focusing on a healthy plate, we’re going to focus on a balanced plate.

Why Build a Balanced Plate?

Building a balanced plate means giving your body the right mix of nutrients to keep it happy and healthy. There are many nutrients that the body needs, and including a variety of foods in your meals, can help you to eat more of these nutrients.

Eating regularly, which means not skipping meals, and aiming to eat around the same time every day, is also important. It helps to give your body energy, gives you an opportunity to eat more nutrients, and helps keep hunger at bay. For many people, this means eating around every three to four hours. Now, let’s look at how to create a balanced plate.

An Ideal Balanced Plate

An ideal balanced plate would include half a plate of vegetables and or fruit, a quarter plate of high fiber starches, and a quarter plate of protein foods, plus some healthy fats. Let’s break down what each of these mean. 

 

Half Plate of Vegetables and Fruit

These colorful powerhouses are packed with vitamins, minerals, and fiber that keep your body running smoothly. Include plenty of different colorful vegetables and fruits in your meals. Try vegetables like leafy greens, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, okra, cabbage, brussels sprouts, asparagus, zucchini, bok choy, cucumber, and more.

And fruits like berries, oranges, apples, mangoes, peaches, melons, papaya, figs, kiwi, guava, and other fruits you enjoy. If you have concerns about your blood sugar, such as if you have diabetes, try focusing on including half a plate of non starchy vegetables at your meals, and including fruit in the starch category, as well as starchy vegetables like peas, potatoes, plantains, and corn.

 

Quarter Plate of Starches

Let’s focus some more on that quarter plate of starches. For our balanced plate, we can choose high fiber starches for this section more often. Whole grains like brown rice, whole grain wheat, oats, millet, barley, and quinoa, sweet potato, taro, plantain, peas, and corn are all examples of high fiber starches.

When you are choosing grain products like bread, pasta, crackers, or naan, look for whole grain or whole wheat options for more fiber.

So, if we want fiber from the vegetables and the fruits and fiber from our starches, it must be pretty important, right? Why do we care so much about fiber? Fiber is important for keeping your body and your digestive system or your gut healthy. It helps you stay satisfied from your meal and helps keep your energy levels stable.

Think of high fiber carbohydrates like slow burning logs in your body’s fireplace, providing lasting energy and keeping your blood sugar stable. Compare this to low fiber starches, which act more like sticks in a fireplace. They might give a quick boost of energy, which can be helpful sometimes, like when you’re exercising, but this energy doesn’t last as long.

 

Quarter Plate of Protein Foods

Next, we have our quarter plate of protein foods, including beans, lentils, soy foods like edamame and tofu, eggs, chicken, fish, turkey, as well as pork and beef. And dairy products like milk, yogurt, cheese, paneer, cottage cheese, kefir. These are all examples of foods with protein. Protein is like the building blocks for your body.

It helps to keep your body strong by supporting muscle health. healing from injuries and illness, and supports all the activities you do in a day. It also helps to make your meal more satisfying, so you aren’t feeling hungry all day even after eating.

 

Healthy Fats

Lastly, don’t forget about our healthy fats. Add these to meals for even more nutrients, flavor, and to keep you fuller for longer. Plus, foods with healthy fats have important vitamins and nutrients that are essential for our bodies. Examples of foods with healthy fats include oils like olive oil, avocado, and nuts and seeds.

What About Non-Plate Meals?

You might be wondering, what if I don’t normally eat plated meals? You can still build a balanced plate. Let’s go through some examples. Say you’re having a bowl of oatmeal made with oats and water. We’ve got our high fiber starch, oats. What about the protein, vegetables, and fruit?

Well, we could add yogurt for protein, berries for fruit, or we could add some pumpkin seeds for protein and pears for fruit. Or we could make a savory oatmeal with hard boiled egg for protein and sauteed greens and tomatoes for a vegetable. Yum! Here’s another example. What if you’re having a hearty stew filled with either meat, beans, or lentils, with potatoes or rice?

What’s missing? The half plate of vegetables. We could add frozen vegetables to our stew for an easy addition. Or maybe a salad on the side. Now, say you’ve got a sandwich with turkey, cheese, and lettuce on whole grain bread. We have protein and high fiber starch taking up about a quarter of our meal each.

But what about vegetables? Even though lettuce is on here, it’s just one piece, and it isn’t filling half the plate. So, let’s add some carrot and celery sticks and apple slices. 

Snacks

Now, what about snacks? Not everyone eats snacks, and that’s okay. They can be optional, especially if you’re having balanced meals every three to four hours and are sitting down to enjoy your meals.

Listen to your body. If you feel too hungry between your meals, try a between meal snack. For many people, snacks can be a helpful way to keep your body fueled between meals. Think of snacks like mini meals and try to combine some protein plus fiber. Here are some snacky examples. For protein, you could choose yogurt, cheese, nuts and seeds, eggs, chickpeas and or hummus, and edamame.

And for fiber, you could choose fruits, vegetables, whole grain snack bars, whole grain crackers, whole grain pita, popcorn, or seaweed snacks. 

Overview

Now, let’s recap. A healthy plate is a balanced plate with a variety of nutritious foods and a balance with foods that just add flavor and enjoyment to meals.

A balanced plate can help you meet your nutrition needs and help you feel more satisfied and energized from your meals. A balanced plate includes half a plate of vegetables and or fruit, a quarter plate of protein foods, a quarter plate of high fiber starches plus some healthy fats. Try eating every three to four hours so you aren’t going hungry between meals to keep your body fueled and your energy levels stable.

Include snacks in your day if you find you’re hungry between meals and treat snacks like mini meals with a source of protein and fiber. Remember, building a balanced plate isn’t about restrictions or diets. It’s about fueling your body with the nutrients it needs to thrive.

Happy eating!

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