Everyone’s diet looks different. What is good for one person may not be beneficial for the next. However, during meal time there is a basic outline that should be considered in order to build a well-balanced, nutritious, and satisfying meal. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has established MyPlate, a visual and informational tool that makes it simple to understand the components and quantities that should be included in each meal. Food groups include fruits and vegetables, grains, protein, and dairy. We will dive into each one in more detail, as they all can be tailored to your own individual preferences and lifestyle.
When most people think of protein they think of animal products, such as meat, poultry, eggs, and seafood. While these are excellent, there are many other ways to include protein in your diet such as in beans, peas, lentils, and soy products. It is important to consume protein from multiple sources in order to reap all the nutritional benefits that this macronutrient has to offer. On average, adult women should consume 5-6 ounces of protein each day, and men 6-7 ounces (USDA). When creating a cohesive meal, MyPlate states that slightly less than one quarter of your plate should include protein. Another good rule of thumb is to have a protein source that is about the size of your palm.
A diet consisting of whole grains is associated with lower levels of overall stress! Whole grains are high in Grain products cover a wide-variety of different foods. Anything made of wheat, rice, oats, cornmeal, or barley is considered a grain product (USDA). Common grain products include bread, pasta, grits, rice, breakfast cereals, tortillas, popcorn, and much more. Grains should cover a little more than a quarter of your plate when curating a meal. Furthermore, it is necessary to understand the difference between whole grains and refined grains. While both are acceptable, at least half of the grains you consume should be whole grains. When consuming refined grains, check the label to make sure they are “enriched” to ensure that certain vitamins and minerals, including B vitamins and iron, are added back into the product after processing (USDA).
Fruits & Veggies
Fruits and vegetables provide many micronutrients that may be difficult to obtain from the other food groups. This is why they should take up such a large portion of our plate! Fruits and/or vegetables should cover half of your plate for each of your meals. Both fruits and vegetables can be fresh, frozen, canned, cooked, dried, etc. Fresh fruits and vegetables are low in calories compared to the other food groups, making them very nutritionally dense, and easy to fill up on during your meals. When purchasing frozen or canned, choose options that are low in sodium, have no sodium added, or are without condiments and sauces.
A balanced day can consist of 2-3 servings of dairy if you choose to. This may be milk (including lactose-free), yogurt, natural cheese, or fortified soy milk and yogurt. This does not, however, include high-fat dairy products such as cream cheese, sour cream, and butter (USDA). These foods do not contain the beneficial nutrients that come from natural dairy, such as calcium, potassium, and even protein.
Using these broad outlines, you can create an infinite amount of nourishing meals that you enjoy. The MyPlate guideline makes it simple to understand how we can fuel ourselves to feel our best. So the next time you are making yourself a meal, ask yourself, what can I add to make a well-rounded plate?
Learn more about building a balanced plate at myplate.gov/ or schedule a free call with Alli here.
This article was written by Emma Bulan, nutrition intern. Fact checked by Allison Tallman RD.