Healthy Eating: A Balanced Plate Approach

Introduction

Healthy eating means so many things these days. Calorie counting, intermittent fasting, high protein diets, and low carbohydrate diets are all examples of different healthy eating methods. But these methods don’t necessarily inform you on what to eat to achieve a balanced diet. 

A balanced plate approach to eating comes in handy for making sure you’re getting the nutrients you need. Especially if you’re constantly on the go or just starting out in your healthy eating journey.

Take a Visual Approach to Eating

A balanced plate of food can be visually represented by dividing the plate into sections with specific food groups. This approach can be used any time and any place; once you learn it, it can be useful for planning what types of foods should be on your grocery list each week or how to order at a restaurant.

According to the Healthy Eating Plate by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, a balanced plate should consist of:

  1. 50% Vegetables and fruits: These should make up half of your plate, with a variety of colors and types.
  2. 25% Whole grains: About one-quarter of your plate should be whole grains such as whole wheat, barley, wheat berries, quinoa, oats, brown rice, and foods made with them, like whole wheat pasta. 
  3. 25% Protein: The remaining quarter should be lean protein, which can come from fish, poultry, beans, and nuts. Red meat should be consumed in moderation and processed meats such as bacon and sausage should be limited.

The MyPlate guide promoted by the USDA also emphasizes a visual approach to balanced eating. In addition to lean animal proteins, it suggests low-fat dairy or fortified soy products, such as yogurt or a glass of milk, as a protein source alternative. Greek yogurt is especially high in protein compared to other variations of yogurt.

Additionally, preparing your foods with a moderate amount of healthy plant oils, like olive oil or avocado oil, is an important contribution to your balanced plate. Oils containing trans-fat, such as butter, should be used sparingly.

Examples of a Balance Plate Meal

The following are some healthy meal ideas for a balanced plate approach:

  1. Breakfast: Whole grain tortilla, scrambled eggs, cheese, and salsa
  2. Lunch: Stir-fry veggies, rice, lean protein such as shrimp or chicken, and peanut sauce
  3. Snack: Fresh berries and greek yogurt
  4. Dinner: Roasted vegetables, pork tenderloin, potatoes or whole grain bread, and a small amount of butter

These meal idea examples emphasize the 50/25/25 balanced plate and offer simple yet nutritious options. They cover the essential macronutrients and micronutrients you should have on your plate at each meal: carbohydrates, protein, and fats.

Don’t Forget About Fiber

Dietary fiber is crucial for a healthy diet as it aids in digestion, promotes gut health, regulates blood sugar levels, and reduces the risk of heart disease, stroke, and certain cancers. Many of the foods we think of as superfoods are high-fiber and they fall into the vegetables, fruits, and whole grains sections of your balanced plate.

Superfoods include things like berries, leafy vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes (like black beans, chickpeas, and lentils), and whole grains, such as oatmeal, quinoa, or brown rice. For more information and ideas on high-fiber superfoods, check out our blog What are Superfoods? 

Conclusion

A balanced plate approach to healthy eating is a great way to simplify the way you choose foods and determine appropriate quantities of each. It’s important to note that a balanced plate is not suggested as a replacement for recommended calorie counts or servings. It is meant to represent the relative amounts of each food group one should aim for in a balanced meal. Actual portion sizes and calorie needs can vary based on age, gender, body size, level of activity, and current health status.

Being mindful of what stage you are at in life and your nutritional needs can also help you choose the best foods for each section of your balanced plate. For more information on nutritional needs, visit our blog post on Nutrition for Different Life Stages.

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