One of the keys to good nutrition and actually feeling full after eating is to aim to eat meals that are balanced. But what does that mean? What does a well-balanced meal consist of anyways? Read this post to find out how to build a balanced meal from a Registered Dietitian!

Have you ever finished a meal and felt hungry again shortly after? I’m sure you have.

Do you ever worry that you may be missing out on important nutrients in your diet?

Do you want to feel energized, satisfied, and well-fuelled throughout the day?

Ever wonder how you can take just about any food (I’m talking boxed mac and cheese, packaged ramen, or chicken nuggets) and make it more satisfying, nourishing, and/or filling?

I’m a Registered Dietitian, and I’m here to help! One answer to all of these questions is learning how to build a balanced meal.

What is a Balanced Meal?

A balanced meal is one that offers a variety or balance of foods and therefore nutrients. Generally, a balanced meal or snack will consist of at least two – if not more – different food groups (like carbs, protein, fat, etc.).

A well-balanced meal typically consists of a source of carbohydrates like grains or starches, a source or serving of protein, some fat, and one or more servings of vegetables and fruit. A great “rule” of thumb to consider is aiming to fill half of your plate with vegetables and fruit at most of your meals.

Note: I placed the word rule in quotations there because I don’t believe in rigid food rules. It’s just something to consider! Continue reading to find out why.

Why is it Important?

Eating balanced meals is important for several reasons like increasing the variety of your intake, and feelings of fullness.

Increased Dietary Variety:

When you aim to include different foods like grains and starches, proteins, healthy fats, and fruits/vegetables in your meals and snacks, you’re increasing the variety in your diet. Eating a varied diet is important for many reasons, but mainly because it increases the likelihood that you’ll meet important nutrient requirements.

By increasing your dietary variety and adding several nourishing foods to your meals, you’re taking care of various aspects of your health at once. By adding fruits, vegetables and other plant foods like grains and nuts, you’re eating more fibre – which is important for digestive health and your gut microbiome. You’re also eating vitamins and minerals that are essential for good health.

By incorporating protein, you’re supporting your muscles, bones, and a wide array of important body functions. By adding sources of healthy fat you’re supporting things like heart health and your body’s ability to absorb fat-soluble vitamins. Protein and fat also contribute to feeling full after a meal, which is my next point.

Fullness and Satisfaction:

Eating balanced meals that include things like fibre (found in fruits/vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds), protein, and fats not only increase the variety in your diet, they also help you feel more full.

Balanced meals help to increase feelings of fullness because they digest slower than say, a meal that solely consists mainly of carbohydrates. For example, a slice of toast with jam would not keep you nearly as full as a slice of toast with jam paired with two scrambled eggs and some orange slices. The protein from the eggs and fibre from the orange slow down the digestive process, helping you to feel full for longer.

Satisfaction generally comes from gaining pleasure from the eating experience, so in addition to a variety of food groups, try to find ways to incorporate things like flavours and textures that you love. These are definitely part of a balanced meal, too!

Improved Energy Levels:

When you eat meals that offer a variety of important nutrients and keep you feeling full, you’re probably going to feel better too!

In addition to this, well-balanced, filling meals also help to keep your blood sugar levels stable. By avoiding big spikes and crashes in our blood sugar levels, we’re also going to feel more stable energy levels too.

How to Build a Balanced Meal?

If you’re familiar with the most recent version of Canada’s Food Guide, it offers a great image of a balanced meal. The most standard balanced plate that you may be familiar with consists of half fruits and vegetables, one quarter whole grains and/or starches, and one quarter protein-rich foods.

Pie charts demonstrating what different balanced meals can look like.

That being said, building a balanced meal is not something you need to overthink. Sometimes, a balanced meal might emphasize fruit and vegetables less, and look something like one third vegetables, one third grains or starches and one third protein.

Sometimes, your plate may be one half fruits and vegetables and one half protein-rich foods or whole grains. This can still be considered a balanced meal, too. However, when you’re able aiming to include fruits/vegetables, grains/starches, and protein foods is ideal from both a nutrition, energy, and fullness/satisfaction standpoint.

Examples of Balanced Meals:

  • Meat/fish, rice, and veggies (the classic!)
  • Stir fry with noodles, tofu, and frozen vegetable mix
  • Soup or stew with lentils, potatoes, carrots and kale
  • Breakfast burrito with eggs, beans, and peppers in a tortilla
  • Chicken casserole over rice with broccoli
  • Greek yogurt with granola and berries
  • Pasta with chicken (or beans) and vegetables
  • Sandwich of turkey breast and cheese with side salad
  • Delivery pizza with a side salad or veggie sticks
  • Macaroni and cheese with green peas and carrots
  • Ramen noodles with mushrooms, greens and soft-boiled egg
  • Bento box lunch with crackers and cheese, hummus, and cut up veggies/fruit

Important Things to Remember:

Do you want to know what else is important to include in a balanced meal? Whatever the heck you want!

Of course it’s important to aim for a varied diet and eat lots of nourishing foods. Learning how to build a balanced meal will surely help you do that. That being said, there are days when one – or all – of your meals are lacking vegetables. Or maybe you just want a big bowl of pasta, or pizza without the side salad. This is all perfectly okay, and a part of normal life.

Remember to listen to your body, and to work on honouring your hunger and your cravings in addition to 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!

Connect with Hannah Magee, RD!

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