What actually makes up a well balanced meal? In this post, I’m sharing what a balanced meal is and talk about The Plate Method, a simple visual guide to create meals that fill you up and leave you satisfied! Plus, I’ve got 15+ balanced meal examples for you to enjoy. Each includes protein, carbohydrates, fat, and a ton of delicious vegetables!
Most likely, the importance of eating a well balanced diet is something you’ve heard as far back as you can remember. Before I became a registered dietitian, the idea of a “balanced” meal plate felt incredibly vague to me. And with so many recommendations out there, many seemingly contradictory, it can still be incredibly vague and confusing to know where to start!
The good news, it can actually be a lot more simple than you might think, and today I’m showing you exactly how to do this, meal after meal, using the The Plate Method!
Before we dive in, I first want to say that true balance encompasses how food makes us feel not just physically, but mentally and emotionally too. This is something we discuss in depth in The Make Food Feel Good Program so that you can truly experience the freedom of finding permission for all foods, widening the focus from nutrition alone to enjoying food for the joy, pleasure, and connection it brings, and understanding how your body feels best.
That being said, I know the stress meal planning can bring! Coming up with ideas week after week, let alone ensuring that they are in fact well balanced meals, so for the purposes of this post I’m going to address the nutritional aspect. And that’s where the Plate Method comes in!
So, what should I and shouldn’t I eat for a balanced diet?
Between the food guides and endless healthy eating habit recommendations it can be confusing to know what to eat and what not to eat. This may surprise you, but having worked as a dietitian for over a decade, there are truly no foods that I recommend to keep off limits. Yep, all foods have a place at the table in my books.
This is the essence of a balanced diet: permission to eat and enjoy all foods and allowing food to play a role beyond just fuel and nutrition. That’s also the foundation for how to have a healthy relationship with food.
Today on the blog, we take a deep dive into:
- What is a Balanced Meal?
- Balanced Meal Portions: Breaking Down the Plate Method
- Who Needs to Eat a Well Balanced Meal?
- Are there Foods that Don’t Work in the Plate Method?
- Examples of Healthy Balanced Meals (including 15+ recipes!)
If you’re particularly interested in any of the above, just click the link to jump to that section!
What is a Balanced Meal??
I subscribe to the philosophy that a balanced diet encompasses all foods, but if you’re just starting to repair your relationship with food or new to cooking and nutrition, knowing what to eat can be a daunting task. Don’t worry! I got you covered with The Plate Method.
The Plate Method is a guide (note: don’t let this be another food rule!) to setting up well balanced meals and it makes developing healthy eating habits super simple. It doesn’t require any calorie counting or macro counting—and definitely doesn’t require cutting out entire food groups! It also offers clear guidance on how to proportion your plate (without dictating your specific portions) so you can tailor to your hunger levels and needs.
The Plate Method includes:
- ½ plate of veggies
- ¼ plate protein
- ¼ plate high fiber carbohydrate
… and my personal touch:
- Finish with fat!
Us nutrition nerds like to refer to dietary fats as the “satiety factor,” i.e. the key to leaving you not just full, but satisfied after a meal.
You know that feeling after a big salad? You’re full after spending the past 20 minutes chewing through it leaf by leaf! But in order to actually feel satisfied, remember this: don’t skip the dressing!
Dressing often contains nourishing fats, and fat does a lot for us. It carries flavor molecules, provides a unique mouth-feel that increases satisfaction, and slows gastric emptying (the rate your stomach empties after eating). This is why you might notice you’re full and satisfied for much longer after nourishing balanced meals that include fat.
What I love about well balanced meals designed using The Plate Method is that by including all macronutrients on your balanced meal plate…
you will cover your bases with a hefty balance of the different micronutrients you need as well. A.k.a –
without having to tally up each individual nutrient like calcium or iron totals each day!
Also, if you aim to “eat the rainbow” (eat a variety of different colored fruits and vegetables), you’ll be more likely to consume a range of nutrients!
Balanced Meal Portions: Breaking Down the Plate Method
Following the plate method you’ll want to lean into your plate having 50% fruits and/or veggies, 25% protein and 25% carbs/grains (and don’t forget to include that satiating fat to finish)!
So let’s dive into what that actually looks like:
½ Plate of Vegetables and/or fruits (50%)
To start, this is where I recommend leaning towards that half plate of colorful fruits and vegetables! Just by doing this, you’ll end up shifting the proportions of everything else into that plate method balance.
Fruits and veggies are packed with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. They are the foundation of support for our cells, from the inside out.
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 our energy levels!
Fruit vs. Vegetables:
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. I’ll note that breakfast may look more like an even split of ⅓ x ⅓ x ⅓ between your protein, carbohydrates, and fruit/vegetables – the beauty is that this is a guide, so tailor it to what works for you!
For this portion of the plate, focus on non-starchy vegetables like asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini, bell peppers, mushrooms—the list goes on. Almost any vegetable will do. And again, try to eat the rainbow here for optimal nutrient variety!
Starchy vegetables are things like potatoes and yams. These are still great options, but would fit into the carbohydrate portion of your plate.
¼ Plate of Protein (25%)
Protein foods provide us with important minerals like iron and zinc, which are involved in many of our body’s chemical processes. They make up our digestive enzymes and help build and repair our body’s tissues.
In terms of our fullness and satiety, protein foods are more densely structured. They take longer to break down, keeping us full longer after eating and also counteract the rise of blood sugars: another important factor in keeping blood sugar levels stable!
Examples of protein include: fish, poultry, meat, tofu, tempeh and legumes like beans, chickpeas, and lentils.
*Note: 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 Plate of Carbohydrates or Grains (25%)
While carbohydrates get a bad rap, they’re actually the preferred and primary source of energy for our muscles and brain, and are used to carry out important metabolic functions.
Carbohydrates are made up of long chains of sugars that break down to provide energy and fuel for our cells. By opting for whole grain options, 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 of whole grain carbohydrates include: rice, quinoa, millet, barley, pasta, oats, whole grain or sprouted breads, pita breads, or tortillas.
And last but not least – finish with: Fats
Gone are the days of fat-free everything (anyone else grow up through the ‘90s?) We now know what an important role dietary fats play in both nutrition and satiety.
Nutritionally, fats are required for the absorption of important vitamins A, D, E, and K. Some also provide antioxidant properties to protect our cells from free-radical damage and slow the aging process.
From a fullness and satiety standpoint, fat is integral! Fat slows gastric-emptying, as mentioned above, helping to fill us up and keep us full. Fat also carries flavor molecules (yes, there’s a reason why food containing fat tastes so dang good!) and provides a satisfying mouth feel. Basically, if you want to feel both full and satisfied after a meal, fat is your best friend!
Examples of fats include: nuts and seeds, nut and seed butters, avocados, oils like olive oil, butter, and cheese. To support heart health and reduce inflammation, opt for mostly plant-based fats.
Well, there you have it! The Plate Method! Overwhelming? If so, to help you put all this info into action, I created this free guide for you with a plate method graphic, examples for each category, and 10 Plate Method Recipes for you to try out right away!
Take the stress out of meal planning with my FREE 5 day meal plan of fresh, balanced, nourishing meals!
Who Needs to Eat a Well Balanced Meal?
In short – everyone can benefit from eating well balanced meals. During my degree, we actually learned The Plate Method for well balanced meals as a tool to help manage blood sugars with diabetic patients. I later worked in the Diabetes Center at St. Paul’s Hospital for a stint and this method could prove incredibly effective.*
*Please note this information is shared in good faith and is not intended to replace advice from your doctor or dietitian. Any changes to medications or nutrition should be discussed with your doctor or dietitian first.
That being said, we can all benefit from better blood sugar balance! Balancing our blood sugars can help do a ton of things for our bodies, including:
- Improve energy and prevent energy/blood sugar crashes
- Improve mood (Hello hanger. Need I say more?)
- Regulate appetite (Low blood sugars are often the cause of intense and overwhelming cravings. This is a survival mechanism: our body is letting us know, “I need fuel, ASAP!”)
- Decrease intensity of cravings and nighttime snacking
- Help manage chronic inflammation
Are there Foods that Don’t Work with the Plate Method?
Nope. Literally any meal can be a plate method meal! That’s the beauty of it! Pizza, pasta, tacos, stir-frys, you name it!
What you’ll change is the proportion of the items on your plate. This may look like having a salad on the side of your pizza or adding roasted cauliflower to your tacos. And again, this doesn’t mean every single meal has to look like this. It’s only a guide: something just to lean toward!
15 Healthy Balanced Meal Examples
Now, to really help you put all of the above info straight into action, here are 15+ Healthy Well Balanced Meal Ideas you can try out!
Now, to really help you put it all into action, here are 15+ Healthy Well Balanced Meal Ideas to try out!
Vegan and Vegetarian
Crispy Honey Garlic Cauliflower Bowls
Perfectly Crunchy Cauliflower and a kitchen hack for the quickest, sticky, tasty honey garlic sauce that comes together in minutes. Side note, it’s sneakily packed with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory rich ingredients like cauliflower, edamame beans and avocado.
Maple Tofu Stir Fry
I can’t wait for you to try this method for the crispiest tofu, perfect for soaking up the delicious maple black pepper sauce.
Crunchy Kale Caesar Salad
This kale caesar salad recipe combines crispy chickpeas and tangy Greek yogurt dressing for the most satisfying and flavourful salad! In this recipe the chickpeas act as both the protein & carbohydrate – other options would be to include traditional bread croutons, or an alternative protein like salmon, prawns, tofu or chicken.
Creamy Red Pepper Pasta
This one pan creamy red pepper pasta is easy enough for a weeknight and impressive enough to entertain your weekend guests! It comes together quickly with a ready-to-go hummus base and minimal prep add-ins like spinach and sun-dried tomatoes. For extra veggies – serve with salad!
Roasted Cauliflower Chickpea Tacos
Inspired by one of the most popular recipes from The 321 Method meal plans, this recipe will even convert the meat lovers. Crispy cauliflower and chickpeas make a delicious, balanced plant based taco.
Fiesta Tempeh Taco Bowls
A quick, balanced weeknight meal with tons of flavor. Made with fresh ingredients like bell peppers, avocados, tempeh and black beans for delicious plant based protein, tacos have never been so satisfying!
Chickpeas à la Grecque
This recipe is a total comfort food. If you’ve done your weekly prep, it can be done in 5-10 minutes, but even if you’re starting from scratch its super quick to throw together.
Lemon Pesto Rainbow Chickpea Pasta
This balanced kitchen sink pasta has a few surprising ingredients like purple cabbage and chickpeas, but let me tell you, it works! A favorite among my family and friends, this pasta is delish served hot or cold.
Fish and Seafood
Shrimp and Dragon Fruit Street Tacos
Shrimp tacos are one of my all times favourite meals. Enjoy this balanced meal with a tropical twist of mango and dragonfruit.
The Perfect Salmon Poke Bowl
This Hawaiian-style salmon poke bowl recipe is packed with veggies and Omega 3 fatty acids. Easy and quick to prepare, it’s the perfect weeknight dinner. Step by step, let me show you how to build the perfect salmon poke bowl!
Salmon Soba Noodle Bowl
All the flavor, all the goods. With ingredients like swiss chard, wild salmon, avocado and a creamy peanut butter sauce, this delicious nourishing bowl will be on repeat on the weeknight menu!
Brown Rice and Avocado Shrimp Stack
Use a measuring cup for a quick hack to fancy up this dish, or just pile everything into a bowl, buddha bowl style and enjoy! The tangy Asian-style dressing is the perfect compliment to creamy avocado, baby kale and shrimp!
Poultry and Meat
Sheet Pan Fajitas
These 30 minute one pan fajitas are made with simple ingredients like bell peppers, red onion and chicken breasts. With a super simple chicken fajita seasoning, the flavor, ease and minimal clean up will make this a weeknight staple!
One Pan Turmeric Lemon Rice and Chicken
A few minutes of prep and this baby is ready to put the lid on and cook away while you put your feet up!
Thai Turkey Quinoa Salad
This recipes comes together for a quick, balanced weeknight meal. It is packed with protein, fiber, fresh vegetables and herbs.
One Pan Greek Chicken with Blistered Tomatoes and Red Peppers
This one pane meal is perfect for a quick balanced weeknight dinner and great for leftovers! Throw it onto rice, quinoa or couscous and voila, the perfect Plate Method meal!
Healthy Meal-Prepped Ground Beef Lettuce Wraps
With both protein from the ground beef (or any ground meat of choice) and carbs from fiber rich brown rice, this meal has all of the Plate Method components for a filling, satisfying meal!
Need a little meal planning help? Check out The 3-2-1 Method Meal Plans for 4 weeks of dietitian designed plate method meals!
If you enjoy any of the recipes, it would make my day if you would leave a comment and/or star rating below. I love hearing your feedback! And don’t forget to snap a pic and tag me on Instagram @lindsaypleskot so I can see your versions! It makes me so happy to see these recipes come to life in your kitchens! xoPrint
Along with all of the other delicious Plate Method meals in this post, this flavor packed meal has it all – juicy chicken thighs for protein, turmeric infused rice for your carbohydrate, and iron-rich kale for your daily dose of greens! Enjoy
- 1 lb chicken thighs, boneless and skinless
- Sea salt and freshly-cracked pepper
- 2 tsp olive oil
- 1 large shallot, minced
- 1 tsp cumin
- 1 tsp turmeric
- 1 large head of curly kale, torn into bite sized pieces (thick middle stems removed)
- 1 cup of brown rice
- Juice and zest of 1 lemon
- 2 cups chicken stock, low sodium
- 1 cup 0% plain Greek yogurt
- 4 tsp olive oil for drizzling at the end
- Salt and pepper both sides of the chicken.
- Heat the oil in a medium sized frying pan for 1-2 minutes until hot. Add the chicken and sear for about 2-3 minutes on each side, allowing the edges to brown.
- Remove the chicken from the pan and place on a plate.
- Add the shallot to the pan and sautée for 2-3 minutes until it becomes translucent.
- Add the cumin, turmeric, and kale. Stir around and let the spices brown for 1-2 minutes until they become fragrant.
- Add the rice, lemon juice and zest, and chicken stock. Place the chicken back on top of the mixture. Place a lid on the pan and reduce heat to a low simmer.
- Simmer for 30-45 minutes until all of the chicken stock has been absorbed and the rice is cooked.
- Remove from heat and divide the Greek yogurt and olive olive between the dishes.
- Prep Time: 5 minutes
- Cook Time: 45 minutes
- Category: Main Dishes
- Method: Stove Top
- Cuisine: Indian, North American
Keywords: one pan, easy
Looking for more support?
If you’re looking for guidance on where to start with healing your relationship to food, fostering trust within yourself and your body, and building confidence in your everyday eating, we’d love to support you! Book in for an initial assessment or schedule a free discovery call to get started or join the waitlist for our next Make Food Feel Good sessions.