What actually makes up a well balance meal? The Plate Method provides a simple visual guide to create meals that fill you up, nourish your body, and provide that feeling of satisfaction after eating. Put it into action with this roundup of well balanced meals, each including 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. I don’t know about you, but for a long time this idea of “balance” felt incredibly vague and elusive. With so many recommendations, many seemingly contradictory, it can be incredibly confusing to know where to start!
The good news, it can actually be a lot more simple than you might think, and today I am showing you exactly how to do this, meal after meal, using 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, nutritionally, what does it mean to eat a balanced diet?
Between the food group charts and the seemingly endless food recommendations it can be incredibly confusing to know what to eat and what’s more often the focus – what not to eat.
As a dietitian, there are truly no foods that I recommend to keep off limits. That’s right, all foods fit in my books. This to me is the true definition of balance. Permission to eat and enjoy all foods and allowing food to play a role beyond just fuel and nutrition.
What I love about the plate method is that by including all macronutrients –
You will cover your bases with a balance of the different micronutrients you need –
Without having to tally up your iron or calcium totals each day.
Especially if you aim to “eat the rainbow”, or eat a variety of different colored fruits and vegetables, you will be more likely to cover a range of nutrients.
The Plate Method makes balanced eating super easy and simple and it doesn’t require any calorie counting, macro counting and definitely doesn’t require cutting out entire food groups!
What is the Plate Method?
The Plate Method is a guide to setting up well balanced meals. It offers clear guidance on how to proportion your plate without dictating your specific portions so you can tailor to your needs and hunger levels.
- 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”, a.k.a. the key to leaving you not just full, but satisfied after a meal.
You know that feeling after a big salad – sure, you’re full after spending the past 20 minutes chewing through it leaf by leaf. Haha – but please don’t skip the dressing!
Fat carries flavor molecules, provides a unique mouth-feel that increases satisfaction, and slows gastric emptying (the rate your stomach empties after eating) to keep you full and satisfied longer after each meal!
Breaking Down the Components of the Plate
½ Plate: Vegetables (and/or fruits)
This is usually where I recommend starting by leaning towards that half plate of colorful fruits and vegetables! Simply 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 truly the foundation to support our cells from the inside out.
Another role they play in this overall equation is providing us with fiber. Fiber is bulky and physically fills us up. It also slows digestion, which leads to more stable blood sugars and helps regulate hunger, cravings, and energy levels!
Fruit vs. Vegetables:
I generally recommend aiming for vegetables to take up the majority of that half plate portion at lunch and dinner, and for breakfast aiming for a half plate of either fruit, vegetables, or a mix of the two.
I will also note that often breakfast may look more like an even split of ⅓ x ⅓ x ⅓ between your protein, carbohydrates and fruit/vegetables.
For this portion of the plate, focus on non-starchy vegetables like asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini, bell peppers, mushrooms – the list goes on. Literally any vegetable will do! Aim to “eat the rainbow” by choosing a variety of colors which will help you cover a variety of nutrients!
Starchy vegetables are things like potatoes, yams and corn. Still great options, but these would fit into the carbohydrate portion of your plate.
¼ Plate: Protein
Protein foods provide us with important minerals like iron and zinc and 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 breakdown, 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, 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 Carbohydrates / Grains
While carbohydrates get a bad rap, they are an amazing source of energy for our bodies! They are the preferred and primary source for our muscles, brain, and for carrying 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, more of the nutrients and fiber are retained. Fiber slows the rise of blood sugars, providing 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, pits or tortillas.
Finish with: Fats
Gone are the days of fat-free everything (anyone else grow up through the 90’s?). 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 (the rate our stomach empties after eating) helping to fill us up and keep us full.
Fat also carries flavor molecules (yes, there’s a reason why food and meals containing fat taste 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 and avocado oil, butter, and cheese. To support heart health and reduce inflammation, opt for mostly plant based fats.
To help you put it all 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!
Who is the Plate Method For
In short – everyone.
In school, we actually learned the plate method as a tool to help manage blood sugars with diabetes patients. I actually 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:
- Improve energy and prevent energy and blood sugar crashes
- Improve mood (hanger…need I say more?)
- Regulate appetite (low blood sugars are often the cause of intense and overwhelming cravings – this is a survival mechanism and our body letting us know, I need fuel, ASAP!)
- Decrease intensity of cravings (more on that in this article on how to manage cravings in a feel good way)
- 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 may 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 a guide, something to lean towards!
I hope you found this helpful. If you enjoy any of the recipes below, 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! xo
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!
Crunchy Turkey Lettuce Wraps
With both protein from the ground turkey 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.
- Category: Main Dishes
- Method: Stove Top
- Cuisine: Indian, North American
Keywords: one pan, easy