With so many mixed messages concerning nutrition and health, it can be tricky to work out just what makes a ‘balanced meal’. So we’ve put together this short guide to help take the guesswork out of creating balanced, nutritious meals.
Taking stock of your ingredients
The first step in creating balanced meals is to have the right ingredients in your fridge, freezer and pantry. It’s helpful to break the foods down into the primary food groups that are the foundation of a balanced meal - protein, carbohydrates and vegetables.
Protein is the building block for all cells in our body.Good sources of protein include lean meat, skinless chicken, fish, seafood and eggs. Vegetarian options for protein include tofu and legumes (such as lentils, kidney beans and chickpeas). It’s smart to vary your sources of protein so that you can get the nutritional benefits specific to each. For example while both red meat and lentils are good sources of protein, red meat is rich in iron, while lentils are rich in fibre.
Carbohydrates provide energy for our bodies and brain and include foods such as rice, pasta, bread, cereals, noodles and potatoes. Where possible, opt for wholemeal or wholegrain varieties for extra fibre. Wholemeal and wholegrain sources of carbohydrate also retain more of their inherent nutrients due to less processing.
Vegetables provide a whole range of nutrients, including fibre, vitamins and minerals. Importantly, they also add colour, flavour and texture to your meals. Different vegetables are rich in different types of nutrients, which is why it is important to include a mixture of vegetables in your diet. So aim for as many different coloured vegetables as you can whether they be fresh, frozen or canned vegetables.
Getting the portions right – 1,2,3
It’s just as important to get the portions right as it is to get the right ingredients. The serving recommendations below are based on average requirements for an adult. It’s important to remember that the amount of protein and carbohydrate food required can vary depending on your age or activity level.
Protein foods – 1 Serve
Believe it or not, one serve or portion of protein is about the amount that will fit in the palm of your hand, and this should be the amount that takes up about a quarter of your dinner plate.
Carbohydrate foods – 2 Serves
About half the energy we need each day should come from carbohydrate foods. For dinner, a quarter of your plate should be taken up with carbohydrate foods like pasta, bread, rice or potatoes. This is the equivalent of 2 serves.
Vegetables – 3 serves
You need five serves of vegetables every day for good health, so having three serves at dinner means you’re over halfway there! One serve of vegetables is equivalent to about half a cupful, so three serves is 1½ cups. To put this into perspective, three serves should fill up half of your dinner plate. And remember to include a variety of different coloured vegetables in each meal so you can get the different nutritious benefits of each.
Putting it all together
So once you have the right ingredients, creating a balanced meal is simply a case of filling 1 quarter of your plate with protein (= 1 serve of protein), 1 quarter with carbohydrates (= 2 serves of carbohydrates) and the other half with vegetables (= 3 serves of vegetables) It’s as easy as 1,2,3!
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