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What "Balanced Meals" Means & How to Build them Quickly

Updated: Oct 21, 2021

There are a lot of buzzwords and trendy sayings related to health and nutrition these days. It's difficult to find a blog post, book, or even recipe that doesn't include the words: intermittent fasting, low-carb, keto, plant-based, macro-friendly, Super Foods, intermittent fasting... and the list goes on! Then you get into those really vague phrases, such as "listen to your body," "maintain a calorie deficit," "learn to find your food freedom," "develop a healthy relationship with food"... But what the heck do these even mean? And more importantly, what the heck am I supposed to be eating??

The phrase "balanced meal" or "balanced plate" comes up often, at least in the things that I follow and read, so I want to share some thoughts with you on that. I chose this particular phrase because I really believe that once you understand how to balance a meal, you can develop a system for balancing meals that helps you reduce your meal plan or meal prep stress, while resting assured that you get the nutrients you need and are able to manage your own hunger and energy on a regular basis.

I recently recorded a podcast all about this - you can listen here!

There are two Big Ideas I think it's important to understand in order to begin balancing meals:

1. Challenge your own preconceptions about the components of a meal. Your body needs nutrients, not particular foods. In the mindset of previous generations, at least the ones I've known, a meal was comprised of a meat, a starch, and a vegetable. The meat was always the center of some meal, with a starch and vegetable side dishes. In our new mindset, a meal should be comprised of the nutrients your body needs. These are: protein, healthy fats, complex carbohydrates that include fiber, water, and a variety of vitamins and minerals. It doesn't necessarily need to be a specific entree with sides, but rather a meal that incorporates many of these nutrients. 2. Think about the difference between foods that provide a lot of energy and foods that provide a lot of volume. Calories measure the amount of energy in food. We need energy, therefore we need calories! But some foods are more dense in calories than others. We need these higher calorie foods to give us energy and allow our body function properly throughout the day. Other foods, like fruits and vegetables, we can eat endlessly and they are still very low calorie. They help to literally fill up our stomach without packing in calories our body isn't going to use.


If we accept these two Big Ideas, then we can create any balanced meal or balanced snack we want to by combining complex carbohydrates, lean and plant protein, healthy fats, and plentiful amounts of fruits and vegetables! As a general guide, you can think of creating a meal that is roughly half non-starchy fruits and vegetables, then 1/4 whole grains and starchy vegetables, and 1/4 protein. Healthy fats are kind of like condiments and accessories, chilling up in the form of dressings, sauces, condiments, toppings, etc. This is what I mean and what that sense of balanced throughout the day could look like (thanks Canadian Food Guide!)

I hope that this helps to take some of the guesswork out of building balanced meals. I would love to break down more buzzwords and misunderstood nutrition phrases for you all! What would you like to hear or read about next? Leave me a comment here, or jump over to Instagram and let me know what you think!

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