How to build a balanced meal

By Rebecca Coulter – Student Nutritionist (B.Nutr)

Nutrition can be a little confusing at times. “Is it ok to eat bread?” “Do I need a protein shake?” “What should I eat for breakfast?” Not to mention finding the time to stock the fridge, prepare food and eat healthy in between working, looking after the kids, cleaning the house, doing the washing, catching up with friends and family, spending time with your partner, feeding and walking the pets, exercising regularly, keeping your hair clean, responding to messages, filling up the car with petrol… and the list goes on.

Luckily, nutrition doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Bringing things back to basics and simply using the foundations of building a healthy balanced meal will be a huge step towards improving your health.

Let’s have a look at the 5 steps for building a balanced meal as well as some tips for saving time in the kitchen.

The five steps for building a balanced meal

Step 1 – Fill ½ of your plate with non-starchy veggies

Veggies are low in energy and provide us with the important vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fibre we need to function optimally, prevent chronic disease and keep our gut healthy.

Non-starchy veggies include most veggies besides potato, corn, beans and pumpkin.

Step 2 – Fill ¼ of your plate with lean protein

Protein is essential for repair, rebuilding and maintenance of our muscles, tissues, hormones and immune system. Plus, protein is going to help keep us fuller for longer between meals.

Some lean protein sources include: chicken breast, eggs, fish, turkey, lean beef, Greek yoghurt, cottage cheese, tofu, tempeh, beans and legumes.

Step 3 – Fill ¼ of your plate with carbs

Carbs are our bodies favourite energy source for all of its daily activities. However, all carbs aren’t created equal – we want to make sure we are aiming to include complex carbohydrates from whole foods which are going to give us a steady supply of energy rather than the short lasting energy spike we get from simple carbohydrates found in processed food and beverages.

We want to aim to consume majority of our carbohydrates from sources such as potatoes, pumpkin, corn, beans, pulse/lentil pasta, fruit, legumes and whole grains such as brown rice, basmati rice, oats, wholemeal bread and pasta, quinoa and buckwheat.

Step 4 – Add a small portion of healthy fats

Keep this to about a tablespoon or thumb size portion. Fats are essential for hormone production and balance, absorption and transportation of some vitamins, providing warmth and building our cell membranes.

Some healthy fat sources include olive oil, avocado, nut butters, nuts and seeds.

Step 5 – Add some flavour!

Herbs, spices, lemon, lime, mustards and vinegar are great natural and low energy ways to add flavour to your meals. If your using sauces/condiments aim to choose ones low in sugar and sodium.

Time saving tips

As for saving time in the kitchen, here’s a few simple hacks:

  • Pre-mixed salad bags, pre-cut frozen veggies, and microwave rice are all super handy to have on hand to throw together when you’re short on time.
  • When you do find time to cook, prepare extra to have for lunch the next day or freeze for your future self.
  • Help keep hunger at bay by having some healthy grab and go snacks on hand for between meals. Some examples are fruit, veggie sticks and hummus, boiled eggs, individual yoghurt tubs, tins of chickpeas, popcorn and unsalted nuts.
  • Carry a water bottle with you wherever you go so you don’t forget to drink plenty of water.
  • Consider planning your meals and snacks for the following day, or even the week, so you know exactly what you’ll be eating and won’t have to think of something on the spot. Waiting until your hungry to decide what to eat will increase the chances of you grabbing a quick, easy, convenient and not-so-nutritious option.