Wednesday, June 11, 2014

What does a balanced meal look like?

I keep harping on about a balanced diet. Balanced this and balanced that. In my posts about breakfasts and even snacks, I keep referring to this. What do I mean?  

I think its important to think about each meal as an opportunity to nourish yourself. To nourish your senses with wonderful colours and flavours, aromas and textures. And to nourish your body with an array of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients it needs. And finally you could also go as far as to say to nourish your soul with the pride of a home cooked meal, or the company of friends on a special occasion, or family around your regular dinner table or the quiet peace of contentedly eating by yourself.  

Now not every single meal will do all of these things, but I believe its a great way to think about your food and how it nourishes you. But moving beyond these qualities of your meal, how much of everything do you include?  Well this first post is about balance, then later we will talk about portion sizes.

Think about your plate like a clock face and divide it into quarters. Two of these quarters (half your plate) at every meal should be fruit or non starchy vegetables. One of the quarters should be lean protein, and one of your quarters should be starches - low GI carbohydrates. Add to this a small amount of healthy fats and oils and you have a balanced meal. This is how I try to plan every meal. 

So what does this look like practically? 

Well let's start with the easiest plate to imagine - dinner time. Here's a dinner photo I found off the internet:

This plate is about right with half the plate made up of salad, a quarter of lean protein (the lamb cutlets) and a quarter of low GI carbohydrates (the tasty looking wild rice mix). But most of us don't get this right at dinner - we tend to eat too much carbohydrates (how much pasta do you pile upon your plate? how many potatoes? what about bread?) and also too much meat - imagine how large a big steak would look on a plate like this. And rarely do we as a population eat HALF of our plate as fruit or vegetables.  But these are the simple changes in proportions that will make all the difference when you're watching your weight or improving your health.

So that's some ideas for dinner, the easy one, but what about the other meals? You see EVERY meal should be in balance like this. Over 90% of Australians don't eat enough fruit and vegetables a day, and this is the case for most other Western countries. Do you eat fruit and vegetables with every meal?

Here's a breakfast plate to show you- its a photo I took when I was eating out for breakfast with my husband.  Half the plate is vegetables (spinach, mushrooms and tomatoes) with lean protein (eggs), low GI carbohydrates (the beans) and some good fats (avocado). Granted it is quite a big breakfast, but it was also delicious!

Or if cooked breakfast isn't your thing, what about cereal? how much do you eat? Most processed cereals are very highly processed, high GI and loaded with sugar and fat and usually doesn't cover our other bases. Here's another balanced breakfast plate.  Note that half the bowl is filled with fruit (in this case strawberries, blueberries and raspberries) and the other quarters (piled on top of each other) are the protein (Greek yoghurt) low GI carbs (muesli) and good fats (in the seeds and nuts). This is what I have for breakfast most days of the week.

Getting the picture?

Lets do one more.  How about the lunch I had today. You should be getting good at this by now!! This is a bit trickier because its all piled in a heap, but can you pick out the different foods?

I started with the  vegetables by piling the bowl full of spinach leaves and tomatoes. Then I added the low GI carbs (can you see the sneaky chick peas? there are about 3 tablespoons of chick peas in the salad). Next came the protein - a small can of tuna and some feta cheese. Finally I topped it with some good fats in the form of sunflower seeds, pepitas and avocado. Oh and the raisins on top are a little more fruit!

Now whether you are eating a salad bowl or breakfast like me, or a big grainy sandwich, or a baked dinner with all the trimmings, think about the balance on your plate. Half non-starchy veggies/fruits, quarter protein, quarter low GI carbs and some tasty healthy fats and you will be on the way to great balanced health. This is an easy change you can make right now :)

So, in summary!

1/2 Plate Vegetables
Fill up your plate with raw or cooked vegetables for nutrition, taste and healthy filling fibre. Remember to include many different colours and types for a full array of nutrients.

1/4 Plate Lean Protein
Lean protein will help you to stay satiated, sustain your energy throughout the day, and protect your heart and waistline. This can be lean meats, fish and also non meat sources of protein such as soy, nuts, tofu and others. Remember, twice as many vegetables as protein.

1/4 Plate Healthy low GI carbohydrates (or starches)
Whole grains, like brown rice, contain fibre to give you long-lasting energy, stabilise blood sugar and provide B-vitamins to protect your heart. Try quinoa, sweet potatoes, pumpkins and more!  Legumes are excellent for this also. The more colourful your starch, the better!

We will talk soon about portion sizes. In the meantime if you want to know more about the foods we should be including daily, check out the Australian Healthy Eating Guide.  And if you need more specific advice tailored to you, see a dietitian!

Bon appetit!

Related posts:
What to eat for a healthier you
To snack or not to snack, that is the question
The beauty of breakfast

Lyndal @ Lean Green and Healthy

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