How to Build a Balanced Meal

This is something that people struggle with all the time. What is a “balanced” meal? How do you put one together? How long is this actually going to take?

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Let’s tackle the idea of balance first. Balance can be defined a few different ways. One of the most common ways to look at balance is by using Canada’s Food Guide. The Food Guide has four food groups—Vegetables and Fruit, Grains, Milk and Alternatives, and Meat and Alternatives. A balanced meal will usually have three of the four food groups. Another way to look at balanced meals is to look at the composition of the foods. A balanced meal will have all three macronutrients—Protein, healthy Fat, and Carbohydrate.

Neither of these definitions of balanced is perfect. If you are looking at food groups, it’s possible to get three food groups, and not get any of those all-important veggies. It’s also possible to use the PFC guidelines and not get veggies. Ideally, you can use both to evaluate your meals, and add the caveat that there needs to be a vegetable or a fruit in there somewhere in order to count.

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So what does that actually look like in terms of food? Let’s take a typical breakfast, lunch, and supper meal.

Breakfast: scrambled eggs and buttered toast.

According to the Food Guide: This meal has two of four food groups (meats and alternatives and grains), and one serving from the “others” category.

According to PFC: This meal is balanced, with a source of protein (eggs), fat (butter), and carbs (toast).

Make it better: Add a piece of fruit on the side or throw some veggies in with the eggs—throw in some frozen or fresh spinach, or some bell peppers, and maybe some mushrooms too. Wash it down with a glass of milk to hit all four food groups, and for another bit of protein.

Lunch: Green salad with peppers, mushrooms, cucumbers, onion, and fish, and an olive oil-based vinaigrette.

Food Guide: This meal has two of the three food groups (vegetables and fruit and meats and alternatives), as well as a serving from the “other” category.

PFC: This meal has a source of protein (fish), fat (dressing), and carbohydrate (vegetables).

Make it better: Add some quinoa, wild rice, or other grain to the salad to get a third food group as well as some healthy fibre and some staying power, or sprinkle a serving of grated cheese on top for all four food groups.

Supper: Baked chicken breast with steamed broccoli and cauliflower and a side of wild rice.

Food Guide: This meal has three of four food groups (meat and alternatives, vegetables and fruit, and grains).

PFC: This meal has a source of protein (chicken) and carbohydrates (broccoli, cauliflower, and wild rice).

Make it better: Add a glass of milk to hit all four food groups, or use some butter on those vegetables to make them taste delicious and get in some fat. Alternately, instead of steaming those vegetables, toss them in some olive oil and roast them while the chicken is baking.

But what about snacks?

A balanced snack follows the same principle—variety. When using the food guide, a balanced snack will have two of four food groups. When using the PFC method, a balanced snack should have at least two of the three macronutrients.

Some good snack ideas that follow this guide would be: Fruit and peanut or almond butter, grapes and cheese, cheese and crackers, fruit and nuts, hard-boiled egg and veggie sticks, or veggies and hummus dip.

Now it’s your turn: How do you make sure your meals and snacks are balanced? Leave a comment below!

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