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Balancing Your Plate
By Julie C.H. Brake   View more articles by this author
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August 14
People are always talking about eating a “balanced” meal, but what exactly does that mean? Nutritionally, it means getting enough of the nutrients your body needs – carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins, minerals, fluids – without too many calories or unhealthy added sugars, salt, or fats. What is the best way to balance a meal?
Start by deciding on the main food. For breakfast, it might be cereal. For lunch, it might be pasta or a sandwich. For dinner, it might be steak or chicken. Then add complementary sides from other food groups. Here are some examples using the above foods:
Bowl of Cereal with Skim Milk, Banana, Hot Tea

Turkey Sandwich on Whole Wheat Bread with Mustard & Low-Fat Mayo, Carrots, Apple, 8 oz. Skim Milk
4 oz. Steak, Salad with Low-Fat Dressing, Baked Potato with 2 teaspoons Margarine, Water
Crackers with Peanut Butter
8 oz. Low-Fat Yogurt
In general, including a fruit or a vegetable or both at every meal will help with fullness without adding unhealthy calories or fats. For lunch and dinner, about half of a 9-inch plate should be vegetables and the other half evenly split between proteins and grains. Fruit and dairy may also be consumed as desired.
Remember to choose healthy snacks from a variety of food groups as well. Think about what types of foods have not been consumed at meals and include them in snacks. Snacks are often used to meet needs for grains, fruits, and dairy.
It is also important to balance the portions. Breakfast is often the most appropriately portioned, while lunch and dinner seem to be more of a struggle. Healthy portion sizes vary from person to person because our nutritional needs are individualized. Start with a smaller portion and eat more according to hunger.
Fluid intake will also help balance the diet. Most individuals should drink at least eight 8-oz cups of water daily for a total of at least 64 ounces. Skim milk and 100% fruit juices can be great sources of fluid as well; just remember that they count as foods – dairy and fruit – so they contain calories that need to be considered in overall intake.
Finally, to achieve optimal balanced intake, take a gender-appropriate, age-appropriate multivitamin. This will help ensure that all daily needs for vitamins and minerals are met.
In summary, choose a variety of healthy foods and fluids, starting with small portions and eating more if you are hungry. Following these guidelines will have you well on your way to a healthy lifestyle. If you are interested in more personalized recommendations, seek out a Registered Dietitian near you.
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