In general, here’s a guide to building your balanced meals:
- Choose a source of protein
- Add some non-starchy vegetables, the more variety the better! This should form the bulk of your meal.
- Have no more than three servings of complex carbohydrates per day
- Include at least one serving of healthy fats
Balanced plate model
A good way to visualise a balanced meal is the healthy plate model.
Ideally, your plate will include a source of protein (1/4 of your plate), some complex carbohydrates (1⁄4 of your plate), and plenty of non-starchy vegetables (at least 1⁄2 of your plate). You can also include at least one serving of healthy fats with your meal.
For example, you might choose a small chicken breast cooked with olive oil, 1⁄2 a baked sweet potato, and two large handfuls (or more!) of steamed non-starchy vegetables or salad.
Some meals may not be so clear cut.
For example, if you’re having a bowl of minestrone soup for lunch, the vegetables (carrot, celery, tomato), protein (cannellini beans), and carbohydrates (pasta) would be mixed in together. The important thing when making mixed dishes is to look at the amounts of ingredients you’re adding.
For the example, you’d want to make sure that 1⁄2 the soup ingredients are made up of non-starchy vegetables, 1⁄4 cannellini beans, and 1⁄4 pasta (cooked). You might find you need to add in more vegetables and reduce the amount of pasta in order to get the right portions.
This is why we recommend making your own meals, as you’ll be able to tailor them to suit your needs.
In comparison to lunch or dinner, breakfast options are often high in carbohydrate and may not fit this model as easily. Reducing the serving size of carbohydrate, such as oats, and adding in a source of protein (e.g. Greek yoghurt), and healthy fats (e.g. 1 tbsp crushed nuts), will better fuel you throughout the morning and help to improve your blood sugar control.
If you find you’re constantly hungry after eating, you may need to review the components of your meals. You can try increasing the serving size of non-starchy vegetables, protein, or healthy fats to help you feel full.
When should I eat?
It’s important to try and get into the habit of eating three main meals every day.
You can eat at any time throughout the day. Your meals should include enough food (in terms of quantity and variety) to satisfy you until your next meal.
If you have a long break between meals (more than five hours), we recommend that you have a snack to minimise the tendency to overeat at your next meal.
What about meals without complex carbohydrates?
If you’re not including one serving of complex carbohydrates, aim to make 2⁄3 of your plate non-starchy vegetables and increase the protein portion to 1⁄3 of the plate so that you feel satisfied after the meal.
Remember to include at least one portion of healthy fats – whether that’s as part of your protein (salmon fillets for instance already include healthy fats), in the preparation (dressing with olive oil), or elsewhere (adding in 1⁄4 avocado or handful of nuts). You can see an example of this plate above.