by Hannah Pruitt, RD, LD
Have you ever sat down to a meal and felt like something was missing? Have you found yourself struggling to know what to cook or how to balance your meal to meet your nutritional needs? With so much information out there on social media, the television, and in magazines, it can be difficult to know what to prepare to create a nutritious, balanced meal. Here are five tips to help you navigate your next meal!
Include a protein source – Here is our starting place! When trying to create a nutritious, balanced meal, be sure to begin with a protein source. Protein provides our body with needed energy to carry out our daily tasks. It creates a sense of fullness, provides the structure for strong hair, nails, and skin, and helps boost our immune system by building antibodies that can play a key role in fighting off a cold or illness.
At breakfast, lunch, and dinner think about including meat as your protein source such as beef, turkey, pork, chicken, fish or eggs. One way to change things up or try something new is to include other great sources of protein at snack time or in place of meat such as nuts and seeds, beans, tofu, yogurt, milk, and cottage cheese.
Add vegetables and fruits – Vegetables and fruits are an important part of maintaining good physical health and can be a great addition in creating a balanced meal. One of the major benefits to veggies and fruits is their high fiber content. Fiber helps to keep us full, helps regulate proper bowel function, and is a key part to maintaining blood sugar levels. Fruits and veggies also contain a wide range of vitamins and minerals that play an active part in reducing blood cholesterol levels, lower the risk for heart disease, aiding in red blood cell formation, keeping our bones strong, maintaining strong vision and skin, and much more.
When selecting your fruits and vegetables look for those that are in season as they tend to have more flavor. Remember to try out your local farmer’s market this spring and summer to find a wide variety of options at a reasonable price. If you are looking for a deal, be sure to price compare fresh, frozen, and canned as each can provide you with a nutritious, balanced meal while being cost effective!
Do not forget the grains – So now when you look at your plate you see a protein source and vegetables and/or fruit, but what is left? Be sure to add a grain option to round out your balanced meal. Grains are a good source of carbohydrates and when paired with a protein help to make us feel satiated. Carbohydrates provide our body with the energy that we need to think, play with our children, and stay focused when we have a long day at work. Think about carbs as gas for your body. When shopping for grains, consider purchasing grains as they contain fiber as this will keep you feeling satiated from one meal to the next. Sources of grain include rice, pasta, bread, and oatmeal. Consider less known grains to add to your meal such as bulgur wheat, barley, buckwheat, and millet.
Get creative – It can be fun and exciting to try a new recipe! Remember that getting creative does not have to be complicated. You can make a new dish, but still keep things simple in the kitchen. For example, maybe tonight you have chicken breasts, a frozen bag of mixed vegetables, and some grains in the pantry. How about trying a fun new stir-fry! Dice up your chicken, choose a new grain such as farro to try, and stir in your warmed mixed vegetables. You can spice things up by tossing in a little feta cheese, dried cranberries, and toasted pecans. From this you have made a balanced meal with a good source of protein, vegetables, and complex carbs while adding a little flavor!
Try new foods – Be open to trying new foods! This can be a great way to find new foods that you like, but will also give you more ideas to how to balance your meal. One way to ease into trying new foods is to challenge yourself to pick up one new fruit or vegetable the next time you are at the grocery store or farmers market. Add this food to your meal and be open to its new flavors and taste. If you do not like that particular food the first go around, do not write it off just yet. There are a variety of ways to prepare or cook a given food. Remember that you can add spices and seasonings or you can add the food to a given dish you already love.
Hannah Pruitt, RD, LD is one of our Registered and Licensed Dietitians. She has two bachelor degrees (University of South Carolina and Clemson University) and obtained her master degree in medical dietetics from The Ohio State University. She works at Greenville Health System in outpatient services and also with a local college helping their athletes achieve optimal nutrition for performance. She enjoys spending time with her family and working on building her small farm of chickens and ducks.