Start with a 9-inch plate, and divide it into four parts. Fill two of the parts (half the plate) with vegetables, one-fourth of your plate with carbohydrates and the other quarter with a protein.
Note: Our plate differs slightly from the plate recommended by choosemyplate.gov, which divides the vegetable portion into vegetables and fruits. Fruits are sometimes an easier sell with kids, but it's important to incorporate more vegetables into a meal whenever possible.
The printable plate at the right provides you with some easy guidelines for each category.
Then, to make meal planning easy, we've provided some recipes that fulfill the vegetable, protein and carbohydrates categories. You can also browse other UW Health recipes.
Review the recipe ideas and stock your pantry or refrigerator so you have the ingredients for healthy dishes on hand. With a little help, meal planning can be healthy and easy.
Choose lean meat, poultry or fish for your protein. Beans, lentils and tofu are good vegetarian sources of protein. Dairy products are also rich in protein, but be sure to select low-fat options.
Examples: Chicken, turkey, salmon, tuna, cod, haddock, perch, lean pork, ham, lean beef, tofu, low-fat plain yogurt or greek style yogurt, veggie burgers, beans, peas, lentils, peanut butter, hummus, any type of nuts, sunflower or sesame seeds, string cheese, low-fat mozzarella.
Choose a variety of vegetables, including as many colors as you can. Fresh or frozen vegetables are best. Prepare them in a variety of ways to keep your meals interesting. Remember that high-starch vegetables count as carbohydrates (see below).
Examples: Asparagus, beans (green, wax, Italian), bean sprouts, beets, broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage (red, green, bok choy), carrots, cauliflower, celery, eggplant, greens (mustard, kale, Swiss chard), kohlrabi, lettuce (salad greens, dark leafy preferred), mushrooms, okra, onions, pea pods, peppers, radishes, spinach, spaghetti squash, summer squash, tomato, turnips, zucchini.
Choose whole grains at least half of the time. Consider starchy vegetables such as potatoes, corn, peas, sweet potatoes and winter squash (acorn, pumpkin, butternut) as carbohydrates.
Examples: Cooked cereal (such as oatmeal), dry cereal, rice (brown rice preferred), pasta, bread, roll, English muffins, bagels, pancakes, waffles, tortillas, pita bread, muffins, spaghetti, barley, baked beans, crackers, chips, pretzels, popcorn.
Fruits and Healthy Fats
Fruits: Include a variety for dessert or snacks. Use mostly whole fresh or frozen fruit (no sugar added) and not much juice. Dried fruits are more calorie-dense and should be eaten in smaller quantities.
Healthy Fats: Include small amounts for flavor and satisfaction, including olive oil, margarine, light cream cheese, avocado, light or low-fat mayonnaise and salad dressings.
Planning Meals to Maximize Energy and Control Hunger
- Plan to eat at least four times a day and use your body's hunger and fullness signals to decide how much to eat.
- Breakfast is key. It gives your metabolism a boost and provides energy during the time of day when you need it most.
- Avoid waiting longer than four hours between meals or snacks to prevent overeating later in the day.
- Include plenty of fruits and vegetables to fill you up with healthy fiber.
- Avoid sweetened drinks. They provide calories but very little long-lasting energy.
- If you have dessert, keep the serving small and substitute it for part of the carbohydrate portion of your meal.
- Use smaller plates (9 inches), bowls and glasses to help keep serving sizes under control.
- Plan ahead to have healthy foods on hand wherever you are. Nuts such as almonds or walnuts and trail mix travel well.