I often get asked what “the perfect plate” looks like. My answer is always the same: there is no universal perfect! The goal in meal composition is always to nourish the body deeply, and the specifics of that looks different for each person.
I have been a dietitian for over 3 years now, and in my time I have encountered thousands of people with unique dietary needs. Some have particular food allergies or sensitivities, some have trouble digesting certain types of fiber or carbohydrate, and some thrive on spoonfuls of fats while others run best on heaps of carbs. Figuring out what foods each and every body needs is a noble effort!
Even so, there are a few nuts and bolts that are applicable in almost every case.
For starters, one thing that every style of eating agrees upon is lots of vegetables! I used to be a veggie hater, but once I learned how to prepare them and experienced the vibrant flavor that comes from fresh produce, I’ve never turned back. (Not to mention all those nutrients and fiber!) My rule of thumb is that at least half of your plate at every meal should be full of vegetables, preferably the non starchy kind. Deep leafy greens, broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus, cabbage, peppers, eggplant, mushrooms, and the list goes on.
From there, 1/4 of your plate should contain some sort of protein (I recommend including wild caught fish, high quality grass fed meat, or pasture raised chicken (among others), all for the bioavailability of the protein and high nutrient content).
Fill the remaining 1/4 of the plate with an unrefined carbohydrate source or starchy vegetable, such as sweet potatoes, plantains, rice, fruit, you get the idea, and then you’re almost there!
Last but not least, a source of healthy fat is important. This might be inherent somewhere else on the plate already (salmon, for example, has healthy fat in it already, as would veggies that had been sautéed in a hearty glug of olive oil), or it might be added as a salad dressing, a handful of nuts, or a chunk of avocado.
There are lots of benefits to eating this way. Firstly, all those veggies are full of vitamins and minerals that support your body in all the many tasks that it carries out moment by moment. The protein nourishes your muscles and other body tissues, and is important for growth and repair, especially after exercise. The carbohydrates provide fuel for your body and allow certain hormones to be released. Finally, the fat provides the building blocks for multiple structures and compounds in the body, allows the absorption of fat soluble vitamins, aids in satiety, and tastes delicious!
And my favorite part about this idea of a balanced, nourishing plate? It can be applied anywhere and at any time! Cooking at home, eating out, on the go…smoothie, soup, plate, or bowl? No problem. Does it have protein, carbohydrate, fat, and at least as much veggies as everything else combined? Then you’re good to go!
I’d love to hear some of your favorite nourishing meals, so drop me a line in the comments below!