How to Build a Balanced Meal Plan That Fits Your Lifestyle

Estimated reading time: 9 minutes

Do you ever wonder if your diet is balanced enough? Balance is key when it comes to maintaining a healthy diet, as few foods are all good or all bad. If you ensure that your diet remains balanced, you can still enjoy your food while getting all of the nutrients, vitamins, and minerals that you need. Balanced diets are typically rich in whole grains, fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and healthy fats.

chipotle salmon on plate
A balanced meal

To maintain the right amount of balance, roughly half of your plate should contain fruits or vegetables. Try to aim for as much variety as you can in terms of colour, texture, and variety. About a quarter of your plate should be made up of whole grains, such as whole wheat, barley, quinoa, or brown rice, or foods made with them, like whole wheat pasta or bread. The last quarter of your plate should be filled with some kind of protein, such as fish, poultry, beans, or nuts.

It is good to maintain a balanced diet as often as you can, as it is beneficial to your health in a number of ways. A balanced diet can keep your cholesterol in check, decrease your risk of heart disease, provide you with lots of energy, and improve your digestion.

The Five Food Groups of a Balanced Diet

The key to a balanced diet is ensuring that you diversify your meals by eating foods from the five main food groups. Doing so will keep your meals interesting, full of flavour, and healthier. The following are the five food groups you should keep in mind while meal planning:

1.    Starchy carbs

Starchy foods like potatoes, bread, rice, and pasta are important to include in a balanced diet. These foods are a good source of energy, and they also include fibre, calcium, iron, and vitamins. Starchy foods have less than half of the calories that fats have. However, adding extra fats like butter, oil, spreads, or cheese to starchy foods will increase your calorie intake, so try to limit that as much as possible.

You can incorporate starchy foods into each meal of the day by eating whole grain cereal for breakfast, making a sandwich with whole grain bread for lunch, and adding potatoes, pasta, or rice to your dinner. Try to get in 3-5 servings of starchy carbs per day.

thinly sliced potatoes for potato tahdig
potatoes are great carbs

2.    Dairy foods

Dairy and dairy alternatives are important to include in a balanced diet because they are great sources of protein and vitamins. Dairy foods also contain calcium, which we need to keep our bones strong and healthy. If you want to gain a good amount of vitamins, protein, and calcium, but you want to limit the amount of fat you consume, try semi-skimmed, skimmed, or 1% milk.

Alternatively, you can try a dairy-free option like soya milk or nut milk. Just ensure that you opt for an unsweetened option that has been fortified with calcium. Aim to eat at least 3 servings of dairy per day.

3.    Fruits and vegetables

Fruit and vegetables are other essential categories of food. They contain important vitamins and minerals that help you to avoid contracting diseases, as well as fibre that can lower your cholesterol and keep your bowels healthy to maintain good digestion. Since fruits and vegetables are low in fat, you can eat many of them without feeling too full, meaning they are a great way to bulk up a meal while minimizing calorie intake.

Since it is recommended that you get at least five servings of fruit and vegetables per day, it is best to spread these servings out. You can add fruit like sliced bananas to your cereal or toast for breakfast, and have an apple or an orange for a mid-morning snack. Include a salad or vegetable soup at lunchtime, and snack on some carrots, celery, or cucumbers in the afternoon if you get hungry. When you are preparing your dinner, include vegetables wherever possible, steaming them to make a side dish or adding them into a stir fry or pasta dish.

4.    Protein

Proteins can be divided into a few different subcategories. Pulses include foods like lentils, beans, and peas, and they are a great source of vitamins, minerals, and fiber while keeping fat to a minimum. Some good vegetable-based sources of protein include tofu, bean curds, and Quorn, which can be used as meat alternatives in most recipes.

Fish is another fantastic protein source, but try to limit the amount of oil-rich fish, like salmon and mackerel, that you consume each week. When you are preparing fish, it is best to steam, bake, or grill it to minimize the fat you are eating.

Lean cuts of meat are another good way to add protein to your diet but try to cut the fat off or remove the skin from your chicken whenever possible. Try to eat 2-3 servings of protein per day.

Protein is important

5.    Healthy fats

Consuming too much fat is unhealthy, but it is essential to include some healthy fats in your diet. Try to cook with plant-based oils like vegetable oil, rapeseed oil, and olive oil, as they are rich in unsaturated fat and will thus lower your cholesterol and your risk of heart disease.

Foods like beef, pork, chicken skin, butter, cheese, and coconut oil contain saturated fats, which you should try to limit your intake of as much as possible, as they are very high in calories. You should try to eat no more than 70 grams of fat per day, and only about 30% of that should be saturated fats.

How to Customize a Diet Plan for Your Needs

If you want to maintain a diet that will help keep you healthy for the long term, it will need to be unique to you. The following are some great tips on how to personalize your diet plan to meet your individual needs:

1.    Identify your nutritional needs

A good starting point is to determine the number of calories that you should be consuming on a daily basis based on your age, sex, weight, and height. Adults should typically get between 1,600 and 3,200 calories per day, with the average daily intake being 2,000 for women and 2,500 for men.

However, your activity level is also a major factor, as an active lifestyle will require that you consume more calories since you burn them faster.

2.    Select healthy foods

You should establish a balanced meal plan that includes healthy foods to get the nutrients you need. You can ensure your diet is balanced by including a mix of protein, fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy, and carbs. Stick to the recommended servings for each of these food groups each day.

It also is important to minimize your consumption of unhealthy saturated fats, incorporate low-calorie carbs into your diet, and limit your intake of salt and sugar.

3.    Make nutritious meals

It is crucial that each meal you eat is nutritious to keep your health intact. The best approach is to start the day off with a protein-rich breakfast, as it will help keep you full for longer.

Following that, you should have a light lunch that includes vegetables and lean proteins and a balanced dinner that includes a mix of carbs, proteins, and vegetables. Make sure you control your portions for all three meals.

4.    Keep track of your progress

To keep you motivated and on the right track, it is a good idea to track your progress toward your health goals. Weigh yourself weekly to track your weight loss and take measurements every six weeks or so. Modify your goals as needed and reward yourself for making good progress.

Tips for Creating a Balanced Diet

If you are uncertain about how to arrange a balanced diet, the following tips will help you do exactly that:

1.    Start slowly

Meal planning can be a bit overwhelming when you first get into it, but starting off slowly helps. Make incremental changes to your diet rather than drastic ones that will be hard to keep up with. Plan just a few meals or snacks at first and build from there!

2.    Concentrate on your macros

One of the most important things to keep in mind as you plan your meals is to include sufficient macronutrients, which are the nutrients your body uses in the largest amounts. The three main macronutrients, which are carbohydrates, fats, and proteins, are essential to a well-balanced diet, as they will provide your body with the energy and fuel it needs.

3.    Keep your pantry and fridge stocked

It is much more likely that you will stray away from your diet if you do not have a well-stocked pantry and fridge, as this makes less healthy options more tempting. Once you have an idea of the staple foods to include in your balanced diet, ensure that you buy ample amounts of them when you go grocery shopping.

4.    Pre-cut and wash fruits and vegetables

With a busy schedule, you will need quick and easy snacks that are ready to grab and go. Rather than opting for processed snacks or microwaveable meals, if you pre-cut and wash lots of different fruits and vegetables, you will have nutritious options available when you are in a rush.

5.    Control your portion sizes

It is important to remember that a balanced diet is not just about eating the right foods, but also the right amounts. Try not to eat too much of one food group while neglecting others. While meal prepping, it can help to break down your foods into appropriate serving sizes ahead of time.

Live Longer Through a Balanced Diet

Maintaining a balanced diet will benefit your health in all kinds of ways and will ultimately help you to live longer. It will support your muscles, strengthen your bones, and lower the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and cancer.

Plus, a balanced diet can also help you lose weight and maintain your energy over the course of the day. For all of these reasons, you should make an effort to maintain a balanced diet every day!

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