How to Build Well Balanced Meals

If you’ve ever felt lost putting together a filling meal, this post will teach you everything you need to know about building well-balanced meals! Learn what makes up a balanced plate and get clear examples so you never have to feel confused again.

How to Build Well Balanced Meals

After almost a year of seeing one-on-one nutrition clients, I can say confidently that my two initial goals with most clients are: eating enough and eating consistently. I cannot stress the importance of those two habits as foundations of healthy eating! Throughout our work together, we are also working on many mental shifts and creating new thought patterns related to food, exercise, and body image.

Once clients are ready, then we can move on to more specific information about nutrition – like what actually makes up well balanced meals! For many of us, especially women, we learn to eat as little as possible and avoid certain foods out of fear of what they’ll do to our bodies. Many of us were never taught the importance of actually feeling satisfied and full after a solid meal.

Satisfaction after meals is actually a major component of healthy eating, in my (professional) opinion, because:

  1. When we feel satisfied after a filling meal, we can move on with our day and do things we enjoy, rather than think about how we’re still hungry.
  2. Eating too little and avoiding satisfying foods actually makes it more likely that we will overeat or binge later on, likely on foods we’ve restricted, leading to feeling overly full and sick.
  3. Food, for many of us, is to be enjoyed, and satisfaction and joy with food is good for us.

(I also want to note here that having the ability to make satisfying, well balanced meals is a privilege not afforded to those struggling with food insecurity.)

a bowl filled with greens, cucumber, cabbage, carrots, avocado and teriyaki tofu

What is a Balanced Meal?

A balanced meal that increases satisfaction and staying power includes: Carbohydrate + Protein + Fat + Fiber. Here are some examples of foods that fit into those categories:

  • Carbohydrate–rice, pasta, bread, tortillas, flour products, potatoes, oatmeal, quinoa, other grains, chips, crackers, fruit
  • Protein–beans, legumes, tofu, tempeh, nuts, seeds, vegan meat alternatives, protein powder (and animal-based proteins if not vegan)
  • Fat–avocados, oils, nuts, seeds, chocolate, butter, cheese (and animal-based fats if not vegan)
  • Fiber–fruits, vegetables, beans, legumes, whole grains, nuts, seeds

You’ll notice that there is some overlap in the categories–that’s okay! Plant-based foods don’t tend to fit into one category “perfectly.”  This guide is just meant to give you a general idea of how to build a balanced plate; there is no “perfect.”

Also, there isn’t a set amount of how much you “need” to eat from each category. In general, carbs, protein, and fiber make up 1/4 to 1/3 of your plate, with fat integrated in (for example, vegetables cooked in olive oil). How much you need to eat is dependent on your hunger level, your needs, if you won’t have access to food for awhile, and many more factors.

Finally, an important note: not every meal will follow this formula and be perfectly balanced! What I like to tell my nutrition clients is, “most of the time, not all of the time.” Sometimes we’ll just want toast with butter or maybe even ice cream for dinner. That’s totally fine and normal!

pie chart with a third filled with pictures of carbohydrate foods, a third filled with pictures with fruits and vegetables, a third filled with pictures of protein foods, and a sliver filled with pictures of fat foods

Balanced Meal Plate Examples

Using the formula above, you can start to think about how to make your typical meals more well balanced meals. Here are some general examples:

  • Tortilla + Refried Beans + Vegan Cheese + Sautéed Peppers and Onions
  • Toast + Avocado + Tofu Scramble with Spinach and Tomatoes
  • Pasta + Vegan Meatballs + Salad with Olive Oil
  • Baked Potato + Vegan Butter + BBQ Beans + Roasted Broccoli
  • Smoothie with Mixed Fruit + Protein Powder + Peanut Butter + Plant-Based Milk + Granola on Top

Once you’ve used this formula for awhile, you’ll find that you don’t have to think about it as much. In an instant, you’ll say “Carbs, protein, fat, fiber… got it. Let’s eat!”

Also, I think using this formula also makes grocery shopping easier. When shopping for the week, you can make sure to have 2-3 options in each category. For example, for carbohydrates, I might grab bread, potatoes, and tortillas. These three options (combined with protein, fiber, and fat choices) give me so much variety in what I can cook.

a baking dish with six bell pepper halved stuffed with meat and cheese

Filling Vegan Meals

If you want specific vegan recipes that are tasty, well-balanced meals, look no further than these recipes:

a halved vegan chicken salad sandwich stacked on a white plate

I’m accepting 1-on-1 nutrition clients! Click here to learn more about how I can support you in ditching diet culture, letting go of food guilt, and learning how to respect your body.

The information in this post is for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice.