Updated: Nov 2
It’s no secret that our meals have evolved over time and with that has come a shift in the type and quantity of food we see on our plates. Due to cost-effectiveness, we often end up with meals top heavy in carbohydrates (think pasta, risottos, curries with rice and naan, burgers, pizza etc) and lacking a little in the protein and vege departments. So how can we fix this? What should our plates look like and how can we make sure we’re not spending excessive amounts of money switching things up?
In this guide, we delve into the WHAT, the WHY and the HOW much should be on your plate. Dig in!
Rich in fibre, vitamins and minerals, veges are an essential part of a healthy and balanced meal. They also add colour to your meal, making it more pleasing to the eye! Here's what we recommend:
Choose at least 3 vege per meal (at least ½ plate) and aim for these to be different colours, where possible (think of this as ‘eating the rainbow’). Different coloured vege will contain different amounts of vitamins and minerals i.e orange coloured vege are high in beta-carotene, a form of Vitamin A which is essential for our eyesight, whereas green vege are generally higher in iron.
Choose based on the season! As we all know, the price of out-of-season vege in NZ is extortionate! Choosing vege seasonally not only helps to cut your shopping bill, but they’ll also be fresher, contain more nutrients and can help with meal variety across the year. Not sure what’s in season? Find out here
Your half plate of vege can be served raw or cooked (or perhaps a combination of both). Just be sure not to overboil them (so they become mush!) as this will make the water-soluble vitamins leach out
Frozen vege are just as nutritious as fresh, thanks to ‘snap freezing’ methods. Digging into the frozen section of the supermarket can come in handy when selecting vege that are out of season.
TOP TIP: Plate your vege first! This will ensure you have plenty of colourful goodness, whilst helping to portion control the protein and carb elements of your meal.
Protein is important for the growth and maintenance of our muscle and bone health. It also benefits us on a meal-by-meal basis due to its ability to digest slowly and stabilise our blood sugar levels. In turn, this keeps us feeling fuller for longer, reducing our between-meal ‘slumps’ and the need to reach into the fridge/pantry between meals. Here's what we recommend:
Aim for ¼ - ⅓ plate protein (or the palm-size and thickness of your hand)
Feel free to choose an animal (meat, poultry, fish, dairy) or plant food protein source (lentils, chickpeas, beans, nuts/seeds). However, keep in mind that animal-based proteins tend to be higher in iron. They also contain a source of iron (haem iron) which is more bio-available (absorbs at a higher rate) than plant-based proteins (non-haem iron).
Where possible, choose lean meat from natural sources rather than processed
To keep costs down and help you get creative in the kitchen, we recommend opting for at least one night/week where you choose a plant-based protein option!
TOP TIP: Try to plan your meal around the protein element! This helps to ensure we don't default to carb loaded meals.
Carbohydrates in their most wholesome form are generally high in fibre, digest slowly and support our gut and bowel health. They are a great source of energy and provide us with the fuel we need to get through the day.
However, it's important we practise portion control with this macronutrient as overconsumption can elevate blood sugars and increase our risk of insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes over a prolonged period. They can also contribute to weight gain, as the ‘energy food’ we consume starts to outweigh the energy we are using. Pating carbs last can help us reap the above benefits without over doing it! Here's what we recommend:
Aim for ¼ plate carbohydrates (or fist size)
Choose carbs in their wholegrain, unrefined forms. Good options include;
- Wheats, including spelt and durums
- Rice, wild, brown or basmati
- Barley, including hull-less or naked barley
- Oats, including hull-less or naked oats
- ‘Ancient grains’ e.g. freekah, amaranth
- Potato, kumara
- Legumes e.g. chickpeas, lentil, beans
TOP TIP: It’s absolutely okay to enjoy a meal without carbohydrates during your day, if this is your preference. However, we’d recommend your other two meals include carbohydrates in portion-controlled amounts. As discussed, carbs have many health benefits, and restricting yourself can lead to overconsumption later on or a binge in refined foods.
4. Healthy Fat
Fats make up the fourth and final element of our meal. They play a role in many different body systems, help us to digest fat soluble vitamins and contain ‘essential fatty acids', which your body cannot produce itself. They are also our slowest macronutrient to digest and thus, keep us feeling satisfied. Here's what we recommend:
Include 1Tbsp of fats in each of your main meals. The fat can be included during the cooking process (i.e cooking in oil) or consumed as part of the main meal (i.e avocado, oily fish, cheese, nuts/seeds).
*We've used 1Tbsp extra virgin olive oil when cooking the chicken in the picture above!
Want further individualised support with balancing your meals?
The Wellness Studio is an online dietetic practice who specialise in lifestyle change, weight management and weight loss, women's health, gut health, low FODMAP diets, management of chronic health conditions, paediatric food allergies, and fussy eating/food intolerances.