In order for a meal to be balanced, it must have each macronutrient represented. The macronutrients needed to be a balanced meal include carbohydrates, protein, and fat. Each of them is necessary for its own unique function in the body, and therefore they are all essential and vital for life.

Although some meal situations call for certain macronutrients over others (i.e. carbohydrates and branched chain amino acids are recommended for pre-workout), when eating for satiety and recovery, a balanced meal is always the way to go. Balanced meals tend to increase our micronutrient intake and absorption, keep us full for longer, and adds to our recovery from exercise.

Each macronutrient has it’s own unique properties:

Carbohydrates

  • Act as our body’s main source of fuel to power all cellular processes.
  • Help us preserve and build muscle, while maintaining our digestive health.
  • Are the fastest digesting macronutrient.
  • Equals 4 Calories per gram.
  • Are found in fruits, grains, legumes, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and dairy.

Protein

  • Is responsible for the structure, function, and regulation of our body’s tissues and organs.
  • Is not primarily responsible for providing our body with energy.
  • Is digested slower than carbohydrates, but faster than fat.
  • Equals 4 Calories per gram.
  • Found in meat, dairy, legumes, whole grains, nuts, and seeds.

Fat

  • Is responsible for insulating/protecting our bodies, storing our energy, maintaining normal hormone function, and providing structure to our cellular membranes.
  • Is the slowest digesting macronutrient.
  • Equals 9 Calories per gram
  • Found in butter, oils, nuts, seeds, animal fats, and meat.

Using the recommendations of the macronutrients you see above, the United States Department of Agriculture created the MyPlate graphic to provide consumers (like you!) with a template for healthy meal planning and creating a balanced meal. According to MyPlate, at any given meal, half of your plate should be filled with produce, a fourth with grains, and a fourth with protein. You can also add an additional serving of dairy for extra protein and carbohydrates.

Eating healthfully is as simple as that! But, note that the point here is to incorporate nutrient-dense foods that are minimally processed rather than packaged foods that contain non-food ingredients you cannot pronounce. The bottom line is to choose whole foods that you enjoy, avoid whole foods you do not enjoy, restrict processed foods as much as possible, and use MyPlate to create a balanced meal.

Examples of a balanced meal include:

  • 1 cup brown rice (carbohydrates), 2 cups of sautéed broccoli (carbohydrates and fat) and 4 oz baked salmon (protein and fat)
  • 3 small corn tortillas (carbohydrates and fat), 2 cups of Mexican slaw (carbohydrates and fat), 1 cup marinated tofu w/ black beans and onions (carbohydrates, protein, and fat)
  • 1 cup of Greek yogurt (carbohydrates, protein, and fat) with 1 cup of berries (carbohydrates), ¼ cup of granola (carbohydrates and fat)

For more information, included are two links you may find helpful. The first is the United States Department of Agriculture Choose My Plate website, which is loaded with additional tips, resources, and guides. The second is a Food Network article with MyPlate inspired recipes. Enjoy!

Add to your knowledge of healthy eating and incorporate what you’ve learned in this article with free MyPlate inspired meals here.

Beth-Elle Schussler, RDN