A Balanced Diet

Balanced Diet
Everyone knows that in order to be fit and healthy we need to take exercise and eat right, right? But what is “healthy eating”? How do we maintain a balanced diet?
That’s where this post comes in. Keep reading for tips on what main food groups to include, how to control your portion sizes, and for ideas for meals and snacks to keep you energised.

The Eatwell Plate

You’ve probably seen this before, this is the “Eatwell Plate” or, for those who remember, the “Balance of Good Health”.  It is the Government and NHS guideline for healthy eating, and shows the proportion of each main food group you should aim to consume. This balance doesn’t have to be achieved at every meal but can be spread out over a day or even a week.
The Eatwell Plate
As pretty as this picture is, it can appear a little complicated so to try to help make things easier, here are a few tips of how good balance can be achieved throughout the day:
  1. Main meals should be based around starchy carbohydrates like rice, pasta, potatoes or bread
  2. Try to include fruit, vegetables or salad at every meal
  3. Protein sources like meat, fish, eggs, beans, or milk and dairy foods should be included at most meals
  4. Don’t plan for added fats or sugars – these are often already included just to make your food more palatable, e.g. a drizzle of olive oil on a salad, or a sprinkling of sugar in a homemade pasta sauce.

Portion sizes

One of the most complicated factors in planning your food is how much should you cook, or serve on your plate. Forget all the number crunching and weighing on the scales. This simple guide should help:
  • fill half your plate with salad or vegetables
  • starchy foods should make up the size of your balled fist
  • meat or meat substitutes should be about the size of your palm
  • a small glass of milk is one serving, or a similar amount of yoghurt
  • cheese portions should be kept to the size of a small matchbox
  • fats and sugar should be kept to a minimum, a teaspoon here and there is plenty

Putting it into practice

It’s all very well me rabbiting on about what food groups to include, and the right serving sizes for you, but I find example works best. Below are some ideas of healthy, balanced meals for the day.
Remember, balance can be achieved over the course of the day, so if you’ve had plenty of starchy carbs at breakfast and lunch, you may want to choose a veg and protein based main dinner, or a vegetarian dinner if you’ve eaten plenty of meat or dairy throughout the day.

Breakfast

Granary toast with home-made jam
Here are some examples of good breakfast choices:
  • two slices of toast with jam or marmalade and a small glass of milk
  • one slice of toast with peanut butter and a glass of orange juice
  • one serving of wholegrain cereal with sliced banana and milk
  • two boiled eggs with a slice of toast and a glass of orange juice
  • 3-4 heaped or 7-8 level tablespoons of yoghurt with 1-2 handfuls of berries

Lunch

And some tasty but healthy lunch choices:
Tricolore couscous salad *
  • two slices of bread with sliced chicken and salad to make a sandwich
  • a mixed salad with 2-3 tablespoons of cottage cheese or a handful of prawns
  • one baked potato with half a tin of baked beans and a side salad
  • one wholemeal pitta bread filled with boiled egg, a touch of mayo, and salad
  • one serving of cous cous with chopped tomato, avocado and buffalo mozzarella

Dinner

Grilled fish with avocado salsa **
And finally some nutritious dinners:
  • one serving of pasta with plenty of vegetables and passata or tinned tomatoes
  • stir fried vegetables with chicken or tofu and noodles or rice
  • grilled fish and vegetables or salad
  • two egg omelette with tomato and ricotta (or your favourite filling!) and a side salad
  • tuna or tinned salmon potato bake made with crème fraiche and peas

But what about snacks and puddings?

If you really need to snack during the day, or you simply must have a pudding (I am certainly one for a sweet treat every now and then!) then try to reach for fruit – an apple and maybe a handful of nuts makes a great filling snack, or figs with a dollop of greek yoghurt is a delicious dessert. In fact, any fruit can be baked and drizzled with yoghurt or crème fraiche for a scrummy dessert.
Fresh figs with greek yoghurt and greek honey

Other snack ideas include:

  • carrot, celery and cucumber crudités with houmous or tzatziki (greek yoghurt mixed with chopped cucumber and mint)
  • apple slices topped with peanut butter
  • a medium piece of fruit, or two small pieces of fruit
  • a handful of raisins and mixed nuts
  • a natural cereal bar, like “eat natural” bars or “nature valley chewy”
  • a few squares of dark chocolate

But finally, if you really, really want that piece of cake or couple of biscuits on occasion, then feel free to indulge a little. After all, the key here is balance. Everything in moderation!

Recipe links:

Further Reading:

  1. NHS Choices, 2011. The Eatwell Plate, [online] Available at: http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/Goodfood/Pages/eatwell-plate.aspx [Accessed 3rd October 2012].
  2. BBC Good Food, 2012. Recipes [online] Available at: http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/ [Accessed 3rd October 2012].