How to Build a Balanced Meal

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Happy Registered Dietitians Day and to Celebrate National

Nutrition Month from the Academy of Nutrition and


They used to be called “square meals” and your grandparents probably ate three of them a day. With today’s busy lifestyles, many people graze throughout the day. Without a healthy eating plan, the result can be too many calories and an out of balance diet.
Getting balance back into meals and snacks will have immediate and long-term benefits for your kids. When they get the right balance of calories and nutrients for their growing bodies, they’ll feel better, have more energy and probably do better in school too.
The secret of balanced meals and snacks is to enjoy a variety of nutrient-rich foods and beverages. Here’s how:

Start with Fruits and Vegetables

Produce is the place to begin planning a balanced meal for two reasons:

  1. Fruits and vegetables are low in fat and calories, and packed with fiber, vitamins, minerals and other healthful nutrients.
  2. Secondly, most American children (and many adults) do not eat the recommended amounts of produce each day. School-aged children should eat 2 to 2½ cups of vegetables and 1½ to 2 cups of fruit each day.

At lunch and dinner, divide your plate in half with an imaginary line and fill half with vegetables and fruits.

Add the Goodness of Whole Grains

Minimally processed whole grains, like whole-wheat bread, multi-grain cereal, oatmeal, brown rice and whole-grain pastas, are also rich in nutrients, fiber and flavor. MyPlate and the Dietary Guidelines recommends that, for good health, you should make at least half of your grains whole.
On the other side of your plate’s imaginary line, add a serving of whole grains.
Include the Power of Protein Foods
There are plenty of delicious ways to serve the protein kids need to grow strong and tall: lean beef, pork, fish, seafood, chicken, turkey, legumes (dried beans and peas) and fat-free or low-fat dairy foods (cheese, cottage cheese, yogurt and milk). They’ll get plenty of protein from 2 to 3 ounces of lean meat or the equivalent (½ cup beans) per meal.
Complete your place with a serving of protein.

Choose Beverages Wisely

It’s time to re-think your children’s drinks. Move away from sugary beverages with lots of calories and no nutrient value. Here’s a simple rule of thumb for the fluids all kids need: Drink milk with meals and drink water with snacks. That’s three 8-ounce glasses of fat-free or low-fat milk and two to three glasses of water. That’s plenty for most kids to stay well-hydrated and meet their calcium needs throughout the day.
No one food group provides all the nutrients growing bodies need for good health. A variety of delicious foods from all food groups is the best way to meet children’s daily nutrition needs.

Reviewed December 2012

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