Planning your meals can seem so complicated when you think about calories, food groups, protein, fiber, and other nutrients, and serving sizes. You can simplify it by making the Perfect Plate – here’s how! (Yes, it works with bowls, too!)
Fill Half Your Plate with Veggies
Most of your meals should be based around non-starchy vegetables. These include leafy veggies such as lettuce, spinach, and kale; carrots, cucumbers and tomatoes; broccoli and cauliflower; and bell peppers, mushrooms, eggplant, and zucchini, for starters.
Add Lean Protein to ¼ of Your Plate
Divide the other half of your plate into two quarters, and dedicate one of those quarters to lean protein. These include skinless chicken and turkey, fish, shellfish, eggs and egg whites, cottage cheese, tofu, and beans, peas, and lentils. They do not include fatty processed meats such as pepperoni, salami, and bologna, ribs, steaks with marbling, and full fat ground beef.
Vegan: You can also choose veggie burgers and plant-based meat substitutes.
Starch Takes the Other ¼
The rest of your plate should have a serving of a nutritious starchy food, such as a whole grain, starchy veggie, or legume.
· Whole grains such as brown rice, quinoa, whole-wheat couscous, bulgur, and farro.
· Whole wheat or whole grain products such as whole grain bread, cereal, and pasta.
· Starchy vegetables, such as sweet potatoes, white potatoes, winter squash, corn, and peas.
· Legumes, such as beans, split peas, and lentils (yes, legumes count as proteins and starches!).
Paleo: Lark encourages whole grains and legumes, but if you are avoiding them, you can stick to starchy veggies for your starch serving.
Low-Carb: Lark encourages a balanced diet, but if you are avoiding starchy foods, you can add extra veggies and a little more protein and healthy fat to your plate instead of a starch.
Gluten-free: There are plenty of gluten-free grains to choose from; just be sure they are whole grains!
The Other Good Stuff: Fruit, Fat, and Dairy
Your plate may be full, but there are more nutritious foods to add at meals or snacks.
· 2 to 3 servings per day of fruit – choose fresh or frozen over juice.
· 2 to 3 servings per day of reduced-fat dairy products, such as cheese or yogurt.
· 2 to 3 servings per day of healthy fats, such as 2 tablespoons of seeds, nuts, or peanuts, 1 tablespoon of nut or peanut butter, ¼ cup of pureed avocado, or 2 teaspoons of olive or vegetable oil. Don’t forget to count fat used in cooking!
Dairy-Free: You may be able to handle yogurt and cheese even if you are lactose-intolerant and cannot handle milk. If you avoid all dairy products, though, try to get your calcium from non-dairy sources, such as fortified soy or almond milk or yogurt, fortified orange juice, or canned bony fish. Aim for three servings per day.
A Few Examples
The classic chicken breast on a plate next to a pile of green beans and scoop of quinoa works fine. So does a filet of fish with asparagus and brown rice, and a veggie burger on a whole grain bun with a side salad. But a Perfect Plate with the ½-¼-¼ ratio can be more creative than that to prevent boredom. What about….?
· Chicken, tofu, or turkey chili with sweet potatoes or beans and veggies (optional cheddar cheese or cashew pieces)
· Fish fajitas with bell peppers, onions, and salsa on a whole-grain high-fiber wrap (optional guacamole or cheddar cheese)
· Chicken vegetable soup with potatoes or beans (optional fruit salad on the side)
· Salad with tuna, greens and other veggies, and chickpeas; light dressing
· Eggs scrambled with spinach and mushrooms on a whole-grain English muffin
· Grilled eggplant half stuffed with whole grain pasta salad with feta cheese and veggies
· Taco salad with lettuce and tomatoes, extra lean ground turkey or soy crumbles, fat-free refried beans, corn, and salsa (optional avocado or cheddar cheese)
What is your favorite Perfect Plate meal?