How to Make a Balanced Meal Using Intuitive Eating

This blog article is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical advice.

In today’s world, where fad diets and conflicting advice abound, making a balanced meal may seem like a daunting task. 

I’m here to make that task much easier!

In this blog post, we will delve into crafting a balanced meal, understanding the crucial nutrients your body needs, and revealing practical tips to nourish yourself and fuel your life without obsessing over creating “perfect” meals. 

So, let’s embark on this wholesome adventure together!

Why Use Intuitive Eating to Make a Balanced Meal?

In a culture full of rigid diets and complex nutritional guidelines, Intuitive Eating (IE) offers a refreshing approach to eating that resonates with our bodies and minds. Here’s why:

  • The IE framework not only incorporates tuning into our innate hunger and fullness cues, it also cultivates a healthy relationship with food and body image. 
  • While rejecting the diet mentality and food rules, IE helps you trust your body and mind to make food decisions that honor your health.
  • By embracing Intuitive Eating, we can craft meals that not only nourish our bodies with essential nutrients but also foster a deep sense of satisfaction and joy, without deprivation or guilt. 

Intuitive Eating isn’t about perfection; rather, it empowers us to relish a delicious variety of foods and flavors while nurturing our physical and mental health. For a deeper understanding of the 10 Principles of Intuitive Eating, read this post

How To Make a Balanced Meal: Basic Components

The basic components that go into any balanced meal are: 

  • Proteins (meats, fish, dairy, tofu, beans)
  • Fruits and veggies
  • Complex carbohydrates (whole grains, potatoes, corn, peas, pasta, rice)
  • Fats (olive oil, nuts, nut butters, butter, etc.)

Putting some of each of these components on your plate makes a meal balanced.

Carbohydrates are like the body’s fuel, giving us energy for everyday activities. Proteins help repair and build muscles and tissues, making us strong. Fats are like the body’s helpers, carrying vitamins, making hormones and providing energy for longer activities.

Vitamins and minerals act as the body’s helpers too, assisting with many important processes, like supporting the immune system and helping our body use nutrients effectively. 

Practicing Intuitive Eating allows you to be flexible about these components and use your intuition, tastebuds, hunger cues, and desire for satisfaction to craft a meal that will energize you and support your health.

Most intuitive eaters find that their body tells them what balance of these basic components helps them feel best. But if you need a bit more guidance, here are my five tips to get you started.

Tip #1: Start with a protein-rich food

Protein is important for building and repairing tissues and muscles and is needed in every cell In the body. This is why it’s a good idea to let the star of the plate be a lean protein source – either animal-based (including eggs or dairy) or plant-based (like tofu, beans, or lentils). 

Protein-rich foods provide many key nutrients we need, like B vitamins, iron, zinc, and amino acids. B vitamins are critical for converting food into energy inside your cells, while amino acids serve as the building blocks of your muscles, skin, hair, organs, and other structures in your body.

If you do choose plant-based proteins, be sure to pair them with grains or dairy products to give your body all of the amino acids it needs.

Examples of proteins include: 

  • Poultry: chicken, turkey
  • Dairy products: Cottage cheese, Greek yogurt, milk, eggs
  • Fish: tuna, salmon, shellfish, sardines
  • Plant-based: tofu, tempeh, beans, lentils, chickpeas
  • Red meat: beef, pork, bison
Photo of a variety of protein foods: salmon, steak, eggs, beans, milk.

Tip #2: Add a fruit or vegetable (or both!)

Research shows that fruits and vegetables are essential for many reasons, including the antioxidant role they play in preventing disease, such as heart disease, diabetes, and certain cancers. But they’re also fun, colorful and delicious

They provide key vitamins (A, B, C, E and K) and minerals like potassium and magnesium your body needs to function properly and fiber to improve gut health and bowel regularity

Fresh, frozen, canned and dried fruits and vegetables offer similar nutrition. Don’t be afraid to mix it up! And think about adding variety: if you’ve never tried star fruit, broccolini, or passion fruit, for example, put them or other new types of produce in the rotation.  

High fiber fruits and vegetables include:

  • Raspberries, strawberries, blackberries
  • Pears, apples, and other fruits you eat with the skin on
  • Dried fruits, such as raisins, prunes, or dried apricots
  • Broccoli, brussel sprouts, cauliflower, and kale
  • Celery, carrots, beets
  • Leafy greens
Photo of a variety of fruits, vegetables and nuts

Tip #3: Include complex carbohydrates

Grains and starches are very important components of a healthy eating pattern, providing us with numerous nutrients, vitamins and minerals. For example, the starches and fiber in complex carbohydrates help make a meal more filling and satisfying and provide you with long-lasting energy. 

The fiber in complex carbs slows down digestion, which helps control blood sugar levels. Fiber also traps cholesterol and removes it from the body, which lowers cholesterol levels. Fiber bulks up stool, making constipation less likely.

Whole grains, when paired with legumes, beans, or nuts/seeds, provide us with a full complement of the amino acids we need for muscle building and tissue repair. Starches and grains also help the body spare the protein you eat for use in muscle building, so don’t skip the starch!

Examples of complex carbohydrates include:

  • Whole grains: whole wheat, oats, barley, bread, popcorn, brown rice, quinoa
  • Starchy vegetables: potatoes, winter squash, peas, corn
  • Beans/lentils: black beans, chickpeas, split peas, red beans, lentils
  • Refined grains: white rice, most pastas, white flour 

(note: refined grains generally contain fewer vitamins, minerals and fiber than whole grains)

Photo of various dried grains and lentils

Tip #4: Don’t forget the fats!

Fats play numerous roles in the body. They help us absorb key vitamins (A, D, E, & K), make hormones, protect our organs, and keep the body warm and cushioned. Also, our brain cells are insulated by fat, and fats are a part of every cell in the body

Fats from fish, nuts, seeds, olive oil, other plants (like avocado, coconut, etc.), and egg and dairy products are all excellent choices. If you include animal products in your eating, some fat will be provided from those foods as well. Fats also add flavor, can increase satisfaction, and help keep you fuller longer.

Examples of fats include:

  • Nuts and nut butters (cashews, peanut butter)
  • Seeds (sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, chia seeds)
  • Oils (olive oil, coconut oil, sunflower oil)
  • Dairy products (butter, cream)
  • Plants (coconut, avocado, olives)

Tip #5: Don’t overthink it!

There’s really no need to overthink your meals. 

Unless you have a medical diagnosis that requires attention to specific nutrients, weighing your foods, counting grams of this or that, or obsessing over whether you had enough potassium on Monday or met your iron needs on Tuesday is likely unnecessary

As long as you are eating a wide range of foods over time, you are likely getting the nutrients you need. Consult with your healthcare provider or a registered dietitian for medical advice about your nutrition needs.

What Is An Example of a Balanced Meal?

Examples of balanced breakfasts include:

  • Greek yogurt topped with berries and a side of whole grain toast
  • Scrambled eggs with a side of fruit salad and an english muffin
  • Oatmeal made with milk, mixed with chopped apples, walnuts, and cinnamon
  • Sesame seed bagel topped with peanut butter and banana

Balanced lunch examples:

  • Chicken tortellini with pesto, tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, bell pepper sticks
  • Turkey sandwich topped with spinach and tomato, an orange, almonds
  • Chef’s salad, a side of raspberries & blackberries, goldfish crackers
  • Black bean quesadilla with guacamole and salsa, kiwi and blueberries

Examples of balanced dinners:

  • Grilled chicken with pasta salad over salad greens with peppers, cucumbers, tomato, feta cheese & white beans
  • Broiled salmon, roasted cauliflower, wild rice
  • Vegetarian chili served with cornbread and a side salad
  • Stir fried tofu with mixed vegetables over rice
An image of a balanced meal plate containing hummus, olives, pita, tomato, cucumber, and tzatziki

Why Is a Balanced Meal Important?

First and foremost, balanced meals give us a variety of essential nutrients. When we eat, our body breaks down our food into smaller parts through digestion. These smaller parts, called nutrients, provide the fuel and building blocks our body needs to function well.

Second, eating a variety of food groups in a meal keeps us energized for longer periods of time because we digest more slowly. This longer digestion time leads to fewer swings in blood sugar levels, which positively affects our energy and mood. 

Understanding how eating balanced meals makes your body feel is helpful feedback for planning your meals throughout the day. Intuitive Eating teaches us to tune into how our body feels before, during and after eating. This information allows us to making informed nutrition decisions based on our body’s needs.

For example, when I include carbs and proteins instead of just veggies in a salad at lunch, I feel more focused and less sleepy throughout the afternoon than if I skip the carbs or protein. 

When possible, I add these components. If they aren’t available, my subtle hunger cues appear a little earlier in the afternoon. Knowing about how meal balance affects my energy levels helps me make sense of my hunger cues rather than judging them.

Why Is a Balanced Diet Important?

Over time, eating a variety of foods that you enjoy can contribute to a full and vibrant life. Our body cannot not make many of the nutrients it needs to survive, such as essential amino acids or certain fats. Likewise, our body cannot provide its own energy sources or vitamins and minerals–food is the best option we have to give our body what it needs.

Dietary balance is needed to provide essential nutrients, like carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins, and minerals, in our daily meals to give our body what it needs. 

By nourishing our bodies with a diverse array of foods, we can unlock a wealth of benefits – increased energy levels, improved digestion, enhanced brain function, and lower risk of chronic diseases. 

Keep in mind, however, that balance is meant to be achieved over time and may not happen every time you sit down to eat. That’s just not real life!

Final Words on How to Make a Balanced Meal

Incorporating the principles of Intuitive Eating into our daily meal planning empowers us to nourish our bodies and souls with genuine care and compassion. Balancing meals with a variety of components when possible boosts our energy levels and gives our bodies essential nutrients.

We can listen to our bodies during and after meals to evaluate how eating a balanced meal feels versus eating a less-balanced meal. Understanding that not all meals will be balanced, and that’s okay, is a part of real life. Aiming for balance over time is what matters.

So, step into the realm of balanced and Intuitive Eating, where every bite becomes a celebration of nourishment and self-care, guiding you towards a healthier, happier, and more fulfilling life!