Balanced or Square, How Do You Serve Your Meals?

You’ve heard the term “balanced meals” at one time or another, but what exactly does it mean? Once called “square meals,” balanced meals provide immediate and long-term benefits for you and your family. Kids need the correct balance of nutrients and calories for their growing bodies. The secret to building balanced meals or snacks is to enjoy a variety of nutrient-rich foods and beverages.

  1. Start with fruits and vegetables. Produce is low in fat and calories, cholesterol-free and packed with fiber, vitamins, minerals and antioxidant nutrients. Most American children, and many adults, do not eat the recommended servings each day. Children should eat 2 ½ cups of vegetables and 1 ½ cups of fruit each day.
  2. Add in whole grains. Minimally processed whole grains like whole-wheat bread or cereal, brown rice, or whole-grain pasta are good sources of fiber and antioxidants. Make at least half of your grains whole.
  3. Power of protein. Kids need protein to grow strong and tall. Serve lean sources of protein like lean beef, pork, fish, seafood, turkey or chicken. Include legumes (dried beans and peas) and low-fat or fat-free dairy.

I’ve taught it before, and I’ll teach it again! 

The Plate Method

– Fill 1/2 of the plate with 2 servings of nonstarchy vegetables.
– Fill 1/4 of the plate with lean meat (3 ounces cooked) or other high-protein food.
– Fill 1/4 of the plate with a starchy vegetable or whole grain serving (amount varies depending on food selected).
– Include a serving of fruit and/or dairy.

How does this look in real life?

Nonstarchy vegetable: 1/2 cup steamed or roasted Brussels sprouts and 1/2 cup sautéed mushrooms
Protein: 3 ounces cooked sirloin or round steak
Starch or whole grain: 1/3 cup cooked brown rice

Fruit: 1-1/4 cups strawberries, quartered
Dairy: 1 cup fat-free milk

In general, the serving size for nonstarchy vegetables is 1 cup raw or 1/2 cup cooked or juiced.
Four ounces of raw meat cooks to 3 ounces, which is about the size of a deck of cards.

(Remember, specific nutrient needs are different for everyone.  To find out your specific needs, visit and sign up under the Super Tracker to get a great jump start on your weight loss or healthy living journey- or both! OR hook up with a Registered Dietitian in your area for personalized meal planning and recipe development.) 

Don’t forget to choose your (and your family’s!) beverages wisely. Move away from sugary beverages with lots of added sugars and choose unsweetened beverages, low-fat milk, or (the best) water.

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Tip of the Day


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