The Balanced Plate
Are you making an effort to live a healthier lifestyle? Food Services at the University of Waterloo supports and encourages students who are working to live a balanced and healthy life. Food choices are one of the biggest parts of living well, which is why we developed our own UW Balanced Plate!
Living a healthy lifestyle means having a balanced diet, as well as taking care of your health mentally and physically. Check out Campus Wellness for more tips on living a healthy lifestyle mentally and physically.
A balanced diet means eating the right combination of nutrients so that our bodies can function optimally. This includes macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates, and fats) and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals). We can achieve a balanced diet by getting the right variety and portions of different foods.
Using a tool like the UW Balanced Plate can make building your own nutritious meals easy! Our balanced plate is aligned with recommendations in the Canada's 2019 Food Guide.
If you have questions about how the balanced plate fits your nutrition needs, contact our UW dietitian Nicole here.
How to get started: Start by building your plate with at least 2 different kinds of fruits or vegetables, a protein option, and a grain or starch option. If you are still hungry, you can always go back for a seconds.
Each category on the balanced plate contributes important nutrients to our diet:
Protein rich foods are support muscle and bone health, and many of these foods are also a source of vitamins and minerals like iron, zinc, and magnesium.
- Include plant based proteins such as beans, legumes, and tofu. Plant proteins are higher in fibre and lower in saturated fat than many animal based proteins.
- Get more Omega 3 by choosing fatty fish like salmon or trout.
- Chose smaller portions of red meat. Did you know you can mix red meat with beans or lentils to extend the number of servings? Try making your next pasta sauce with ½ beans and ½ lean ground beef- check out this recipe from lentils.org!
Grains and starches
These foods provide carbohydrates and fibre. Carbohydrates are the primary fuel for our body, and our brain. Fibre helps keep us full longer, and supports digestion.
Vegetables and fruits
These foods are nutrient-dense, which means they provide a lot of the vitamins and minerals we need for optimal health. Learn more about getting enough fruits and vegetables here.
- Each fruit or vegetable has a different vitamin and mineral profile, so aim for lots of variety and colour.
- If you are choosing frozen or canned, look for options with no added sodium, sugar, sauces or syrups.
- Try cooking or preparing fruits and vegetables in new ways. Did you know raw asparagus with hummus is a great snack? Or that cucumbers can be baked in the oven?
While fat is not represented by its own category on the balanced plate, it is still an important part of our diet. Fats can be integrated in different parts of our plate and meal choices. Some fats are naturally found in the foods we eat, while others are added during cooking or served on the side. Examples of foods that contain fat include nut butters, avocado, oils, mayonnaise or dressings, and butter or margarines. A little healthy fat in our diet not only helps make food taste delicious, but can help support heart health, skin integrity and brain function.
- Chose more unsaturated fats, such as olive oil, when cooking. Learn more about different types of fats here.
- Try using herbs, spices, vinegar and citrus fruits to season dishes in place of excess fat.
- Include natural sources of fat more often, such as natural peanut, almond, or seed butters. Learn more about different kinds of nut and seed butters here and here.
Most importantly, it’s not just WHAT we eat, but HOW we eat
While a busy schedule can make it hard to take a proper meal break, taking the time to sit down and eat is important for physical and mental wellness.
Try to sit down at a table, avoid distractions such as your phone or laptop, and eat with others at mealtimes. Learn more about the benefits of creating healthy eating habits on the Canadian Food Guide, Healthy Eating Habits webpage.
How do I use the balanced plate with a mixed dish like a casserole or pizza?
Many of the foods we eat are ‘mixed dishes’. A mixed dish is a food or item that includes more than one food group, for example pizza. You can still follow the balanced plate guide when you have mixed dishes at mealtime.
Simply look at the item, or recipe if you made it at home, and think about the main ingredients that went into it. Estimate how much of each ingredient is on your plate.
For pizza, you may see that a slice has some crust (grain or starch), cheese (protein) and some toppings like sauce, mushrooms, peppers (a little vegetables). There is probably also a little oil used in the pizza making process, and you may have chosen some dip on the side; both of these contribute fat to the meal.
Based on the balanced plate, what is missing is a serving or two of fruits and vegetables. If you pair your slice of pizza with a side salad or some carrot and celery sticks, you can easily make it a balanced meal!
Learn more about making balanced mixed dishes here.
What if my portions don’t always fit the balanced plate?
The balanced plate is a guideline, which means that while most of the time it does a pretty good job at helping us build healthy meals, there are always some exceptions. With all the different food and meal choices available, it would be impossible to always have a perfectly balanced plate. The key to balance is aiming for a variety of foods, and appropriate portion sizes.
For example, on pasta night you may have a plate that include ½ grains and starches (spaghetti), ¼ protein (sauce with meat or lentils), ¼ vegetables (a side salad), and a little fat (salad dressing). This is still a healthy and balanced choice because all food groups are represented and the portions are appropriate for the kind of meal being served. While there is a little more grains and starches and a little less vegetables than our typical plate what is most important to focus on variety and inclusion of all food groups.
Can you explain why different foods are grouped together on the balanced plate?
As easy way to categorize foods is to focus on the type of macronutrient most present in that food. This is how foods are categorized in our balanced plate.
While we group together similar foods to help create balance at meals, it is important to recognize that very few foods contain only one macronutrient. Most foods provide a little of all three macronutrients-- protein, carbohydrates and fat. For example, a slice of wholegrain bread is a grain and starch serving because it is high in fibre and carbohydrates, but that same slice of bread also has a little protein and fat, along with vitamins and minerals.
Have questions about the balanced plate, eating well or nutrition on campus? Our UW Dietitian has answers! Email Nicole at firstname.lastname@example.org.