How to Build Healthy Meals – Tips From a Dietitian
Use my meal planning categories to start creating your own healthy meals that are balanced and satisfying. For a more in-depth meal planning guide with more meal ideas and inspiration, download my free Meal Planning Guide!
This system has been a massive game-changer in my own meal prepping and nutrition journey. It provides some simple guidelines for structure, but leaves so much room for creativity, flavor, and personalization. If you’re feeling bored with your traditional meal prepped food…give this a try and let me know what you think!
CATEGORY ONE: MEAL THEME
Avoid a random dish by starting with your meal theme. This step will help you choose food items that pair well together. It could be a specific cuisine – like Italian, Cajun, BBQ, Asian, etc. It could also be a certain style of food that you’re craving – a sandwich, tacos, or a bowl.
CATEGORY TWO: PROTEIN
Including a protein source at meals is especially important if you have a body composition goal – lose fat, gain muscle, or even maintain your current body comp! Protein can also help manage hunger. I suggest choosing lean protein sources to avoid excess calories from fat. Examples of some leaner protein options are boneless, skinless chicken, 90/10 or 93/7 ground beef, shrimp, pork tenderloin, deli meat, and low-fat or fat-free greek yogurt. However, don’t be afraid to experiment with higher-fat options like pork chops, 80/20 burger patties, or whole-milk greek yogurt. All food has a place in my opinion, and some higher-fat protein sources are certainly nutrient dense – like eggs and salmon!
CATEGORY THREE: GRAINS & STARCHY VEGGIES
Okay, stay with me here. It’s so common to immediately think “low” or “no” carbs when aiming to eat healthier or look for healthier recipes. I’m going to go against a lot of the trendy advice and recommend that you include a source of whole grains (oatmeal, bread, pasta, etc) or starchy veggies (beans, potatoes, carrots, etc) when building your healthy meals. Yes, even if you have a goal for fat-loss.
From a nutrient perspective…omitting grains & starchy veggies can remove a significant amount of fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Not cool – especially because fiber can also help with hunger management. Carbs are also important for maintaining energy levels. But the main reason I recommend including carbs is to increase the satisfaction of meals. Have you ever replaced your noodles with zucchini…and then felt like diving head first into the cookie jar after dinner? I feel you. Including grains & starchy veggies in my meal planning process helps me enjoy those meals more, and ultimately leaves me with little to no cravings. It’s wonderful. You should try it.
CATEGORY FOUR: COLOR
This is where I go all “dietitian” on you and tell you to eat your fruit and veggies. Say hello to more fiber, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytonutrients. When I say veggies here, I’m mainly referring to non-starchy veggies (broccoli, salad greens, bell peppers, asparagus, etc).
I lump fruit and veggies together into “color,” because let’s be honest, not everyone loves veggies. They’ve even been an acquired taste for me. I actually suggest pairing fruit as your color with breakfast, and non-starchy veggies as your color with lunch and dinner. Idk about you, but I’m not going to eat broccoli with my breakfast parfait.
CATEGORY FIVE: FLAVOR
The flavor category helps to tie your protein, carb, and color back to your theme. This could be anything from seasonings to toppings. The one “catch” with this flavor category is that some of the options can be calorie dense – avocado/guac, salad dressings, cheese, chopped nuts, cooking oils, honey, etc. These items can add up quickly. If you do have a fat-loss goal, I suggest being mindful of portions here and maybe choosing just 1 or 2 options to pair with your meal.
PHEW – we made it, fam!
If you found this post helpful…be sure to show me your new meal planning skills & tag me in your healthy meals over on social (@livgoldin).
If you feel a bit overwhelmed, lost, or confused – let’s chat. After all, this post is not to be used for personal recommendations. Feel free to send in a coaching application here for a more personalized approach!