Estimated reading time: 6 minutes
The holiday season is fast approaching, and you know what that means: Christmas dinners, year-end parties, cocktail gatherings, and oodles of chocolates and snacks lying around the house. Although the festive season is particularly challenging when it comes to sticking to your healthy eating plans, the truth is that there’s temptation all year round. Learning how to build a healthy plate which fits your needs is the best way to create a sustainable way of eating.
It’s not bad to indulge in some dessert, garlic bread, a cocktail or two, or that irresistibly good cheese-laden potato bake your aunt makes from time to time. In fact, incorporating foods you love into a healthy lifestyle is more likely to help you adhere to your eating plan most of the time.
But knowing how to construct a healthy and balanced plate in any situation is a valuable skill which will serve you well (pun intended) whenever you’re out for dinner, at an event, or in a situation where the food choices aren’t what you’d normally opt for.
The basics of a healthy plate
Though each person’s dietary needs and preferences will differ slightly, there are some basics you can follow when you’re trying to balance your meals.
As a general rule, your plate should be:
- Half vegetables, salad, or fruit (ideally non-starchy options)
- A quarter lean protein
- A quarter carbohydrates, ideally wholegrains
Of course, this is assuming that you have access to healthy foods. We all know this isn’t always the case. Making good choices would be easy if every birthday party, meal out, or business meeting had chicken and broccoli on the menu!
So when your options aren’t so obvious, what should you do?
1. Find some salad or veggies as a base.
If there are any veggie options, start off with those both in terms of filling your plate and filling your stomach. Salad, vegetable soup, or roasted veggies are all good options. They’re low calorie foods which fill you up and can help you stay satisfied without loading on the calories.
Eating them first can also help to keep you from overeating and ensures you get some micronutrients in your system before heading into the heavier foods. Vegetables (or even fruit) are a welcome addition to a healthy plate – or even the basis of it.
2. Opt for grilled instead of fried protein
Of course, lean protein would be great. Options like eggs, fish, chicken, and fillet steak are choices which are low in calories and high in protein. However, they aren’t always on the menu at fast food places or potlucks.
In general, the leanest options will usually be grilled chicken or seafood. Luckily, chicken is often available in some form at most restaurants, parties, and events because it’s a crowd pleaser.
Try to avoid fattier meats like lamb and pork. But if it’s the only protein available, take some and simply trim the excess fat where you can. Building a healthy plate in all sorts of situations means being flexible and going with what’s available.
3. Choose wholegrains or nutrient-dense carbs
Popular opinion would have you believe that low carb diets are the only way to eat, but that simply isn’t true. So don’t shy away from healthy carbs on your plate. Brown rice, sweet potatoes, and wholegrain breads are all excellent choices for your carbohydrates as they pack a nutrient punch, offer energy, and will help satisfy you.
If those aren’t available, try to go for carbs which have been simply prepared – e.g. steamed, boiled, or even air fried.
4. Hold the sauce
Some things are just better with sauce. Chips and dip, steak and mushroom, fish and tartare…we get it! Sauces are a great way to add flavor to your meal, but try and dish them up on the side wherever possible so you can control your serving size.
Another strategy to avoid consuming extra calories without realizing it is to stick to tomato or vegetable-based sauces. Creamy and buttery sauces are delicious, but often pack the calories. Instead of a serving of garlic butter sauce, you could have a couple of extra potatoes or another slice of ham.
5. Add some water
There’s nothing stopping you from enjoying that glass of wine with dinner. But to complete that healthy plate of food, make sure to grab some water on the side and have a glass before you eat. It will help limit overeating, make you feel more full, and will hydrate you too.
Another good rule is to drink a glass of water for every alcoholic beverage you consume. It may sound silly, but drinking more water can also help you battle excess water weight. Plus it helps with loads of other bodily functions.
6. Treat yourself
Finally, treat yourself a little. Add a side of something you love or pick a dessert to savor. Practicing mindful eating can go a long way towards helping you make more balanced choices and really appreciate the foods you do choose which are less nutrient-dense or score lower on the healthy scale.
Your plate doesn’t have to be healthy foods only, at every single meal. Learning how to eat for pleasure without guilt or shame will help you realize that eating foods you love and enjoying them isn’t something to be scared of.
Doing your best in an unhealthy situation
Sometimes you may find it difficult to make healthy food choices, especially when it’s the holidays or a special occasion like your birthday. That’s fine! Food is often social, and learning how to ‘make do’ in different situations is an important part of your relationship with food too.
If you eat more than usual or make food choices which you wouldn’t ordinarily, don’t worry. Drink plenty of water the next day, try to move more and get your steps in, and make healthy, balanced choices without punishing yourself or undereating to compensate it.
If you’re not sure which foods to go with, try checking out a similar recipe or ingredient on Whisk. It gives you an easy-to-understand health score as well as a detailed nutritional breakdown so you know whether you’re making smart choices.
Words by Sophie Baker