I have to admit
I was pretty proud of myself when I unpacked the leftovers
from my lunch bag this week. Almost by accident, what I had
pulled out of the fridge as I ran out of the house turned out
to be a fairly balanced meal: the last bit of turkey soup I
had thawed from my freezer and reheated for dinner the
previous night, the remainder of a spinach, cucumber and
tomato salad, and a square of leftover cornbread. I love when
What IS a
balanced meal? In my mind, it is one that includes a food from
at least three of the five major nutrient groups: protein,
vegetables, fruit, grains, and dairy (which also includes
non-dairy sources of calcium).
And why is this
such a big deal? Foods are grouped in each of these categories
according to the essential nutrients they provide. When we
choose to eat a variety of foods from each of these groups
each day, we consume the vast array of nutrients we need for
I tend to play
games with my meals to see how they measure up in each
nutrient group. In this case, my turkey soup had protein,
vegetables and bit of milk, my salad had vegetables, and my
cornbread was a whole grain. (At least half the grains we eat
should be “whole” grains, say experts.)
lightening bolt thought: When our original meals are balanced,
the leftovers we pack for lunches are more apt to be balanced
as well. And in this world of food waste (some say we throw
out about 40 percent of our food), we can all do better with
using up leftovers, right?
Even kids can
remember on five fingers the five food groups. And we adults
can be mindful of the major nutrients each group represents.
pretty cool that we have lots of choices within each nutrient
group. That’s important since — if you have not noticed
— we Americans have a plethora of preferred eating styles.
Whether we are meat-eating cavemen or plant-only enthusiasts,
we all need the nutrients found in the protein group. And
there are plenty of choices to satisfy us all.
getting around the vegetable group, either. No matter what our
preferred diet, we all need the abundance of nutrients from
this category. In fact, study after study confirms that a diet
heavy on plant-based foods is most associated with optimal
health and fewer chronic diseases like cancer, diabetes and
heart disease. Ditto for fruit.
Grains may be
controversial for some folks. Yet if we eliminate all the
foods in this group, we will need to find several key
nutrients including B vitamins (thiamin, riboflavin, niacin,
and folate), and minerals (iron, magnesium, and selenium)
elsewhere. Luckily there are several types of grains to choose
from. For example, a person who needs to avoid gluten — a
protein in wheat, rye and barley — can balance their diets
with other grains such as rice or corn (whole grains versions
of these, please).
It’s all a
matter of balance.