Affordable, tasty, good-for-you – these are boxes we all want to tick when it comes to our daily meals. It’s no surprise that life and its little challenges catch up with us along the way. But according to registered dietitian Kristy Hogger, getting a balanced meal on the table is all about planning. That sounds simple enough, but first we needed to answer this question: Why is it important to eat a balanced meal?

“A balanced diet will ensure that individuals are meeting their needs for vitamins, minerals and other nutrients,” says Hogger. “In addition, following the recommendations from Canada’s Food Guide on the amounts and types of foods we eat will help reduce risk for obesity, type two diabetes, heart disease, certain types of cancer and osteoporosis. It will also contribute to overall health and vitality.”

A balanced meal should generally contain full servings from at least three of the four food groups. Here’s what your plate should include:

Vegetables & Fruits

2 to 4 servings

It’s best to include a variety of colourful fruits and vegetables in your meals. “Different colours impart different nutrients and beneficial components,” says Hogger. According to Canada’s Food Guide we should consume at least one dark green and one orange vegetable daily. Broccoli and carrots are great options, but if you’re looking to switch up your regular veggie sides for dinner, try kale, green peas, Brussels sprouts and asparagus, or butternut or acorn squashes, pumpkin and sweet potatoes.

Grain Products

2 to 3 servings

Think outside the box. Aside from wheat, there are a variety of whole grains to experiment with, like barley, rye, oats, wild rice, amaranth, spelt and more. “Grain products, particularly whole grains, are a source of fibre, which could assist in helping us feel full and satisfied,” says Hogger. If you’re gluten-intolerant, try rice, corn, millet, quinoa, buckwheat and sorghum. Small, smart substitutions can ensure you get your required servings of whole grains in every meal. For example, choose a whole wheat crust when ordering pizza, substitute brown rice for white rice or whole wheat pasta for regular pasta. “Canada’s Food Guide recommends making at least half of all grain products whole grain each day,” adds Hogger.

Milk & Alternatives

1 serving

Your fridge is probably already stocked with milk (choose skim, 1% milk fat or 2% milk fat), yogourt and cheese. Other products to get your recommended serving include fortified soy beverages, cottage cheese and buttermilk. “This food group provides calcium, vitamins A, D and B12, riboflavin, zinc, magnesium, potassium, protein and fat,” says Hogger. “Many of these nutrients are important for developing strong bones and reducing the risk of osteoporosis.” You can also use milk or fortified soy beverages (if you’re lactose intolerant) when preparing hot cereal, soups, smoothies and casseroles.

Meat and Alternatives

1 to 2 servings

Say yes to lean cuts of meat labelled “loin” and “round” and opt for skinless poultry. Grill or bake meat, fish and poultry. Looking for non-meat sources? Try legumes like beans and lentils, soy-based meat substitutes, hummus, seeds and nuts. “These foods provide nutrients such as iron, zinc, magnesium, B vitamins, protein and fat,” says Hogger. Canada’s Food Guide recommends eating at least two Food Guide Servings of fish each week (150 g). Choose fish rich in omega-3s, like salmon, mackerel, herring, sardines, char and rainbow trout.

For more information on the correct serving sizes based on your age and gender, consult Canada’s Food Guide.