How to build a healthy plate

Amy Wood - Nutritionist | 25 Feb, 2023

The best way to achieve a healthy weight is by eating well. A balanced plate is important for many reasons, including helping with weight loss. To equip you with all the knowledge you need to build your own healthy plate at mealtimes, we’ll break down the key components of a balanced meal and explore how it could change the way you approach weight loss and healthy eating.

Why should we eat balanced?

1 Feeling full and satisfied

A truly balanced meal is the perfect recipe for keeping hunger at bay and feeling satisfied for longer. The top three nutrients for feeling full are fibre, protein and fat, which are more complex and take longer to digest. Making the most of your calories in a calorie deficit by making smart food choices can really help make weight loss feel easier. One of the keys to success is feeling satisfied on a lower-calorie diet, and these three magic nutrients can help you do just that!

2 Increased energy levels

When we eat unbalanced meals that are richer in ‘white’ carbs and sugar, digestion happens much quicker, causing a spike in blood glucose levels. Our bodies' tissues are met with a quick surplus of energy, and we feel full of energy for a little while. However, elevated blood glucose levels prompt the rapid release of insulin, whose job is to remove glucose from the blood and move it into 'storage'. The outcome: a blood sugar crash and the return of fatigue, irritability, and cravings for more sugar.

Slower digestion caused by the mixture of complex nutrients on a balanced plate means a slower rise in blood sugar following a meal, and a prolonged release of energy for hours after eating. Without the common blood sugar spikes and crashes we see with less nutritious foods, your energy levels will no longer rely on short bursts of quick-release carbs, sugar or caffeine.

3 Nutrient diversity

Our bodies need a healthy split of macronutrients (carbohydrates, fats and protein) to keep our metabolism running smoothly. By aiming to balance each of your meals with the right proportions, meeting your nutrient targets should become a lot easier.

Like macronutrients, micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) appear in varying quantities in different foods. Although micronutrients don't contribute to how many calories you're eating, they're vital for overall health and reducing the risk of disease.

If you’re eating in a calorie deficit, meeting your body's micronutrient needs might be slightly more challenging, as it's likely you will have reduced your portion size of some foods. Balanced meals could help you broaden the range of micronutrients you're incorporating into your diet.

What does a balanced plate look like?

A healthy balanced plate

4 steps to building your plate

1 Fruit & veg

Start by building your plate up with fruits or vegetables to help you meet or exceed that all-important 5-a-day recommendation. They’re rich in lots of different nutrients, including fibre. Fibre is one of the key ingredients for keeping us feeling full, so is great if you’re eating in a calorie deficit. It can also help keep cholesterol levels healthy. This combined with all the health benefits of the vitamins and minerals we find in fruit and veg makes it the perfect ‘backbone’ to your meal.

Ideally, include several different types of fruit or veg in each meal to broaden the variety in your diet. Eating a wide range of plant foods is great for our gut health. Including at least 30 different types of plant-based foods per week has shown to improve gut microbiome diversity significantly, which we know is central to a whole host of health markers.

2 Carbs

Next, think about carbs. This food group tends to be the first many people jump on to reduce or cut out when embarking on a weight loss journey, under a misguided belief that 'carbs cause weight gain'. Carbohydrates, especially complex carbs, have been unfairly demonised and should actually be a regular staple in our meals. Carbs are our body’s primary energy source, and choosing the right type can also provide additional benefits. Whole grains supply us with B-vitamins, which play a vital role in energy metabolism. They are also rich in fibre, which helps to slow the digestion and release of sugar into the bloodstream. By having this more gradual release, our body is supplied with energy more consistently, minimising blood sugar crashes and cravings.

Carb-rich foods include: potatoes, bread, rice, pasta, cereals, grains (quinoa, buckwheat, couscous).

3 Protein

Now focus on protein foods. Protein forms the building blocks for all our tissues, playing a pivotal role in the growth and repair of muscle, skin, bone and organ tissue, so it’s crucial we eat enough in our diets.

Being such a complex molecule, protein requires a lot of effort to be digested. It’s estimated we use between 20% and 30% of the calories supplied by protein just to break it down! As it takes so long to digest, protein is a very satiating nutrient, meaning it keeps us feeling fuller for longer after we eat it. Protein stimulates the release of satiating hormones, which tell our brain we’re full up. By eating more protein at mealtimes, we can reduce the temptation to reach for snacks, making it easier to stick to a calorie deficit which helps with weight loss.

Our bodies can only absorb around 30-45g of protein in one sitting – any more than this will be filtered out of our blood and excreted in our urine (so a bit of a waste)! This is why it’s so important to spread protein intake out across the day instead of trying to load up on most of your target in one go. Include a source of protein with each meal and snack throughout the day to maximise absorption.

Protein foods include: meat, fish, eggs, milk, yoghurt, cheese, beans, pulses, nuts, seeds, Quorn, tofu.

4 Healthy fats

The final step is to consider foods containing fat. This is another nutrient that has historically been 'blacklisted' as unhealthy, but we now know there are some fats that are really good for us. Fat is a vital part of our diets, providing essential fatty acids and helping us absorb vitamins. It’s all about choosing the right type.

The two main sorts of dietary fat are saturated and unsaturated. When we refer to 'healthy fats', we mean the unsaturated kind found in plant foods and oily fish. Unsaturated fat helps keep blood cholesterol at healthy levels, protecting the heart. Certain types of unsaturated fat have also shown to be good for brain health.

Healthy fats include: vegetable oils and spreads, nuts, seeds, avocados, oily fish.

Examples of balanced plates



  • Porridge oats with banana & peanut butter
  • Wholegrain cereal with milk & a piece of fruit
  • Egg & avocado on wholegrain toast
  • Smoothie with banana, berries, spinach, oats, flaxseed & protein powder



  • Jacket potato with tuna & salad
  • Chicken & salad sandwich
  • Greek salad with tomatoes, olives, feta, olive oil & pitta bread
  • Bean & vegetable soup with a seeded wholemeal bread roll



  • Lean beef & bean chilli with rice
  • Tofu, veggie & noodle stir fry
  • Prawn & vegetable tacos
  • Salmon fillet with new potatoes & green veg
  • Pizza with veggie toppings & side salad
  • Chicken meatballs on spaghetti with a tomato & veggie sauce



  • Veg sticks & wholegrain crackers dipped in houmous
  • Wholegrain rice cake topped with smoked salmon & cucumber
  • No-added-sugar yoghurt with fruit & low-sugar granola
  • Protein ball containing dried fruit, nut butter & oats

Nutritionist Amy Wood (ANutr), MSci BSc Nutrition has a keen interest in the relationship between diet and health. Having been published in the European Journal of Nutrition, Amy is passionate about making evidence-based nutrition accessible to everyone and helping others to adopt a food-focused approach to taking control of their health.

This site uses cookies to personalise content and ads, provide social media features and analyse our traffic. Find out more about how we use cookies.

Choose which cookies you allow us to use. You can read more about our Cookie Policy in our Privacy Policy.