How to Build a Balanced Plate: What, How Much & How Often

March 28, 2018 | Post by Sam Presicci

How to Build a Balanced Plate: What, How Much & How Often

There is so much conflicting nutrition information out there that it can be tough to know what’s actually true. It’s no different when it comes to building a balanced plate. If you have followed some of the standard nutrition/diet advice, your plate might look a bit different than what I’m describing here. And you may be hungry every couple of hours, low on energy, or struggling to get through your workouts, all of which are surefire signs that your meal template probably needs a little tweaking. Thankfully, whether you’re doing a Whole30 or just trying to eat a healthy diet, your meal template will look pretty similar. Curious about the Whole30 meal template? Click here.

At it’s core, you want your plate to include protein, healthy fat and vegetables.


Have you ever noticed that vegetables are basically the one meal component that every health professional can agree on? Whether you’re vegan, paleo, or somewhere in between, it’s pretty commonly accepted that veggies=goooood for you! In general, there are two types of veggies: starchy and non-starchy. Your non-starchy vegetables are ones like leafy greens, broccoli, cauliflower and cucumber. Your starchy vegetables are ones like plantains, butternut squash, jicama and beets. Starchy vegetables are higher in carbohydrates, but they’re the healthiest form of carbohydrates that you can find!

If you are an athlete or simply trying to include more healthy carbohydrates in your diet, swap out your breads, pastas and other refined carbs for vegetables. An additional source of plant-based carbs (though not intended to replace vegetables) is fruit. If you do have fruit, pair a serving with a meal or have a snack of fruit and a healthy fat source (like almond butter, olives or nuts).


Contrary to popular belief, many people tend to skimp on protein OR they stack all of their protein at the end of the day. This is far from optimal. Ideally, you want every one of your meals to include a quality protein source. The exact amount varies depending on individual context, but I tell all of my clients to aim for 100+ grams of protein/day. That equates to 30+grams of protein per meal, or 4+ ounces.

If you need to use a scale to get a hang of your portion size, go for it!

People tend to undereat protein at breakfast more than any other meal. Two eggs (some people may only eat one!) don’t offer enough protein to get your morning rocking. If you enjoy eggs, have 3 eggs with a couple of slices of pasture-raised bacon OR make your own homemade sausage patties and add one of those alongside your eggs.

The Basics:

How Much?

Aim for about 4-6 oz per meal, but you may need more or less. Include protein at each of your meals.

Protein Options:

  • Eggs
  • Pork
  • Seafood (Salmon, Sardines, Cod, Halibut, Mackerel, Tuna, Shrimp, Scallops, etc)
  • Beef
  • Chicken
  • Turkey
  • Liver
  • Wild Game
  • Sausage (natural/additive free OR homemade)
  • If you are a vegetarian or vegan, rely on beans, lentils and occasional organic soy. Keep in mind that beans and lentils are also a carbohydrate source, so be mindful of your portion and of the other carbohydrates on your plate.


Ahhh, fat. This macronutrient has been vilified for far too long. It is vital to include healthy fats at every meal. Fats (along with protein) are what keep you full! One of the problems with just saying “healthy fat” is that there are some vastly different ideas out there as to what constitutes a healthy fat. What isn’t a healthy fat? Many processed vegetable oils (along with margarine), trans fats, and excessive polyunsaturated fats all belong in this category. I know that this can get a little confusing, though, since many mainstream health organizations recommend processed vegetable oils like canola. Curious why these aren’t a good choice? Head here.

The Basics:

How To Incorporate Healthy Fat:

You can either cook with it or add it to your plate/bowl. See the different fat examples below for some ideas.

How Much?

At least a couple of servings! You will have to experiment with this on your own to figure out exactly how much satiates you. If you have a serving of nuts on your salad, you can also include a serving of salad dressing. If you cooked your veggies in ghee, you can also include 1/4-1/2 of an avocado if desired. There are no hard and fast rules, other than to stop eating when you’re full and to use your hunger/fullness cues as information in building your plate. Serving size varies depending on the type of fat, but here are some general serving guidelines:

  • Cooking fats/oils=1 Tbsp
  • Avocado=~1/2 avocado
  • Coconut milk= 1/4 cup
  • Nuts=1/4 cup
  • Nut butters=2 Tbsp


What Are Some Examples of Healthy Fat?

  • Cooking fats: Ghee, coconut oil, avocado oil, extra virgin olive oil, pastured animal fats (like lard, tallow or duck fat)
  • Avocado
  • Olives
  • Nuts & Seeds
  • Coconut milk (and other coconut products)
  • Fatty fish (including salmon, mackarel and sardines)
  • Pastured red meats
  • Egg yolks

How Often Should You Eat?

Ideally, you should only need to eat three meals per day (or less if you’re doing something like intermittent fasting. Note: Not recommended while you’re doing Whole30). Exceptions to this are things like workout days, if you’re breastfeeding, if you’re trying to gain weight or if you’ve just had a particularly active day. However, in general you should be giving your digestion a rest in between meals. Continually eating all day does not give your body time to fully digest food or allow the Migrating Motor Complex do it’s job (in short, this is the housekeeper of your digestive tract, coming in and cleaning out undigested food). Additionally, having longer periods of fasting between meals has been shown to help improve insulin sensitivity.

What About Snacks?

If you do end up needing to snack, always include protein or fat as a part of your snack. For example, if you’re eating a cup of blueberries, eat them alongside some macadamia nuts. Not only will this snack be more satiating (aka it will keep you full longer), but it’ll help balance your blood sugar too.

In the end…

It really is as simple as protein, fat and vegetables. That’s your framework. At the end of the day, you’ll have to play within this template to make it work for you. You may thrive on more fat, or you may thrive on more protein. You may feel better eating cooked veggies, or you may feel better eating them raw. We’re all unique! Use these guidelines as a baseline and tweak from there. The key is to listen to your body along the way. If you need help, you know where to find me!


If you want more information on what to eat pre-and-post workout, I’m currently offering a free PDF with email sign-up. Join my list and it’ll auto-deliver!


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