If you are trying to eat a healthy diet with well-balanced meals, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Dietary Guidelines for Americans is an excellent resource. These guidelines offer information about how to plan your meals with the correct ratios from each of the major food groups and how to plan according to your own individual calorie needs. The guidelines help you to balance the amount of refined, or fast acting, carbohydrates with unrefined, or slower acting, carbohydrates. Consulting these guidelines will also help you identify sources of healthy, unsaturated fats, lean meats, and healthy, low-fat dairy.
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Determine your daily calorie intake. The USDA notes that calorie requirements can be highly individualized based on your height, body type, and gender, and the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans provide an extensive chart which you can use to assess your recommended daily allowance of calories. For example, sedentary adult women should consume between 1,600 and 2,000 calories daily, depending on her exact age. Once you assess your personal calorie needs, you will be able to develop meal plans and snack options that fit your daily calorie limits. You can split your calories evenly throughout the day or you may choose to eat a heavier breakfast or dinner, depending on your personal hunger patterns.
Select foods from each of the USDA's major food groups. Well-balanced meals contain vegetables or fruits, grains, meat or dairy, and fats. As you learn more about the major food groups, you'll be able to select your favorite items from each group to construct balanced and satisfying meal plans. This typically requires some advanced planning prior to shopping so that your meals contain a variety of healthy, well-balanced ingredients.
Select whole grains and starchy vegetables and limited refined carbohydrates. Many diet plans stress the importance of consuming whole grains and fiber. These foods are rich in complex -- or unrefined -- carbohydrates which tend to be digested more slowly than refined, starchy carbohydrates that may cause rapid changes in your blood sugar levels. Choosing whole grain breads, wheat pastas, and brown rice will provide you with "slow" carbohydrates. Carefully limit your consumption of refined or starchy foods, such as white pasta or white rice, which contain "fast carbohydrates." Starchy vegetables or fruits such as potatoes, yams, or bananas are also excellent sources of vitamins and minerals and can be consumed in moderation.
Choose lean proteins and healthy fats and limited saturated or trans fats. Choose entrees composed of lean protein, such as chicken or turkey breast, egg whites, and low-fat dairy products such as skim milk and low-fat cheese. Healthy fats can be added to meals by using olive or sunflower oils, adding nuts to recipes, or consuming oily fish, such as salmon or trout. Avoid friend foods, junk foods, or processed foods that contain shortening, butter, or trans fats.