Putting together a meal or snack that’s tasty and has variety can sometimes feel overwhelming. How do you pull something together that’s going to be pleasing to your taste buds, give you energy for right now, give you nutrients that your body needs, and keep you feeling full until the next time you eat?
It actually doesn’t need to be complicated if you use a simple framework. This is a tool that we love here at the Dr. Yum Project and a key piece of nutrition education that we share with all of our physician partners, community partners, and in our classes.
The framework is this: For each meal or snack, aim to include a source of carbohydrate, protein, fiber, and fat.
When each of these is present, your meal or snack will have a mixture of flavors, textures, nutrients, and energy sources that will leave you feeling satisfied. Each part of this meal and snack structure does something different for our bodies.
Carbohydrates, or carbs, give us quick energy that our body can use in the short term. They are also the preferred source of energy for our brain. Carbs are found in foods like grains, potatoes, peas, corn, fruits, beans, and lentils.
Protein is used in the growth, repair, and maintenance of body tissues. When we are injured, our body needs more protein to heal. Protein is found in foods like meat, poultry, fish, eggs, beans, lentils, nuts, and seeds.
Fiber is important for healthy digestion. It adds bulk to our food and helps us have healthy bowel movements. Fiber is found in foods like vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, and lentils.
Fats are necessary for the absorption of certain vitamins in the food we eat. Vitamin A, Vitamin D, Vitamin E, and Vitamin K all need fat to be absorbed. Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of essential fat, meaning that we must get them from the foods we eat. Fat is found in foods like oils, cheese, meat, poultry, fish, nuts, and seeds.
Of course, there are many foods that fit into each of these categories and some foods even fit in more than one! For example, nuts have both protein and fat, while apples have carbs and fiber. For more examples of foods included in each group, see our Building a Satisfying Meal or Snack handout.
This framework is flexible. You can use it with the foods that you personally like or that are common to your family’s cuisine. Good nutrition is never about any one particular food. It’s about a pattern of eating that includes a variety of foods that you enjoy and that give your body different nutrients!
So the next time you’re meal planning or looking in your fridge and pantry for something to eat, use this tool to help simplify the process.