There are a lot of different diets and healthy eating tips on the Internet. This probably isn’t news to you—I mean, I’m one to blame for some of the healthy eating content out there right now. I’ve written all kinds of stories regarding nutrition—some as generic as healthy eating habits, and others as specific as what happens to your body when you eat kale. I enjoy learning the specifics in nutrition science, but most people on average are just looking for simple, easy answers when it comes to eating healthy. So I thought I would simplify things for you right here with an easy guide on how to eat a healthy diet. Let’s dig in.
First, let me clarify the use of the word “diet.” I am not saying that we are going on a diet, or that this is a weight loss diet plan. Because it’s not. The word “diet” is simply used because it defines a way of eating, not that we are restricting food. Again, restricting food doesn’t scientifically work long term.
The below suggestions are a mixture of nutrition research I’ve personally done, as well as some best practices from one of my good nutrition friends. Amy Goodson, MS, RD, CSSD, LD is a board-certified specialist in sports dietetics, a consultant, and even an author of the book The Sports Nutrition Playbook. Amy and I chat often about nutrition for my stories on EatThis.com, and I always find her insight valuable.
So let’s make this simple, shall we? Here’s my easy formula to eat a healthy diet.
My formula to eat a healthy diet
It’s probably going to be a lot easier than you think. While there are a lot of people online that tell you to eat a certain way, almost every registered dietitian I’ve ever talked to recommends the same formula to me—and it works.
It comes from the USDA MyPlate Guidelines, a simple visual chart that can help you set up a perfectly healthy plate of food every time. Here’s what to do:
- Fill 1/2 of your plate with vegetables & fruit. Keep it colorful so you’ll constantly get a variety of nutrients! You can eat all vegetables, or all fruit, or a combination of both.
- Fill 1/4 of your plate with a protein. Keep it lean as often as possible, but never be afraid to enjoy your favorite burger or steak every once in a while.
- Fill 1/4 of your plate with a grain. High-fiber whole grains are best for digestive health, but again, don’t restrict yourself from the starches you love.
Simple, right? It’s an incredibly easy formula to follow, and because of how this formula is set up, you will finish off your meal feeling full and satisfied for hours afterward.
Now, what about fats or dairy products? The MyPlate guidelines don’t have this directly on your plate because—while still an important part of your diet—it isn’t always needed for every meal. However, it’s still important to get dairy into your diet. Choosing a Greek yogurt as a protein element is a good way to get dairy, or having a glass of milk with dinner can be a great option. Hey, even enjoying ice cream for dessert sneaks more dairy into your diet!
How about healthy fats? Fatty foods are also important for your diet—especially omega-3 fatty acids. One way I find myself adding some fat into my diet is actually through the materials I cook with. Tossing veggies in olive oil before roasting them, or spreading a teaspoon of butter on a whole-grain English muffin are both easy ways to get some fat into my diet. Healthy, fatty foods keep you full—it is not the enemy!
Is the formula really that simple? Yes, truly, it is. If you do this with every plate that you put together, you’ll find yourself with a satisfying meal every single time.
Why this is an important way to eat?
What’s the point? Let’s circle back to last week’s post. We know that eating a healthy diet does more for us than losing weight. Eating healthy is the ultimate form of self-care because it provides our body with energy, it makes us feel good, it puts us in a good mood, it fuels our muscles, and it even helps to ward off chronic diseases.
However, if you need even more convincing, here are a few of the points Amy shared regarding a healthy diet:
“A ‘healthy diet’ can be different for different people, but overall, it’s an eating pattern that:
- Provides the body with the nutrients it needs to support health and help prevent disease and illness
- Provides optimal energy to go to work, school and accomplish daily activities
- Fuels exercise and helps you reach your goals
- Tastes delicious and is satisfying
- Allows for the celebrations of like like birthday parties, holidays and vacations.”
Easy meals to throw together following this formula
I’m all about an easy formula—I use them for everything. Sheet pan dinners, salads, and even charcuterie boards. I find having a formula makes it easier to create meals that are healthy and flavorful—with very minimal effort.
Here are some clever meals using this formula that Amy suggested:
- Oatmeal with nuts and berries and Greek yogurt
- Egg scramble with veggies and cheese, whole-grain toast, and fruit
- Whole grain turkey sandwich with cheese, veggies and avocado, side salad and fruit
- Whole wheat tortilla with lean protein, cheese, veggies, and hummus with a small salad containing nuts and fruit
- Chicken, quinoa, and veggie stir fry with colorful veggies
- Salmon, sweet potato, salad with vinaigrette dressing, and fruit
- Lean beef and veggie kabobs, roasted potatoes, and salad
And here are a few of my recipes that include all of the elements in the above formula:
- Fluffy Scrambled Eggs w/ Toast or Avocado Toast (add fruit!)
- Strawberry Greek Yogurt Bowl
- Shakshuka (add toasted whole-wheat pita!)
- Pumpkin Pancakes (add fruit!) or Banana Oatmeal Pancakes
- Spinach Omelette Breakfast Sandwich
- Bacon Veggie Frittata (add fruit or a side salad!)
- Roasted Chickpea Greek Salad or Buffalo Chickpea Salad
- Sweet Potato Turkey Chili (add a side salad!)
- Chicken Flatbread
- BLT Sandwich
- Greek Pasta Salad
- Goddess Arugula Bowl
- Chicken Salad on whole-grain bread
- Buffalo Chicken Meatball Bowl
- Baked Feta Pasta Skillet
- Pork Fried Rice
- Healthier Fish & Chips (add a side salad!)
- Chicken Sausage Sweet Potato Bake
- Supreme Pasta Bake
- One-Pot Bolognese (add a side salad!)
- Kielbasa Foil Packs (add a whole-wheat pita!)
- Cajun Shrimp Sheet Pan Dinner
- Cheeseburgers (add a side salad!)
- Creamy Chicken Pasta with Sun-Dried Tomatoes (add a side salad!)
- Chicken Thigh Sheet Pan Dinner
Easy protein entrees to make (add salad & carb)
Choose one of the following as your protein on the 1/4 of your plate, and you can easily add a side salad or roasted vegetables (like Brussels sprouts or carrot fries) with a carb. Zucchini fritters are my favorite, as well as oven baked fries, risotto, and homemade gnocchi.
- Baked Salmon
- Crispy Breaded Chicken
- Easy ‘Pop’ Roast
- Dutch Oven Roast Chicken
- Lemon Garlic Shrimp
- Crispy Chicken Thighs
- Buffalo Chicken Wings
- Creamy Roasted Red Pepper Chicken
- Creamy Tuscan Chicken