How to Create a Balanced Meal

You’re here. Our guess is that you’re confused or unconvinced about what a balanced meal looks like. You may have had a go at a couple of diet dos and don’ts but nothing really struck a chord with you or stuck, and now you’re more determined than ever to crack the code for the sake of your health. cue champion music

If you’ve been listening to anything we’ve been saying, you’re also probably wondering what a balanced meal looks like for your unique metabolic personality (prakruti). We’ll get there in a bit. But first, let’s address the killjoy: overthinking.

Intuitive Eating: Don’t Overthink It, You’ll Just Know

Most people overthink when trying to eat healthy, trying to nail every single food group, keep within calorie counts, keep up with diet trends, mimic diet plans of fit celebrities – the stress of it all is enough to trigger a burgers-and-fries spree. Some may even complain that they barely get time to sit down and eat a proper meal, forget plan it. Hear! Hear!

But what if we told you that you could let go of all this unnecessary stress? That healthy eating can come down to strong hunches? And that there’s thousands of years of Ayurvedic science to vouch for it?

You’re welcome.

So, here’s what you do. Stop looking for your dietary answers everywhere else but within.

A downright basic instinct like eating has to come from how you feel on the inside. Like when you see a food, smell it, and taste it, how you feel immediately after eating it and then the morning after.

What’s fascinating is you’ll naturally prefer foods that balance your metabolic personality – without even realizing it! Think about it. Over the years, your body has created a roster of foods that make it feel good and those that don’t. That programming has already happened. What you need to do now is just be more aware and feed into it.

So, intuitively decide what you should cook today, which dish you should order from a menu, or which sections you should skip at a buffet. Intuitive eating is your best and safest bet as far as your diet goes, and trust us, it will never fail you.

But what about those intense cravings for chocolates or fries or coffee? Is it okay to indulge then? Isn’t that your body telling you what it wants?

Umm, no, that’s just your mind messing with you. Feel-good foods like these are mostly about immediate gratification and do nothing for your health, when they’re not harming you. However, if it’s natural, whole foods that you’re craving, like grape juice or oatmeal or stewed apples, give in because that’s probably your body saying “I need this.”

Now no one expects you to reach zen levels of intuitive eating overnight. It’ll take time to re-sensitize your taste buds to tastes and textures of foods that are right for you, but give it that time. And go at your own pace. At the end of the day, you should be enjoying what you eat, not punishing yourself.

Eat Seasonally and Locally: Whole, Unprocessed, Fresh

This is so, so important and should be your starting point, even before tapping into your intuition.

Just by sticking to fresh, whole fruits and vegetables of the season, you’ll be doing yourself a HUGE favor. It avoids the whole problem of processed foods that you often don’t know enough about (danger! danger!).

Seasonal produce is also in tune with, well, the seasons – like kiwifruit in spring, watermelons in summer, cranberries in the fall, and oranges in the winter. This is important because you need to balance out the effects of the weather too. Your body reacts and behaves differently in summer than it does in winter, doesn’t it?

By buying groceries from a local market, you’ll also be supporting your local economy!

Eat For YOU: Cater to Your Metabolic Personality

So, you’re buying your seasonal produce and playing your hunches. If you did only this and nothing else, you already have loads to gain.

But once you’re feeling a little more confident in your food choices, you could start looking at your meals through these very chic metabolic personality lenses.

This is not meant to be restrictive or controlling in any way. Everybody can eat everything in moderation – excluding foods to which you are allergic or that are not good for health conditions you may have. What you need to take a second look at is the foods that are your staples, your go-tos – they should balance your prakruti.

So, say you’re trying out a new Korean restaurant around the block, by all means, experiment! But say you become a regular there, it would help to know which items on the menu are better suited for you. We promise it’s not as complicated as it sounds!

Qualities to Look Out For

Memorize the qualities applicable to you so you don’t have to constantly refer to long lists of foods to eat and avoid [use the mnemonics if you need help remembering]. Your intuitive sense will soon catch up.

  • Light and Quick: heavy, warm, oily/moist, smooth [Haley wears orange socks]
  • Slow and Steady: light, warm, dry, rough [Lisa wears dotted ribbons]
  • Intense: cool/cold, heavy, dry, mild [Cindy has denim mittens]

You’ll notice that the qualities of food you need to look for are the opposite of your own body’s qualities.

[P.S. Let none of this overwhelm you. Don’t go looking for that PERFECT meal, but try to put a little thought into your food before it’s in your mouth. Maybe start with the warm or cool foods first?]

Prioritize the qualities in the order they’re given. So say you’re predominantly ‘slow and steady’, the lightness of the food is most important for you, more so than the food being warm. If given the choice between refrigerated cauliflower (light and cool) and freshly cooked beet (dense and warm), pick refrigerated cauliflower because that’s how important lightness is for you.

Let’s look at a different scenario. Say you’re ‘intense’ and you know tomatoes are not great for you but you still want to eat them, choose roasted tomatoes or a tomato salad over a tomato soup because dry trumps moist for the ‘intense’ type.

For those of you who need a crash course in identifying qualities in food, continue reading. If you feel you already have a good sense, skip to the shortcuts.

Pinpointing the Qualities of Foods

Unless you’re eating fruits as is or vegetables in something like a simple salad, it can get tricky putting your finger on the qualities of a dish. But not if you have a clear understanding of what you’re looking for!

  • Light vs. Heavy: The weight or density of the food

Light: salads, popcorn, apples, spinach, honey

Dense: root vegetables, bread, red meat, stewed fruits, bananas, dairy, nuts and seeds (don’t go for very heavy foods like deep-fries or canned/processed foods; they are out-and-out unhealthy)

  • Warm vs. Cool: In temperature or the effect on your body

Warm: warm in temperature (soup, hot beverage) or warming to your body (chilis, most spices, mangoes, alcohol)

Cool: cold in temperature (refrigerated leftovers, frozen food, chilled soda) or cooling to your body (mint, cucumber, beets)

The effect on your body may sometimes be straightforward as with chilis and mint, but in other cases like for mangoes or beets, it may take some reading up to build that knowledge.

  • Dry vs Oily or Moist: Pretty straightforward; dryness vs the greasiness or water content of the food

Dry: dried fruits, popcorn, wine (drying to the mouth), crackers, white potatoes, beans

Oily: avocado, cheese, fried eggs, nuts and seeds, olives

Moist: soups, stews, melons, zucchini, yogurt

  • Rough vs Smooth: Again straightforward; go by the texture of the food

Rough: cabbage, cauliflower, dark leafy greens like kale

Smooth: bananas, avocados, soft cheese, pudding, puréed soup

  • Mild vs. Sharp: The kick in the taste is the giveaway

Mild: cucumbers, apples, lime juice

Sharp: vinegar, pineapples, pickles, nicotine, caffeine, hard alcohol

Some Shortcuts You Can Use Immediately

As you train yourself to look at ingredients and dishes a little more closely, here’s what you can do immediately:

Light and Quick:

  • Have 4–5 smaller meals in the day instead of the standard 3 square ones
  • Eat well-cooked, warm food
  • Top your food with oil or ghee and digestive spices (bay leaves, black pepper, cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, garlic, paprika, turmeric)
  • Eat at the same time every day so you have a routine

Slow and Steady:

  • Serve yourself smaller portions
  • Make sure your food is warm or freshly cooked
  • Add digestive spices whenever you can (ginger, garlic, oregano, turmeric, black pepper, cayenne, cumin)
  • Cook your vegetables

Intense:

  • Cook your food well and serve it warm
  • Top it with oil or ghee and digestive spices (fresh basil, coriander, cardamom, mint)
  • Eat at the same time every day and eat in a peaceful environment so you are more aware of what you’re eating and don’t end up overeating

When, How Much? Listen to Your Body, Not Your Mind

Eat when you’re hungry. If you keep up an eating schedule, you’ll feel hungry around the same time every day. To know whether you’re really hungry, look for signs from your body instead of your mind. You’ll hear your stomach growl, you’ll feel a pit in your stomach, and if you wait too long, you may even feel a headache coming on.

Your body will also tell you how much to eat. Eat till you’re almost full – when you can eat more but you know you’ll feel stuffed if you do.

Don’t confuse yourself with the gazillion rules out there about whether breakfast should be your biggest meal of the day (according to the Western diet) or lunch should be your biggest (according to Ayurveda). Like we said, just focus on eating till you are almost full. What most diets are in agreement with, though, is that dinner should be your lightest meal of the day, only practical if you’ve at least had one other heavier meal.

Don’t Forget to Balance Your Food Groups

Now that you know how to balance your meals according to your prakruti, it’s time to account for food groups as well. The goal is to get in a healthy mix of protein, complex carbohydrates, fibrous veggies, and a little bit of fat.

Yes FAT. Despite all the misinformation that may have reached your ears, your body needs it, healthy versions of it. It’s no coincidence that your brain is at least 60% fat and four major vitamins, A, D, E, and K, are fat soluble!

Include all three types of fat in your diet – saturated, monounsaturated, polyunsaturated – roughly in equal proportions (⅓, ⅓, ⅓).

  • Saturated fat: animal fats (red meat, butter, ghee), tropical oils (coconut oil)
  • Monounsaturated fat: most nuts (almonds, pecans, hazelnuts, peanuts/peanut butter), avocados, olives/olive oil
  • Polyunsaturated fat: most other oils; like oily fish, walnuts, pine nuts, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds

Here, too, remember to factor in the nature of the food and lean toward those that help you stay in balance. A few other pointers:

  • Choose fats that are unprocessed (goodbye trans fats!): Stick to whole foods, foods that are naturally oily (deep fries aren’t). This gets tricky with cooking oils because, unless you’re making them from scratch, all commercially available oils have undergone some degree of processing. Since you most likely won’t have the luxury of avoiding them, at least cultivate a preference for ‘extra virgin’ and ‘cold pressed’.
  • Get more omega-3s than omega-6s: Excess of omega 6s is bad for your heart. Don’t completely avoid them though, you still need them.
  • Decide how much fat you need based on your metabolic personality: Overall, ‘light and quick’ individuals need a little more oiliness in their system, while the ‘slow and steady’ need a little less. So, ‘light and quick’ meat eaters could do with fatty cuts, while ‘slow and steady’ meat eaters should have leaner cuts.

Now assuming that you’ve responsibly included some fat in your meal (as toppings like chopped nuts or a drizzle of oil or as cooking oil or as a side of sliced avocados), if there were to be a drone hovering over your plate, here’s what it should look like:

Certain Foods Just Don’t Go Well Together

Either they leave you confused as their tastes clash (sour green apples and sweet figs), they are both difficult to digest (eggs and cheese are both protein), they digest at different rates (fruit digests quicker than dairy), or they make you really feeeel the weather (chilis in summer!).

Remember when we said not to overthink? We meant it. So, go with your gut here as well. If you know certain food combos make you feel heavy and sluggish or give you acidity or an upset stomach, avoid them.

We would, however, like to introduce you to the 3 loners that like to be loners:

Protein: Don’t have different types of protein in the same meal; go with one. Maybe don’t club bacon and ham in your sandwich or fish and milk in your curry?

Fruit: Keep your fruits separate. They’re best eaten on their own and preferably grouped according to taste, like apples and pears. If you must add them to dishes, add smaller quantities and cook them first.

Milk: Consider milk to be a meal on its own. You’re still good to have it with oatmeal though. With fruits? Best not make that your normal.

Now we know a lot of popular dishes like pancakes, fruit-flavored yogurts, even pizza don’t follow these rules. But maybe next time you have something like that, make it a point to notice how heavy or light you feel or if there’s any uneasiness caused. Take a call accordingly.

Also, if you must have a food combo that is not ideal, at least try topping it with digestive herbs and/or spices.

Cooking for the Family

Oh, the task of pleasing everyone’s metabolic personalities! Right? Not really. Like we said, just cook seasonal foods, that’s the most important rule. To meet everyone’s unique needs, add toppings separately. Keep them in small containers on the dining table so that your family members can easily reach out for them.

Meals You Know But Could Make Your Own

This is just to give you an idea and is in no way restrictive. Pick and choose what you like from your relevant list (don’t include the meats if you’re vegetarian or vegan) and apply the logic to whatever else you eat.

BREAKFAST

  • Light and Quick: eggs + buttered toast + cheese + mashed sweet potatoes + bacon + avocados + orange juice + PB&J + coffee creamy & sweet (only cup for the day)
  • Slow and Steady: toast without butter + eggs + mushrooms + roasted tomatoes + mashed white potatoes + berries + black coffee (only cup for the day)
  • Intense: unsalted butter and toast + baked beans + mashed white potato + apple/watermelon juice + fruit salad + no-cream coffee sweetened with organic maple syrup/cane sugar (only cup for the day)

LUNCH

Pasta

  • Light and Quick: whole wheat pasta + sautéed vegetables (carrots, peas, zucchini, fennel stalks, leeks) + roasted chicken + black pepper + pecans + parmesan’s cheese + cow’s milk
  • Slow and Steady: soba or buckwheat noodles + red pepper purée as the base + sautéed vegetables (broccoli, red bell peppers, asparagus, peas) + black pepper + goat’s cheese
  • Intense: white sauce pasta (not tomato based) + sautéed vegetables (broccoli, carrots, leeks, peas, bell peppers) + roasted chicken/shrimp + cow’s milk + soft cheese

Cobb salad

  • Light and Quick: hard-boiled eggs + bacon + chicken breast + avocados + lettuce + red wine vinaigrette + Roquefort cheese (soft)
  • Slow and Steady: hard-boiled eggs + tomatoes + lettuce + chives + chicken leg (not the breast) + red wine vinaigrette (in small amounts) + goat’s cheese (feta)
  • Intense: chicken breast + avocados + lettuce + Shiitake mushrooms (baked in strips) + red wine vinaigrette (in small amounts)/ lime juice + Roquefort cheese (soft)

Deli sandwich/Cuban sandwich

  • Light and Quick: chicken breast/dark turkey meat/beef/eggs + cheddar cheese + lettuce + onions + mayonnaise/mustard + ketchup
  • Slow and Steady: light or dark turkey meat/catfish/eggs + goat’s cheese + tomatoes + bell peppers + lettuce + onions + mustard [+ sausages/ham only if there’s lemon juice + bitter greens like kale]
  • Intense: chicken breast/light turkey meat + soft cheese (Roquefort) + lettuce + onions + sweet bell peppers + mayonnaise [+ sausages/ham only if there’s something sour like lemon juice + bitter greens like kale]

DINNER

Soup

  • Light and Quick: creamy thick soup + cumin, coriander, black pepper [clam chowder]
  • Slow and Steady: clear, spicy soup + ginger, garlic, onions [Tom Yum Kung]
  • Intense: thick, non-spicy soup (maybe coconut milk based) + cucumber, parsley, pumpkin [pumpkin soup]

Steak

  • Light and Quick: beef/chicken steak in black pepper sauce + baked sweet potatoes + carrots + spinach/lettuce
  • Slow and Steady: chicken thigh steak in garlic sauce + mashed potatoes + steamed broccoli + mustard greens + peas
  • Intense: chicken breast in pesto sauce + mashed potatoes + sautéed broccoli + peas + green beans + sweet peppers

Chinese takeout

  • Light and Quick: butter garlic fried rice + orange chicken/kung pao chicken + stir-fried bok choy [overall: sweet, spicy, sour]
  • Slow and Steady: corn fried rice + chili chicken cubes (cheng du chicken) + mapo tofu (tofu, chili, beans) [overall: spicy, light, dry]
  • Intense: vegetable fried rice/wheat noodles + moo goo gai pan (chicken, mushrooms) + teriyaki cauliflower [overall: non-spicy, filling]

We know it may feel like a lot to taken in right now, but know that so many people are not having to deal with the stress of ill health just because they eat right. Start somewhere. Come back to this article whenever you’re confused.

Keep it whole. Keep it fresh. Keep it simple. Happy nomnoming!