Building Nourishing Meals

What is a nourishing meal?

I like to think of a nourishing meal as a meal that consists of a variety of foods and ingredients that promote health by providing essential nutrients, while also providing satisfaction through flavors, textures, aromas, and visual appeal. I believe all of these factors play a role in the enjoyment of our meals. Eating foods that provide healthful nutrients help us feel physically well, while the taste and presentation help us feel mentally, and sometimes even emotionally, satisfied.

Other components of a nourishing meal may include the setting it takes place in, whether it's a social setting with loved ones or new acquaintances or possibly alone while recharging after a long day.

A nourishing meal likely means something a little different to everyone, but generally speaking, a nourishing meal should elicit some kind of positivity -- whether it is physical, mental, or emotional. And unlike what you may be led to believe, eating to satisfy an emotional feeling is not necessarily negative. There are certainly times when this should be addressed, particularly when it occurs for an extended period of time, but eating to cope with emotions from a recent event or resurfaced feelings may be just what you need, along with some time, before you're able to fully heal and face your thoughts head-on. Food is essential to live; it's not something we can just push aside and forget about. Allow food to work for you -- whether it be fueling movement, providing energy to get you through the day ahead, allowing you to get together with family and friends while enjoying a satisfying meal, or helping you temporarily cope with distressing feelings.

For this post, I'm going to focus mainly on the components of a nourishing meal from more of a physical health standpoint. For those who are confused by the constant messages telling you what and how to eat and want to know of an eating pattern that actually promotes health for most people, I will provide some guidance. Now, these guidelines are not meant to be strict; rather they are meant to be flexible to allow you to eat with knowledge but not restriction. (Those with food allergies or other health conditions should speak directly with a doctor or dietitian for specific help.)

 
Allow food to work for you — whether it be fueling movement, providing energy to get you through the day ahead, allowing you to get together with family and friends while enjoying a satisfying meal, or helping you temporarily cope with distressing feelings.
— Collette Sinnott, RD, ACSM-CPT
 
 

Food components in a nourishing meal

  • Non-starchy vegetables: artichokes, asparagus, beets, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, eggplant, garlic, greens/lettuces, mushrooms, onions, peppers, snap peas, squash, tomatoes, zucchini... AND MORE!
    • Aim to fill 1/3 to 1/2 of your plate with non-starchy vegetables
      • The fiber in non-starchy vegetables promotes heart- and gut-health, while phytonutrients, vitamins, and minerals help boost immunity, prevent cancer, and help your body function optimally!
  • Protein: eggs, meat, poultry, fish & seafood, legumes (beans, soybeans & tofu, peas, lentils, peanuts), nuts & seeds, dairy (milk, yogurt, cheese)
    • Aim to fill 1/4 to 1/2 of your plate with a protein source
  • Carbohydrates: starchy vegetables (potatoes, peas), legumes (beans, soybeans, peas, lentils, peanuts), nuts & seeds, grains & pseudograins (rice, quinoa, amaranth, bulgar, barley, oats, wheat, corn, pasta, bread)
    • Aim to fill 1/4 to 1/3 of your plate with carbohydrates
      • When choosing grains, try to choose whole-grains most of the time, including whole-grain pasta, brown rice, wild rice, quinoa, whole-grain bread, whole-wheat & corn tortillas, oats, and popcorn
      • The fiber in whole grains and starchy vegetables promotes heart- and gut-health!
  • Fruit: all varieties!
    • Aim to include 1 serving or piece of fruit with each meal
      • The fiber in fruit promotes heart- and gut-health, while phytonutrients, vitamins, and minerals help boost immunity, prevent cancer, and help your body function optimally!
  • Dairy: milk, yogurt, cheese, cottage cheese
    • If you're a dairy-eater, aim to include 2-3 servings throughout the day
      • Dairy foods provide calcium, phosphorous, potassium, and sometimes vitamin D if the product is fortified
      • Cultured dairy products, like yogurt and kefir, contain probiotics which may deliver beneficial bacteria to your gut
  • Fats: eggs, meat, poultry, fish & seafood, legumes (soybeans, peanuts), nuts & seeds, dairy products, oils, avocados
    • There is no specific guideline for amount of fat on its own because most people eat an adequate amount of fat by consuming the above foods throughout the day
      • Fish & seafood, walnuts, flaxseeds, chia seeds, and canola oil all contain a significant amount of omega-3 fatty acids which are essential for brain- and heart-health and for managing inflammation in the body
      • Unsaturated fats found in plant foods, like soybeans, peanuts, nuts & seeds, avocados, and olive & canola oils, have a positive effect on our heart-health
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