Balanced Meal Basics

Excerpted from L’Chaim: 18 Chapters to Live By, the Torah-based book on health written by Dr. Shmuel Shields

Shmuel Shields, Ph.D., N.Y.S. Certified Nutritionist,

Balanced Meal Basics
Balanced Meal Basics
Balanced Meal Basics

Mrs. B. was an energetic balebusta, busy juggling family and work responsibilities, often at a frenetic pace. Unexpectedly, when her son Avi turned three, he developed into a dramatically fussy eater—to the point that his diet consisted mostly of white bread and jelly sandwiches. Mealtime was now an ongoing power struggle. What could she do to reverse this turnaround?

After consulting with Avi’s pediatrician about basic food guidelines for preschoolers, Mrs. B. attacked a stack of child-nutrition books at her local library. That night, Mrs. B. initiated a new approach to Avi’s eating habits.

“From now on, Avi,” she told him as an introduction to dinner, “we’re going to have more fun with our meals. Look at these orange and green wheels that I’m slicing from this carrot and cucumber. Aren’t these the same shapes as the wheels on your new tricycle? Let’s see how they roll around in this delicious avocado dip. The avocado looks and feels to me almost like the green finger paint you use at your preschool. What do you think?”

Noticing Avi’s interest in her game, Mrs. B. continued, “Let’s bite into these wheels dipped in the finger paint and see how they taste. Of course, we don’t eat real wheels and finger paint because they’re not foods, but we’re making believe that the carrot, cucumber, and avocado are wheels in finger paint.”

Avi followed her lead and dipped a cucumber into the avocado and took a bite. “Pretty yummy, right?” Mrs. B. said. “And besides being yummy, these vegetables will help you grow big, healthy, and strong!”

Over time, with repeated exposure to a variety of healthier foods, Mrs. B. was delighted to see Avi’s growing compliance and even enthusiasm at mealtime.

A busy balebusta is constantly faced with the challenge of designing meals that please her family’s taste buds and keep everyone healthy at the same time. The key is to prepare foods that are both tasty and nutrient-rich and to make sure they are served in properly balanced proportions. Ideally, each lunch and dinner meal should consist of a hearty serving of vegetables (cooked, raw, or both), together with smaller amounts of healthy carbohydrates and proteins.

What is considered a balanced proportion?

Imagine your plate divided in half. Fill one half of it with vegetables. Half of the plate’s other half should contain unprocessed, whole carbohydrates. These include brown rice, sweet potato, corn, whole-wheat pasta, whole-spelt pasta, whole-wheat bread, or buckwheat (kasha). Finally, fill the remaining quarter of your plate with lean protein foods, such as fish, lean white-meat chicken or turkey, an egg, or low-fat cheese.

Proteins don’t just come in the form of animal products. Plant proteins are nutritious alternatives to animal proteins. Chickpeas, beans (such as lima beans, kidney beans, or pinto beans), soy protein (soybeans, tofu, or tempeh), and legumes (peas, peanuts, or lentils) are examples of these. As a general rule, serving sizes of animal proteins should be no more than three ounces, or the equivalent of half a cup of plant protein, such as beans or lentils.

What about fats and oils? Although small amounts are essential for optimal health, they should be eaten sparingly because of their high caloric value. And the truth is, all natural whole foods contain varying amounts of fats. With a varied diet, you can meet your needs for this food group from eating healthy foods alone. Raw, unsalted nuts and seeds are excellent food sources of dietary fat. Just make sure to eat them in moderation.

When planning a meal that includes more than one course, consider starting with soup or a salad. These high-fiber foods will satiate you from the onset and keep you from overeating. A hearty salad might consist of a variety of colorful vegetables, including leafy greens (such as lettuce, kale, or collard greens), red and yellow peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, and carrots. Use salad dressings sparingly. Avoid salads prepared with mayonnaise; instead, squeeze fresh lemon over salads as an all-purpose flavor enhancer. Fresh lemon can also be combined with olive oil and herbs to make a dressing.

A wholesome soup can boost the nutritional value of any meal. Their liquid state makes soups easy to digest and absorb. A nutritious soup made from beans, lentils, or peas provides you with valuable fiber, protein, and carbohydrates. Vegetable and fruit soups are rich in essential nutrients as well. Chilled beet borscht or clear broth are also good choices.

When it comes to dessert, your best choice is to skip it if you’re already full—or follow the Mediterranean Diet approach. This refers to the traditional eating patterns of the countries that border the Mediterranean Sea. In terms of desserts, healthy options eaten in these countries include fruit compote, dried fruit, baked apple, a whole-grain sweet biscuit (similar to a graham cracker), a homemade oatmeal cookie, a whole-grain muffin, or a piece of dark chocolate. A small serving of nuts serves as another wholesome dessert choice. Almonds, hazelnuts, cashews, and walnuts are a few tasty varieties.          

Excerpted from L’Chaim: 18 Chapters to Live By, the Torah-based book on health written by Dr. Shmuel Shields.  Dr. Shields is a N.Y.S. Certified Nutritionist who works with children and adults. For the latest health developments visit  To order L’Chaim directly through the author or for a consultation with Dr. Shields, contact him at or call (718) 544-4036.  Most insurance plans are accepted.  House calls, phone and e-mail consultations, and guest speaking can be arranged.