Do you struggle with figuring out what to have for dinner AND you want it to be a healthy dinner?

It doesn’t have to be complicated. Keep it simple by picking something from each food group. Chicken + broccoli + rice + peaches. Done!

What Healthy Dinners are made of

The absolute key to a healthy dinner is including at least 3 food groups. Most often, you want the 3 groups to be protein, vegetables, and grains. It’s not a hard and fast requirement, but if you begin shaping the majority of your dinners with those 3 groups, you’re in good shape!

Then add in fruit for something sweet, fats for cooking each food, and cheese or dairy as an accent.

You may be wondering why proteins, grains, and vegetables specific groups are my priority for a healthy dinner. Well, they make sure you’ve got your macronutrients and micronutrients covered. When you think of a dinner in terms of the groups, there’s no reason to carefully count specific nutrients. Just balance the groups and you’re good to go.

When it’s simplified down to the food groups, kids are terrific planning assistants. Beginning around kindergarten, and sometimes as early as preschool, kids learn how to sort foods into their groups. When you feel stuck for ideas, just ask your nearest child for a protein, vegetable or grain suggestion. There’s a good chance they’ll enjoy being a part of the process. There’s also a good chance they’ll eat what they suggest!

***Although, don’t expect kids to always eat the things they suggest… that’s just not realistic 😉

Pick a protein

This includes meat, poultry, seafood (fresh, frozen, or canned), beans and peas (fresh, dried, or canned), eggs, soy products, nuts, and seeds. Bonus: Beans and peas also count as vegetables!

Pick a vegetable

Leafy greens, beans or peas, potatoes, winter squashes, dark green, light green, red, orange or white (mushrooms, onions, bean sprouts) vegetables. Fresh, frozen or canned vegetables all count. There are so many options.

Pick a grain

Wheat, rice, oats, corn, barley and any other whole grain. This also includes any grain product like bread, pasta, and tortillas.

The goal is for most of your grains to be whole as opposed to refined. Whole grains include precious fiber, which is lost when grains are refined. Look for the word “Whole” in the ingredient list or “100% Whole” on the front of the package.

Pick a fruit

Any fruit will do. Just pick one everyone likes. You can also think of fruit as dessert, but include it with the rest of the meal. No matter what else the kids will eat at the meal, at the least they will eat the fruit!

Add anything else!

Fats or oils are often used to cook the proteins, vegetables, or grains at dinner. Same goes for cheese in the dairy group. Think of oil, cheese, and other dairy as accents, not a main feature. A little here and there rounds out the meal.

How much of each group?

When you look at your dinner plate, think about having at least half vegetables, then a quarter grains and a quarter protein. If you’re making a one-dish dinner (something like a soup or a casserole) you’ll want the ingredients to be in the half to quarter to quarter ratio.

Choose MyPlate has fruits included in the vegetable half. It also has grains being a little more than a quarter while protein is less than a quarter. Your meal does not need to be perfect! This info is only a guideline.

In Closing

So there you have my outline for a healthy dinner. It need not be complex. Remember at least 3 food groups, ask your kids for help, and keep it simple.

While the meal to the left may look a little plain, it has balance and was ready in 15 minutes! I picked up a rotisserie chicken, microwaved green beans, cooked whole wheat couscous, and cut up a pineapple. You cannot beat a 15 minute dinner on a weeknight.

Happy eating!