This approach to creating a healthy menu plan is based on including selections from at least three food groups at each meal (two groups for snacks).
Throughout the day you will need to vary which food groups you choose, with the Fruit and Vegetable Group as the most prominent and the Fat Group with the least number of selections. Your other selections will be from the Grains, Protein and Dairy Groups.
Building a healthy meal
Another way of talking about a healthy menu plan is to start with your main food, usually a Protein food, then add a food from the Grain or Dairy Group and several selections from the Fruit and Vegetable Group, with occasional additions from the Fat Group. When all the foods are on your plate, there should be a colorful variety that is attractive to the eye and pleasing to the palate.
Overall, you should limit high fat foods, those with added sugar and overly processed foods that are high in sodium and chemical additives. This includes most fast foods.
Scroll down to the bottom of the page for more information about the food groups and particularly the serving sizes for the foods within these groups.
To help you create a healthy menu plan, here are some comparisons of good choices and poor choices. You will see that each of the good choices includes at least three food groups, and the poor choices tend to focus on simple carbs and fats, neglecting the group that should be the most plentiful, Fruits and Vegetables.
Healthy menu plan choices for breakfast
--Greek yogurt, plain, (may be fat free) with fresh or frozen blueberries and some slice almonds or walnut pieces (Dairy group, Fruit and Vegetable Group, Protein group)
--Oatmeal or seven-grain hot cereal with freshly ground flax, a chopped apple, cinnamon and milk (Grains group, Protein Group, Fruit and Vegetable Group, Dairy Group)
--Two scrambled eggs with tomatoes and asparagus, sweet potato cubes and a slice of whole wheat toast with peanut butter (Protein Group, Fruit and Vegetable Group, Grains Group)
--Pancakes made with whole grain flour, topped with fruit or a bit of real maple syrup and a glass of milk. (Grains Group, Fruit and Vegetable Group, Dairy Group)
--Cottage cheese with chopped apple, cinnamon and a slice of whole grain toast with nut butter (Dairy Group, Fruit and Vegetable, Grains Group, Protein Group)
--Smoothie made from milk (may use soy or almond milk), berries, plain yogurt or whey protein powder, ground flax or chia seed (Dairy Group, Fruit and Vegetable Group, Protein Group)
Poor choices for breakfast
--A doughnut, toaster pastry or “breakfast bar” and a cup of coffee (Not much real nutrition here, except calories, high in sugar)
--Fried eggs, bacon, white toast with butter, hash browns (High in saturated fat with marginal representation from all but the Protein Group and little or no fiber)
--Pancakes made with white flour and topped with cherry pie filling and whipped cream (High in sugar with very little nutrition to recommend it, except calories)
--A bagel with cream cheese (Most bagels are made with white flour and along with the high fat cream cheese have little, but calories to recommend them.)
--Chocolate flavored “sugar puffs” with milk (Most boxed cereals are loaded with sugar, preservatives and highly processed grains)
--Leftover cold pizza and a soft drink (Not a good way to start your day!)
Healthy menu plan choices for lunch
--Mixed green salad with tomatoes, carrots, red cabbage and chicken breast, vinegar and oil or homemade yogurt ranch dressing (Fruit and Vegetable Group, Protein group, Fat group)
--Fish with lemon, green beans and whole grain role with a dab of butter (Protein group, Fruit and Vegetable Group, Grains Group, Fat Group)
--Minestrone soup with a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese and a whole grain bread stick (Fruit and Vegetable Group, Protein Group, Dairy Group, Grains Group)
--Sandwich made with whole grain bread, a slice of real cheese, tomato and a slice of avocado (lightly toast sandwich until cheese melts) and a half cup of fresh fruit on the side (Grains Group, Dairy Group, Fruit and Vegetable Group)
--Turkey sandwich made with whole grain bread, romaine lettuce, tomatoes and mustard or a dab of mayo with a side of melon. (Protein Group, Grain Group, Fruit and Vegetable Group, Fat Group if mayo is used)
--Bean burrito made with whole grain tortilla and fresh guacamole topped with a dab of Greek yogurt (Protein Group, Grains Group, Fruit and Vegetable Group, Dairy Group)
Poor choices for lunch
--Sandwich made with white bread, hydrogenated, sweetened peanut butter and jelly (High in sugar and not much else to recommend it)
--Open faced roast beef sandwich on white bread with gravy (High in fat and calories and low in other nutrients)
--Two pieces of pepperoni pizza with a coke (High in fat and calories and low in other nutrients)
--Meatball sub sandwich on white bread with potato chips (High in fat and calories and low in other nutrients)
--Boxed Macaroni and Cheese with a side of fruit cocktail (Highly processed foods, loaded with salt, sugar and artificial chemicals)
--Nothing at all or a diet soft drink (Skipping lunch leaves you with a nutrient deficit that will wreak havoc with your blood sugar and possible make you overeat at supper.)
Healthy menu plan choices for supper
--Four bean chili with whole grain cornbread (Protein group, Fruit and Vegetable Group, Grain Group, Fat Group)
--Lean steak made into a stir fry with vegetables over brown rice (Protein Group, Fruit and Vegetable Group, Grains Group, Fat Group)
--Baked chicken breast with carrot-raisin salad and Brussels sprouts (Protein Group, Fruit and Vegetable Group, Fat Group)
--Lean hamburger on whole grain bun with healthy potato salad and carrot sticks and radish curls (Protein Group, Grains Group, Fruit and Vegetable Group, Fat Group)
--Vegetable Lasagna made with whole grain noodles served with a green salad (Grains Group, Dairy Group, Fruit and Vegetable Group)
--Salmon steaks, acorn squash, fresh green salad with dressing (Protein Group, Fruit and Vegetable Group, Fat Group)
Poor choices for supper
--Triple bacon cheeseburger with order of fries and a shake (High in fat and calories and low in nutritional value)
--Fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, corn, white flour biscuit (High in fat and calories and low in nutritional value)
--Prime rib with baked potato, sour cream and white flour dinner roll with butter (High in fat and calories and low in nutritional value, no colorful foods included)
--Fettuccine Alfredo with bread sticks (High in fat and calories and low in nutritional value, no colorful foods included)
--Chimichanga with refried beans made with lard and a side of Spanish rice (Deep-fried, high in fat and trans-fats with no colorful foods included)
--Fried fish with tartar sauce, curly potato fries and coleslaw (Deep fried, high in fat and trans-fats as well as calories)
Healthy menu plan choices for snacks
--A piece of fruit with 1-2 ounces of cheese (softer varieties are better) (Fruit and Vegetable Group, Dairy Group)
--Carrot sticks with hummus (Fruit and Vegetable Group, Protein Group, Fat Group)
--A piece of fruit with a small handful of raw nuts (Fruit and Vegetable Group, Protein Group)
--Edamame and fruit or raw veggies (Protein Group, Fruit and Vegetable Group)
--Air popped popcorn (or oil popped with healthy oil) sprinkled with Parmesan cheese (Grains Group, Dairy Group, Fat Group, if oil is used)
--Avocado chunks and diced tomatoes with feta cheese and a dash of good quality salt (Fruit and Vegetable Group, Dairy Group)
Poor choices for snacks
--Chips, pretzels, cheese balls (Mostly empty calories, too much sodium and other additives)
--Candy bars (Empty calories, high in sugar)
--Cookies, most muffins, snack cakes (Empty calories, high in sugar)
--Cheese corn, caramel corn, kettle corn, movie popcorn and most microwave popcorn (Mostly empty calories, chemical additives for flavor and shelf life)
--Highly sweetened yogurt, pudding cups, and other dessert-like processed foods (High in sugar and chemicals for flavor and shelf life)
--Processed meats such as jerky or beef sticks (Highly processed, too much sodium and cancer-causing nitrites)
I would like to hear from you with your example of healthy menu plans. Also, if you are not sure about a favorite meal, send me a description, and I will take a look at it and let you know.
Healthy Menu Plan Servings
The amount you eat of the listed foods will depend on your calorie needs, but generally should be no more than one serving of each food.
The amount of the listed foods will depend on your calorie needs, but generally should be no more than one serving of each food.
Here is a list of serving sizes for each food group:
Fruit and Vegetable Group
For vegetables, a serving would be:
1/2 cup cooked or raw,
1 cup leafy greens, or
1/2 cup vegetable juice.
Eat a variety of vegetables, with emphasis on the dark green, deep yellow, orange and red choices.
For fruits, a serving would be:
1 medium for most fruits,
1 melon slice,
1/2 grapefruit, or
1/2 cup berries, canned fruit or fruit juice
Limit fruit juice and canned fruits in syrup, and eat a variety of fresh, whole fruits.
The usual serving size for meat, fish and poultry is 3 oz.
If you don't own a food scale, the usual guideline for visualizing meat servings in a healthy menu plan is that the portion should be the size of a standard deck of playing cards.
For non-meat protein sources, a serving, is as follows and is equivalent to only about 1/3 of the protein in a serving of meat:
1 large egg,
1/2 cup cooked beans or rice, or
2 Tablespoons of seeds, nuts or nut butter,
Tofu can also be included in this group with a serving size of about 4oz.
In addition, most health experts recommend that, for a healthy menu plan you should choose a leaner or low-fat version of the significant protein sources, and to remove all visible fat from meat.
For breads, cereals, cooked grains and pasta, a serving would be:
1 slice of bread,
1/2 cup cooked pasta, rice, cereal or other cooked grains
1 small roll, biscuit or muffin,
1/2 bagel or bun, or
3 small crackers
Health experts recommend that at least half or more of your servings of grain should come from whole grain sources.
A serving from the dairy group includes:
1 cup of milk or yogurt (generally low-fat or fat-free),
1 oz of hard cheese,
1/2 cup cottage cheese, or
1/2 cup ice cream or ice milk (occasionally)
A serving for most solid fats and liquid oils is one teaspoon.
Choose monounsaturated fats, such as olive oil more often than polyunsaturated (corn oil, soybean oil) or saturated fats (butter, lard). Avoid trans fats (margarine, hydrogenated oils) altogether if you can.