The 3 Essential Elements of the ‘Perfect Plate’
Calling all calorie-counters, macro mavens and weight warriors: step away from your calculator (app)! You don’t need it anymore. Instead of tracking, stacking, counting and doing long division, give yourself a break and put that effort toward building the perfect plate— my simple, visual pie chart that guides you to eating well and right every time you settle in for a meal.
Make mealtime masterpieces – even if you’re not a top chef.
Your edible composition should start with the best-quality, whole-food ingredients possible, reserving most of your plate (or bowl) for the vegetables. Your three must haves: non-starchy veggies, well sourced protein and healthy fats. Go big on veggies, make the protein a smaller, palm-sized participant, and be sure to add a dose of good fat, either as a condiment or as part of a fat-rich protein source. Not a top chef? Think simple ingredients, simply prepared, and spiced liberally to make flavors pop.
Big plate, big volume, big benefits.
Your actual, physical plate should be quite sizeable – to hold all those veggies – but don’t worry, with the ‘perfect plate’ proportions in place, you’re less likely to overeat or eat too much of the wrong thing. The perfect plate works because it makes you focus on quality and not obsess over quantity. In other words, you don’t have to rely on under-eating, shorting yourself nutritionally to keep weight in check. By leaning in on health-promoting foods to “crowd out” the bad stuff, you’ll naturally counter the most common drivers of excess pounds: too many starches, sugars and inflammatory ingredients from processed foods and factory-farmed sources.
Retrain your taste buds – and yourself.
Follow the Perfect Plate template below to make putting great breakfasts, lunches and dinners together a breeze, and, while you’re at it, throw out old notions about what to eat and when. Go ahead, have eggs for dinner and savory leftovers for breakfast if that’s what you feel like. And keep this more fluid style in mind when ordering meals at restaurants as well, to help you custom-create healthier meals when dining out. It will serve as a natural reminder to take home part of a supersize protein portion to enjoy for breakfast or lunch tomorrow. Another benefit of the Perfect Plate approach, whether you’re dining in or out, is that you learn to trust yourself, instead of a calorie-counting app, to make every meal an opportunity to feed your body with the nutrients it thrives on.
The Perfect Plate protocol.
If you’re short on time, take an hour or two on the weekends to prep and cook several days’ worth of components ahead of time, storing them separately in airtight glass containers in the fridge. Then, for each meal, assemble your plate or bowl in minutes (instead of hours!) and heat to order. If you’re doing a low-carb approach, your plant foods should be mainly non starchy vegetables. For everyone else, I recommend keeping portions of legumes, like lentils or beans small, and grain portions very small (or nonexistent). From there, your plate should breakout as follows:
- 50–70% non-starchy vegetables: Enjoy them raw, cooked, fermented or sprouted, and adding in low-sugar fruits and starchy vegetables in moderation. If you’re including other plant foods like legumes, lentils, and grains, keep portion sizes low and, whenever possible, soak and/or sprout them, or use a pressure cooker to make them easier to digest, and reduce their inflammatory lectin content. All those good-for-you vegetables will deliver vitamins, minerals, enzymes and phytonutrients. And give you glowing skin, increase energy, fight cancer, lessen inflammation, increase natural detoxification. They’ll benefit your gut microbiome by adding prebiotic fiber and, if fermented, probiotic bacteria.
- 10–15% best-quality protein: Opt for grass-fed and/or -finished meats; organic or pastured poultry; wild-caught fish; pasture-raised or organic eggs; organic dairy (if tolerated); nuts and seeds; bone broth. If you’re vegetarian, include modest amounts of legumes like lentils or beans and avoid soy except as a fermented condiment. Protein, in moderate amounts, is essential as its component amino acids are the building blocks of your body, whether we’re talking muscles or the immune system. Looking for protein that’s also fat-rich? Foods like pork, sardines or herring, chicken with skin, and the fattier cuts of red meat combine both macronutrients in abundance.
- 20–30% healthy fat: Stop fearing fat. Your body needs it to function optimally! Fat allows you to absorb fat-soluble vitamins and balances hormones. It nourishes your skin, supports your brain, lubricates your digestive system, helps you feel satiated and, in the absence of carbs, can be used as fuel. But what do we mean by healthy fats? We’re talking high-quality, healthy animal products (see above); plant foods like avocado, coconut, nuts and nut butters, seeds, olives and high-quality extra virgin olive oil; cooking fats like ghee, and butter; duck fat; pork fat; chicken fat; tallow (for searing protein); sustainably-sourced palm oil and avocado oil.
A final thought: get creative with that big plate of yours! Think color – as in ‘eat the rainbow’ — and include plenty of spices to engage the senses. Both your body and mind love meals that look, smell, and taste appealing, so have fun with your food!
Adapted from my book, How To Be Well: The 6 Keys to a Happy and Healthy Life.