Essentials for Eaters and Dieters

How Do You Create Your Plate?

Are your meals healthy?

Work through these examples to practice building healthy meals you will enjoy.


  1. Eat breakfast regularly.  This will help prevent binge snacking during the day.

  2. Include protein daily. As a result, you will be less hungry later.

  3. Choose lean meats and low fat milk. It’s okay to have bacon or sausage in the morning every once in a while. On those days, minimize saturated fat and cholesterol in other meals and snacks: choose skim milk, eat beans or peas instead of beef, and limit intake of regular cheese.

  4. Try to include fruits or vegetables. Adding fruits and vegetables to breakfast makes it better, while adding them to lunch and dinner is indispensable for healthy eating.

Here are some examples of breakfasts. Some are well balanced and some could use some work. Check out the suggestions for improvement.

2 slices of whole grain bread lightly covered with peanut butter, low fat yogurt, apple slices, and a glass of skim milk.

Well balanced as is! Whole grains, fruit, and lean sources of protein (low fat yogurt and skim milk) are all present in appropriate amounts.


1 cup of Frosted Flake cereal with 2% milk along with Strawberry Pop Tart and a glass of 100% orange juice.

This breakfast could be improved by switching out the Frosted Flakes or Pop Tart with a whole grain product lower in sugar. Sugary foods like frosted cereals and breakfast pastries should be limited because they contain a lot of calories in a small volume and it’s easy to overeat. This breakfast also needs another lean protein source like lean sausage or cold cuts. The orange juice adds a serving of fruit, but a whole piece of fruit would be less energy-dense and more satisfying.


2 eggs scrambled with a buttermilk biscuit buttered and a side of bacon, with a glass of skim milk.

This breakfast contains too much saturated fat and no trace of fruits or vegetables. The meal could be improved by scrambling only one egg and using Canadian bacon or lean sausage instead of the regular bacon. Adding fresh fruit, vegetables, or vegetable juice makes it complete.



  1. Include protein, as it will help you stay ‘full’ longer.
  2. Include fruits and vegetables.
  3. When eating lunch meats, go for the leaner cuts. For example, try turkey, low fat ham, chicken, or roast beef instead of high fat meats like regular bologna, salami, or olive loaf. If you prefer high fat meats, choose lower fat foods the rest of the day (or skip a small dessert) to account for the additional saturated fat and calories.
  4. Go light on dressings for salads and sandwiches. Learn to use less. Try new varieties with less saturated fat. Low fat dressings and spreads are widely available if you choose to use them, but you don’t have to use low fat products in order to eat healthy.

Here are some examples for lunch. Some are well balanced and some could be made better. Check out the suggestions for improvement.

Roast beef sandwich with cheese on whole wheat bread or bun, fresh fruit salad, carrot slices or celery, and a glass of skim milk.

This lunch is well balanced. Grains, protein, fruit and vegetables are all present in good proportion. This is a visually appetizing meal that will leave you satisfied. No need for improvement.


Grilled cheese sandwich on white bread, 1 bag of potato chips, applesauce, and a glass of soda.

This lunch is lacking in protein and vegetables. To improve this meal, add lean turkey to the sandwich and switch out the bag of chips or the soda with a handful of raw vegetables. Drink water or low fat milk instead of soda. Soda and chips contain a lot of calories without other nutrients. They’re alright every once in a while, but vegetables are important to eat every day. As a general rule, try drinking water or low fat milk instead of calorie-dense soft drinks with your meals.


Caesar salad with dressing, Parmesan cheese, and croutons, buttery croissant, orange juice, and a brownie.

To improve this lunch, add some protein and remove some of the saturated fat. For example, add grilled chicken to the salad and switch to low fat dressing. You could also replace the buttery croissant with whole-wheat toast, a regular dinner roll or a seeded breadstick. Eating brownies every once in a while is okay. If you’ve got an aggressive sweet tooth, try low fat yogurt, low fat chocolate milk or sweet fruits like grapes or apples instead of a daily dessert. Your tastes will change as you gradually adopt a healthier eating pattern.




  1. Usually, dinner is the largest meal of the day, and we spend more time eating it than breakfast or lunch. Only eat until you are moderately full and try not to overeat. Listen to your body for hunger cues.
  2. Once again, include protein of some sort into your meal. Even if you choose not to eat meat, you can prepare vegetarian options with beans, nuts, seeds, legumes, eggs and low fat dairy products.
  3. Include fruits and vegetables with your meal. These foods are normally high in fiber and will add bulk to your meal, helping you feel full while delivering essential nutrients. Use combination foods to increase your intake of vegetables (e.g. stirfry, vegetables in soups and casseroles).
  4. Make sure your dinners vary from day to day to make them more interesting, flavorful and balanced.

Here are some samples of dinner menus. One is well balanced and the others could use some improvement. Check out the suggestions below.

Broiled shrimp with sautéed vegetables of your choice (e.g. onions, peppers and mushrooms), angel hair pasta, mixed vegetables, dish of fresh fruit, whole wheat roll with margarine, and a glass of low fat milk, tea or water.

This meal is very well rounded, including all of the food groups. No improvements needed.


8 oz T-Bone Steak, buttered mashed potatoes and gravy, dinner roll with butter, cooked vegetables of your choice: green beans, peas, or a vegetable medley, and a glass of low fat milk, tea or water.

This meal is high in saturated fat. If you are a meat lover, instead of a T-bone steak, try a smaller portion of lean beefsteak. As for the mashed potatoes, tub margarines provide a buttery flavor with a lot less saturated fat than butter. Learn to use less butter and margarine in your meals overall. Canned and powdered gravies are usually very low in saturated fat and cholesterol. Or, try a baked potato with a little light sour cream or plain yogurt. Remember that potatoes are an energy-dense vegetable. Add fruit to complete the meal.


2 fried chicken legs with skin, white rice, a side salad filled with fresh vegetables (tomatoes, cucumbers, and shredded carrots) and covered in dressing, a small piece of chocolate sheet cake with icing, and a glass of low fat milk, tea or water.

A fried chicken leg with the skin on has as much energy and fat as two fried chicken legs with the skin removed. Cook your chicken any way you like, but remove the skin before eating it and your heart will thank you. The salad and rice are great ways to incorporate vegetables and grains into a meal. Alternatively, you could use some of the same ingredients to make a Chinese style stirfry. Vegetables would be incorporated into the meal! Add fresh fruit for a little flavor and sweetness. Light dessert may be eaten.


  1. You should have an eating schedule. If you are a person that likes to snack, be sure to include it in your daily eating pattern.
  2. Eating quick, portable foods is great when your regular eating schedule is disrupted. Keep well-planned snacks on hand to replace a meal in a pinch.
  3. Snacks don’t need to represent every food group, but make sure that you have adequate protein (10-20% of calories from protein).
  4. Check the portion sizes of your favorite snacks. The portion size on the label might not be the actual size the Food Guide Pyramid considers an appropriate portion.
  5. Try not to snack as a result of emotion or boredom. Spontaneous or emotional eating does not solve any problems, and it only leads to overeating.

Here are some examples of portable healthy snacks that provide protein. It will be even better of you use these in combination with other foods groups.

Nuts or seeds


Yogurt or string cheese


Protein Energy Bar

Real Beef Jerky

(Real Beef Jerky does NOT include Slim Jims, pepperoni, or beef sticks because  these meats are high in saturated fat)

beef jerky

Individual cups of chili

Small individual containers of chili or bean soups.


Pouch of tuna, mini cans of tuna

Tuna in a vacuum sealed pouch or small can



Essentials for Eaters and Dieters | Version 2.0
Copyright ©2005, 2006 University of Illinois Board of Trustees