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Building a Balanced Meal for Your Family By Gillean Barkyoumb, MS, RDN

Mealtime can be stressful and overwhelming for families, not even considering the burden of making sure your kids eat a balanced meal. It can be a battle just to get everyone sitting at the table at the same time!


To make meals a little more manageable, try following the Dinner Formula. The Dinner Formula is a simple and convenient way to create a balanced meal for your family.


Your plate should include:

  • Half vegetables
  • One-quarter protein
  • One-quarter grains or starchy foods
  • A healthy fat, either used when cooking or as a topping


Vegetables: Vegetables are packed with important nutrients like vitamins and minerals as well as fiber to support digestive health. Get creative with how you serve vegetables to your kids--try shredded carrots, sprinkle roasted broccoli with cheese, or offer dips like hummus that make eating veggies fun. Frozen and canned vegetables are also nutritious options that can help reduce food waste and make meal prep easier.


Protein: Protein provides important build blocks (called amino acids) for our muscles and other tissues to grow, rebuild, and function at their best. Protein is usually found in animal products, but there are also plant-based sources. Exposure multiple times can help kids become more familiar with protein sources. Try baked salmon, panko-crusted chicken, or sautéed shrimp. For plant-based options, make tofu, beans, or legumes like chickpeas or lentils.


Grains/Starch: Grains or starchy carbohydrate foods provide energy for the body so we stay fueled and offer nutrients like fiber, B vitamins, and minerals such as iron, magnesium, and selenium. Try adding quinoa, wild rice, chickpea pasta, sweet potatoes, or butternut squash to your family meal.


Healthy Fat: Healthy fats (also known as monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fats) benefit your heart, brain, and overall health. As with everything, the kind of fat and how much you eat is important to manage. Consume less saturated fats that you’ll find in overly processed foods and fatty pieces of meat, and stick with better-for-you fats like olive oil and avocado. Try cooking with extra virgin olive oil, including fresh avocado or guacamole, or adding a side of nuts or seeds to your vegetable dish.


Following the Dinner Formula will help make eating healthy, balanced meals for you and your family easy. Plus it will make meal planning a breeze. Plan to get three or four items from each section of the plate at the store so it’s convenient to make a quick weeknight dinner.


You can also use fun plates for babies and kids that already have the proper divisions like the Avanchy Baby Bamboo Stay Put Suction Plate to ensure they are getting the balanced nutrition they need.


Now you can enjoy a stress-free family dinner--as long as you can get them all to sit down!

Gillean Barkyoumb is a registered dietitian and the owner of Millennial Nutrition where she makes eating healthy simple and convenient for millennial women. Follow Gillean on Instagram @millennialnutrition or view her services at