How to 'Build' a Healthy Plate

Jan 2020

If you, like many of us (myself included!), struggle for inspiration on how to plan or put together a healthly, nutritionally balanced meal from scratch using fresh ingredients, this simple guide will hopefully lend some help.

How to build a healthy plate article

This guide is not an absolute, rather a little visual tool that I hope some may find helpful. I tend to use this when I am assembly cooking, rather than making a complete recipe. For example, I might bake a chicken breast (protein) steam some broccoli & green beans then drizzle in olive oil (vegetables & healthy fats) and add a few new potatoes in to cook (complex carbohydrates). It’s not a supper than needs a recipe, but this plate-based guideline can help me to ensure I have each category covered.

How to portion the plate

1. Start with VEGETABLES (include a rainbow of colours)
2. Include a portion of PROTEIN
3. Add some HEALTHY FAT (e.g. a good drizzle of oil or a sprinkle of seeds/nuts)
Add COMPLEX CARBOHYDRATES or minimally processed wholegrain if you’re feeling hungry or have higher energy demands

Sometimes a single food will cross multiple categories:

i) Nuts, for example, could be both our protein and healthy fats.
ii) Leek & potato soup might contain olive oil (healthy fats), vegetables (leeks) and carbohydrates (potatoes) so would need some protein to be added.

Note: If you aren’t sure what counts as a protein or complex carb etc., see my article on Food Category Reminders.

How to build a healthy plate article

How this translates into a real meal 

Here are some simple examples of how to build your plate – combine ideas from each of the four groups in the proportions laid out above:

Understanding: Food Categories Articles
Vegetables (or Fruit)

Rocket leaves & tomatoes

Steamed broccoli & Green beans

Carrot & Turmeric Soup

Baby spinach

Beetroot, cucumber & watercress


Raspberries & blueberries

Is fish healthy article

Cooked chicken

Baked Fish

Cashews (in soup)

Poached eggs


Cannelini beans

Natural yoghurt

Homemade Hummus

Simple Dahl

Golden Tahini Dressing Recipe
Healthy Fat

Tahini dressing

Drizzle of olive oil

Sprinkle of seeds


Olive oil dressing

Drizzle of olive oil

Almond butter

Small handful of nuts

Buckwheat Pancake Recipe
Complex carbohydrates


Rye bread toast

Steamed new potatoes


Sourdough toast

Rice cakes

Baked potato

Buckwheat pancakes

How to build a healthy plate article
A note on plates…

There are some interesting studies that suggest that the type of plate we choose can impact our eating habits. Choosing a larger plate can lead to us serve bigger portion sizes, whereas choosing a smaller plate inclines us to smaller portions. Also, choosing a plate colour that highly contrasts with the food may be helpful to reduce over-serving and vice versa. 1

Having said this, the effects are quite small. So don’t think you need to rush out and buy a whole new dinner service! I just think it’s an interesting observation.


Van Ittersum, K. and Wansink, B. (2012). Plate Size and Color Suggestibility: The Delboeuf Illusion’s Bias on Serving and Eating Behavior. Journal of Consumer Research, 39(2), pp.215-228.


Please note that the information on this website is provided for general information only, it should not be treated as a substitute for the medical advice of your own doctor or any other health care professional providing personalised nutrition or lifestyle advice. If you have any concerns about your general health, you should contact your local health care provider.

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