Rather than make a resolution for the new year, I’ve noticed some people choose a word to inspire their lives in the year to come. For me, that word is balance. Achieving balance in life is a challenge for anyone, but for parents it’s multiplied. Now I’m trying to stay on top of my life, both my kids’ lives and the dynamic of the family as a whole. It’s a lot of balls to juggle and I’m not going to say I keep them in the air all the time! Sound familiar?

Well, let’s keep it simple and focus on one thing. How to balance a meal. My journey with food and nutrition has been a long one, but I’m grateful that it started with a good foundation of nutritious, well-rounded meals that my mom prepared and we enjoyed together around the dinner table. That foundation was somehow rooted deep within me, enough to survive the middle school years when I ate cereal or a chocolate chip cookie every day for lunch. It survived through the college years when I was learning how to cook and made weird concoctions that I thought I could call a meal. It survived through my twenties when I was really interested in nutritious food but thought I could eat as much as I wanted because it was healthy. It finally surfaced again and now I understand how to put a meal together that is both nourishing and satisfying.

One skill that helps me plan balanced meals is something that’s quite simple. I remember learning about it in elementary school—the food groups. The five food groups are protein, grains, dairy, vegetables and fruit. Building meals around the food groups does a few things. It provides a variety of nutrients. It satisfies the need for different textures and flavors. And it provides a framework for simple meal planning to take a little bit of the hectic out of life!

So, where to start? I suggest starting with protein or dairy. This could be chicken, fish, eggs, nuts, cheese or yogurt, to name only a few options. Next, add a grain or another starch. Think rice, pasta, tortilla, bread, beans or potato. Finally add some veggies and voila, you’ve got dinner! What about breakfast? Protein or dairy plus grain or fruit and you’re on your way to a great day! Need a snack? Pick any two food groups and you’ll be energized to take on your next task!

The USDA’s MyPlate resource (click here for Spanish) is a wonderful resource if you’re starting out. Exploring the foods within each food group can be a fun activity to do with kids. The MyPlate website even has games for kids and activities for families.

Balanced meals will nourish and satisfy you and your family. It’s one way to feel good in life both personally and as a parent. Offering balanced meals is an important step to establish healthy eating habits in kids. It communicates what a balanced meal looks like (even if they don’t eat it all). It will likely be a lesson that sticks, even if it gets buried for a few decades!

How does your family find balance? Share with us in the comments below.

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