How to Balance Your Plate with Cuisines From Around the World

By Caroline L. Young, MS, RD, LD, RYT

Food is fuel…
AND so much more.

In our culture of extreme, fad diets, it is easy to get swept up in the belief that food is only physical sustenance.  However, while food is indeed fuel, it also serves as a way to connect us to each other, and it helps us to celebrate life and open our minds.

As a registered dietitian, my primary goal is to help you allow food to be energy, along with connection, celebration, pleasure and exploration. Whether you are learning about your significant other’s food traditions, having a meal out for your friend’s birthday at a new restaurant, or traveling overseas and trying a new dish amongst complete strangers, I encourage you to let yourself enjoy all aspects of your food experiences.

And, good news, it is possible to do so in a balanced way! Peanuts are also the perfect fit for this topic because they are a staple component in many cuisines around the world or an easy swap.

Every March, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics celebrates National Nutrition Month. And this year, the theme is “Eat Right, Bite by Bite,” which emphasizes the importance of fun and positive nutrition that’s adaptable to all eating patterns and cultures.

On that note, I am sharing some ways to build balanced meals from various cuisines to help you feel nourished on all levels:

How to Build Balanced Plates With Different Cuisines

You can use MyPlate[i] as your rule of thumb to help you create balance as you enjoy dishes from all over the world. Ensure you have grains, protein, vegetables and/or fruit and dairy on your plate, to enjoy both balance and pleasure at every meal.

American

Believe it or not, a good ole-fashioned cheeseburger can be part of a balanced plate. And what’s more American than a juicy burger?

Here’s how to build your plate:

Grain: Hamburger bun (If you like, make it whole wheat for additional nutrients.) Protein: Beef patty

Vegetable and/or fruit:

Charred Corn Slaw with Peanut Butter Lime Dressing

Dairy: Cheese slice on the burger

Thai

From colorful curry to comforting noodle dishes, Thai food is always nourishing on multiple levels. This is one of many examples within Thai cuisine that fits the bill for balance.

Here’s how to build your plate:

Grains: White or Brown Rice

Protein: Thai Peanut Chicken

Vegetable and/or fruit: Roasted Broccoli

Dairy: Coconut ice cream

Italian

Italian is another one of those cuisines that I often hear people say should be only a once-in-a-while treat. But in fact, it’s a cuisine with plenty of room for balance. While peanuts aren’t native to the Mediterranean, they are an affordable, plant-based protein that’s packed with flavor. This is an idea you would find on the Amalfi coast in southern Italy:

Here’s how to build your plate:

Grains: Linguine pasta

Protein: Grilled shrimp

Vegetable and/or fruit: Olive oil-sautéed artichoke hearts and cherry tomatoes

Dairy: Grated Parmesan Cheese

Spanish

Spaniards are known for their love of life, which absolutely includes food. This is one example you’d find in southern Spanish cities:

Here’s how to build your plate:

Grain: Toasted bread with crushed tomato (often served with olive oil and eaten on side of meal)

Protein: Chickpeas

Vegetable and/or fruit: Olive oil- sautéed spinach and mushrooms (served with chickpeas)

Dairy: Manchego cheese squares

African

African cuisine includes a wide range of foods with a vast variety of flavors and textures. The example below is most typical of West African cuisine.

Here’s how to build your plate:

Grain: Fufu or Ugali

Protein & Vegetable: African Peanut Stew

Fruit: Mango slices (served after meal)

Dairy: Rooibos tea made with milk (served after meal)

Greek

Often viewed as the icon of Mediterranean cuisine, Greek food is both tasty and naturally nutrient-dense. 

Here’s how to build your plate:

Grain: Pita bread (served with hummus)

Protein: White beans

Vegetable and/or fruit: Green salad with sliced olives, tomatoes, cucumber, oil and vinegar, dried figs (served after meal)

Dairy: Feta Cheese cubes

French

Like most Europeans, the French like to take their time to enjoy their meals and company. Here’s an example of a typical lunch you’d find in a French café:

Here’s how to build your plate:

Grain: Baguette

Protein: Grilled cod

Vegetable and/or fruit: Roasted potatoes and green salad with vinaigrette dressing

Dairy: Brie wedges

While this is not a comprehensive list, I hope you get the gist: Regardless of where you are, who you’re with, and/or what cuisine you’re enjoying, nourishment on all levels is entirely possible. Bon Appétit!

Please keep in mind that individual nutrition and energy needs vary depending on various factors including but not limited to age, activity level, and physical and mental health status, and the examples above are general. It is best to consult a registered dietitian to help you meet your specific needs.

[i] https://www.choosemyplate.gov/eathealthy

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