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Vital Signs: Make simple changes for healthy, balanced meals that nourish and satisfy

In honor of National Nutrition Month, let’s focus on some basics: eating healthy and balanced meals.

While working with patients with various conditions, including diabetes, heart disease, chronic kidney disease and obesity, one similarity often found to be lacking in many diets is balance.

A healthy, balanced meal should include carbohydrates, a protein source, fruits and/or vegetables, and a serving of healthy fats. More specifically, a meal should include complex or fiber-rich carbohydrates, such as oatmeal, whole-grain bread or quinoa.

Fiber is key for keeping you feeling full between meals, for helping lower your cholesterol levels, and for supplying plenty of B vitamins, iron and antioxidants. Along with carbohydrates, a meal always should contain some protein, preferably from a leaner source, such as eggs, nuts, poultry or fish. Add in some healthy fats from sources like avocados, eggs, olive oil or fatty fish, and the meal will go from unsatisfying to fulfilling.

Including these key macronutrients ensures that you get many vitamins and minerals, but it also helps tremendously with satiety and energy. How many times have you had oatmeal for breakfast or a salad for lunch, but then found yourself hungry within an hour or two? And have you noticed a difference in your hunger when you have toast alone vs. toast with peanut butter?

Do you ever wonder why you’re able to get through your day with surprisingly little thought on what or how much you eat, but often find you’re “starving” by dinnertime? Balance plays a role here, too. If you ensure you’re eating a balanced breakfast and lunch, and healthy snacks when needed, you will find you are much less hungry by dinnertime.

Research shows that many people consume the majority of their calories in the later part of the day, but by simply eating more balanced meals earlier in the day, you can cut out a lot of the overeating or “mindless” eating that takes place while you’re watching TV at night. Carbohydrates and proteins both act as satiety agents, so you stay fuller between meals and into the evening.

Steps to balance:

1) Start with a fiber-rich carbohydrate source, such as oatmeal, multi-grain bread or brown rice.

2) Add a protein source, such as eggs, chicken or Greek yogurt

3) Incorporate a healthy fat source, such as walnuts or peanut butter

4) Consider adding a serving of fruit or vegetables as well.

Meal ideas:


• Vegetable omelet, 1/3 avocado, ½ grapefruit and a multigrain English muffin

• ½ cup oatmeal, ½ cup blueberries, 2 tablespoons walnuts, 2 hard-boiled eggs

• 1 cup Cheerios, ½ cup strawberries, low-fat milk, 1 ounce almonds


• Egg salad sandwich on multigrain bread, 1 oz almonds, ½ apple

• Tomato soup, grilled cheese on rye bread, ½ cup applesauce


• 3 oz. chicken breast, small baked sweet potato, spinach salad

• 1 to 2 slices pizza, salad with dressing

Additional nutrition information about balanced and healthy eating can be found at

Homemade Chili (from


• 2 tablespoons olive oil

• 1 large onion, chopped

• 2 cloves garlic, minced, or more to taste

• 2 pounds lean ground beef

• 2 (16-ounce) cans kidney beans, rinsed and drained

• 1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes

• 1 (15-ounce) can tomato puree

• 1 cup water

• 1 (4-ounce) can chopped green chile peppers

• 2 tablespoons mild chili powder

• 2 teaspoons salt

• 2 teaspoons ground cumin

• 1 teaspoon ground black pepper


1. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add onion and garlic; cook and stir until onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Add ground beef; cook and stir until browned, 8 to 10 minutes.

2. Transfer beef mixture to a 6-quart slow cooker. Stir in kidney beans, diced tomatoes, tomato puree, water, green chile peppers, chili powder, salt, cumin and black pepper.

3. Cook on low until flavors combine, 4 to 6 hours.

Patricia Tyndale, a registered dietitian, is a Sentara Martha Jefferson dietitian.


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