Choose foods for good nutrition with our dietitian's guide to a healthy daily eating plan

  • 2 Minutes Read
Sue Heikkinen
Sue Heikkinen, MS, RDN, CDCES, BC-ADM, ACE-PT - Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist Educator

With all the choices out there, do you wonder what foods for good nutrition it really takes to create a healthy eating plan? Follow our guide to meet your nutrition needs with a balance of tasty foods.

Foods for good nutrition

A healthy eating plan includes foods for good nutrition

Healthy eating is so much more than calories in and calories out-the foods you choose to eat daily are essential to your health, satisfaction, and feeling your best.

Although the details vary from one eating plan to another, there are fundamental principles of healthy eating. First, focus on consuming a wide variety of foods from all food groups, paying particular attention to choosing fresh, seasonal, and less processed foods. This approach will help you get enough essential nutrients while minimizing added sodium and sugar.

The chart below gives examples of daily targets for different calorie levels. A basic understanding of these targets is a perfect way to develop menus around foods for good nutrition. Of course, your targets may vary based on your food preferences and health needs. Consult a registered dietitian if you need a more personalized plan.

1200 1600 2000 2400
Grains and starchy veggies 3 5 6 8
Fruit 2 3 4 5
Non-starchy veggies 3+ 3+ 4+ 4+
Lean meat and meat substitutes 6 7 7 10
Milk and milk substitutes 2 2 2 3
Fats/oils 3 5 7 8

Use the information below to learn about the nutrients provided by each food group and what counts as a serving (hint: the servings sizes are often surprisingly small).

Grains and starchy vegetables

Key nutrients: Carbohydrates, fiber, folate, iron, magnesium, niacin, riboflavin, thiamin, vitamin B6, and zinc.

Serving sizes:

Tips:

Starchy veggies like potatoes, corn, peas, and beans are included because their calorie and carbohydrate content is similar to grains.

Focus on whole grains for higher fiber and better nutrition value.

Vegetables (non-starchy)

Key nutrients: Carbohydrates, fiber, folate, magnesium, potassium, riboflavin, vitamins A, B6, C, E, and K.

Serving sizes:

Tip:
Choose a variety of dark green, orange, and other colorful vegetables every day.

Fruits

Key nutrients: Carbohydrates, fiber, folate, magnesium, potassium, and vitamin C.

Serving sizes:

Tip:
Choose whole fruits instead of juice for extra fiber and satisfaction.

Milk and milk substitutes

Key nutrients: Carbohydrates, protein, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, riboflavin, thiamin, vitamins A, and B12.

Serving sizes:

Tips:
Choose lower fat, lower sugar products if you are trying to limit calories.

Milk and yogurt naturally contain carbohydrates. Note that we include cheese as a protein (below) because it has almost no carbohydrates.

Meat and meat substitutes

Key nutrients: Protein, iron, niacin, phosphorus, protein, vitamin B12, and zinc

Serving sizes

Tips:
Aim for two servings of fish per week for heart health.
Beans and peas provide protein, but include them as a carbohydrate source if counting carbs.

Fats and oils

Key nutrients: The essential fatty acids alpha-linolenic acid and linoleic acid, omega 3s, and vitamin E

Serving Sizes:

Tip:
Choose primarily plant-based oils such as olive oil, avocado, nuts, and seeds for heart health.

Sweets and alcohol

Key nutrients: none

A healthy eating plan is limited in added sugars and alcohol, yet they are not off-limits. If you follow the servings suggested for your calorie goal, you will have some "leftover" calories to spend on occasional treats.

When you use a daily eating plan as your general outline for regularly consuming foods for good nutrition, your body will thank you. It may even be more resilient when met with illness, occasional overindulgence, and other bumps in your health journey.

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Jan 12, 2022

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