3 Easy Tests to Tell if Your Dinner is Actually Healthy

Would a nutritionist give your plate a thumbs up?

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Not sure if your favorite dinner recipe would get a nutritionist's approval? With news articles publishing sensationalized health studies every day and food packaging boasting exaggerated health claims, it can be tough to know what’s actually good for you.

Here are three no-nonsense, dietitian-approved tests to tell if your meal is actually healthy.

  1. The color-crunch test: This test is all about variety. Your plate should include multiple colors—and that’s not including brown, tan, gray, and white. Instead, your plate should have two or three (or more!) colors from the rainbow, like red bell peppers, green arugula, orange sweet potatoes, and purple beets. The colors in fruits and vegetables actually result from the presence of specific vitamins and minerals. (For example, orange veggies like sweet potatoes and carrots have beta carotene, a red-orange pigment that the body converts to vitamin A.)  

    The idea is that by having multiple colors on the plate, you’re more likely to get your recommended daily vitamins and minerals (and it will taste way better than a multivitamin.) And don’t forget a variety of textures. Adding slivered almonds for crunch and avocado for creaminess will add to your nutrient range as well.

  2. The whole test: This one is pretty straightforward. Make at least half of the grains on the plate a whole grain. Swap out your white bread with 100 percent whole-wheat bread, change the white rice to brown rice, and experiment with lesser-known grains like farro, amaranth, and millet. These are complex carbohydrates and offer more fiber than the refined, white grains. (Learn more about the difference between simple and complex carbohydrates here.) 

  3. The fraction test: Following the guidelines set by MyPlate, the fraction test suggests reserving an entire half of your plate for fruits and veggies. Non-starchy veggies are best, so choose leafy greens, broccoli, or asparagus instead of mashed potatoes or corn. This will help you get nutrients like fiber, magnesium, and vitamin K—the things  that can’t be found in animal-based foods. (Here are the 10 best food sources of magnesium.)  It will also decrease the total calories of your meal, compared to one consisting of mostly meat or grains. 

Split the rest of your plate—a quarter each—between grains and a lean protein. (In addition to meat, don’t forget to consider these high-protein plant-based foods.) Of course, this logic is easiest when your food is compartmentalized but gets a little trickier when making assembled dishes like casseroles, stews, or pasta dishes. Estimate to the best of your abilities, or use the color-crunch test or whole test instead.