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Mon-Fri: 9AM to 5PM

Nutrition: Guidelines for Balanced Meals and Special Diets

Nutrition: Guidelines for Balanced Meals and Special Diets



Participants will be able to:
• Relate the basic elements of good nutrition and why they are important
• Understand what makes up a balanced diet, including foods and portion sizes
• Be familiar with common special diets and how to prepare them
• Be able to state important factors in food safety and service

Basic Elements of Good Nutrition

Everybody needs the right amount of nutrients. Nutrients are the elements of food used by the body for energy, maintenance, healing, and growth. They include:

• Proteins for growth of muscle and body tissue
–– Sources: meat, fish, eggs, milk, peas, beans, nuts
• Carbohydrates for energy
–– Sources: bread, grains, cereals, potatoes, peas, beans
• Fats for warmth, vitamin storage, and energy
–– Sources: meat, dairy products, vegetable oils, egg yolks
• Vitamins for healthy functioning of body systems
–– Sources: fruit, vegetables, meat, dairy products
• Minerals for growth, strength, healthy blood, bones, and body system functions
–– Sources: fruit, vegetables, meat, fish, dairy products, grains


Fiber is important for digestion and waste elimination. Sources include cereals, grains, fruits, and

The balanced diet

The USDA recommends filling plates ½ full of fruits and vegetables. The MyPlate icon is now used instead of the food pyramid.

We all need a balanced intake from six groups:

1. Bread, cereals, rice, pasta (6–11 servings)
2. Vegetables (3–5 servings)
3. Fruits (2–4 servings)
4. Meat, poultry, fish, beans, eggs, and nuts (2–3 servings)
5. Milk, yogurt, cheese (2–3 servings)
6. Limited intake of fats, oils, and sweets (2–3 times per week)

Using a variety of different foods within these groups ensures balance and good nutrition.

What’s a serving?
• 1 serving of bread, cereals, rice, pasta (carbohydrates) = 1 slice of bread or 1 tortilla, ½ cup cooked rice or pasta, 1 oz. dry cereal
• 1 serving of vegetables = 1 cup leafy vegetables (salad), 10 french fries, ½ cup cooked vegetables, ½ cup vegetable juice
• 1 serving of fruit = ½ cup canned, fresh, or frozen fruit, 1 medium (about the size of a baseball) apple, orange, or banana, and ½ cup fruit juice
• 1 serving of protein meat, poultry, fish, beans, peanut butter, and eggs (protein) = 2–3 oz. meat, poultry, fish, ½ cup dry beans or peas, 2 tablespoons peanut butter, 1 egg
• 1 serving of milk, yogurt, and cheese = 1 cup milk, 8 oz. yogurt, 1.5 oz. cheddar cheese

Special Diets

Many people have special dietary needs because of illness, surgery, or ongoing conditions. Be sure you know the type of diet every patient is supposed to be eating. Mistakes on special diets can have serious results and cause many problems for the patient.

Low salt
Low salt diets, are also referred to as restricted sodium or low NA (the chemical abbreviation for salt or sodium). Many people with heart or kidney disease or high blood pressure must eat this kind of diet.

• Little or no salt is used in preparing food
• No salt should be added by the patient
• Salty snacks are not allowed (potato chips, pretzels)
• Condiments that contain salt may be prohibited (ketchup, mustard, margarine)

Low fat (also low cholesterol)
Low-fat diets are often recommended for people with heart disease or obesity.

• Eat low-fat foods like chicken, vegetables, fruits, pasta, and cereal
• Do not eat fatty foods like ice cream, egg yolks, bacon, and sausage (or eat in very small amounts rarely)

This diet helps people who have difficulty chewing or suffer from certain kinds of stomach trouble. Foods that are a part of this diet can include cooked vegetables, ground meat, fish, and pureed foods.

It is important for people with diabetes to eat the right foods, whether or not they are taking insulin or other medicine to control their diabetes. A diabetic patient should have a diet plan designed especially for him or her by a doctor or nutritionist. It will specify certain amounts of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats.

High protein
A patient who has just had surgery or who has a wound often needs high protein to speed healing. To get protein, this person may eat lots of meat, fish, eggs, beans, peas, and dairy products.

Liquid diets
The full liquid includes all liquids, such as strained soups, milk, and ice cream. The clear liquid includes only liquids that are see-through, such as water, tea, apple juice, clear broth, and black coffee (no cream or milk).

Serving Tips

If a patient has impaired vision, identify the foods on his or her plate by using the clock face: “Your pork chop is at 3 o’clock, your mashed potatoes are at 6 o’clock, and your pudding is in a separate dish above the plate at 12 o’clock.”

When feeding a patient, identify the foods and ask the patient what food he or she wants next. Offer seasonings if allowed. Offer liquids often, using a different straw for each liquid. Allow hot liquids to cool. Offer one bite at a time, using a spoon two-thirds full. Serve hot foods hot and cold foods cold!

Food Safety

To avoid food poisoning:
• Never undercook meat—cook until meat temperature is 165 degrees Fahrenheit to kill the bacteria
• Refrigerated foods must be kept below 45 degrees Fahrenheit
• Thaw frozen foods quickly and cook them before they reach room temperature
• Foods that will spoil at room temperature should be prepared last
• Keep fresh foods separate from each other and use different surfaces and utensils when preparing each one
• Cover unserved portions to prevent contamination
• Cool leftovers quickly by refrigerating them in small containers