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Does This Count as Dinner?

By Stephanie Booth
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Daniel Brennan, MD

bowl of cheese puffs

When you’re super-busy, running from soccer practice to study group, it’s easy to call dinner a slice of pizza and chocolate-dipped granola bar. But just because something tastes good -- and you can eat it on the go -- doesn’t mean it’s healthy.

Fatty and high-sugar foods like pizza, soda, chips, cookies, and fruit drinks “contain the wrong type of fuel for filling you up and helping you feel your best,” says Torey Armul, RDN, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

“Empty calorie” foods like these actually have lots of calories. But they don’t fill you up. And they have little to none of the nutrients your body needs. So instead of giving you energy to exercise, feel good, and make other healthy choices, they’ll leave you zapped and feeling blah.If they make up too many of your meals, you may find it harder to control your weight, too. And that can lead to serious health problems down the road.

But don’t worry: healthy meals don’t mean you’ll be munching on nothing but kale leaves and carrot sticks forever. They’re tastier (and a lot less work) than you probably think.

Build a Balanced Diet

It’s OK to eat a food every once in a while just because it tastes good. (Why else do curly fries exist?) But for almost every meal and snack, choose foods that have vitamins and minerals or are high in fiber and protein to fill you up and give you energy.

A good plan to follow for each meal:

  • Fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables.
  • Fill one-quarter with lean protein like chicken, fish, beans, or tofu.
  • The last quarter of your plate should be whole grains like brown rice, a whole-wheat tortilla, or oatmeal.
  • Don’t forget to add a serving of dairy, like yogurt, cheese, soymilk, or skim or low-fat milk.

What to Cut Back On

Saturated fats, like you find in meat and butter, and trans fats, which are in many baked goods, put more fat in your blood. That's bad for your heart.

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