Jul. 22. 2020
Nutrition Articles
Written By:
McKel (Hill) Kooienga
McKel Kooienga, MS, RDN, LDN

McKel Kooienga, MS, RDN, LDN

Founder of NS and Creator of The Method

Have you ever felt so overwhelmed with all of the information out there telling you how to eat well?

There are so many questions we ask ourselves when preparing or planning meals:

Do I have enough protein? Am I getting all of my nutrients? Will this keep me full? Is this going to taste good and be satisfying? 

Here at Nutrition Stripped, we’ve “stripped” eating well down to a simple template — which we call the Nourish Meal Template using the Foundational Five — that you can follow at each meal.

No counting macros. No need to eliminate foods from your diet. And no fancy fads.

In this blog, you’ll learn why you should use our Nourish Meal Template including the Foundational Five elements of nutrition when preparing your meals and how it can help make you more consistent with your healthy eating habits.

Why the Nourish Meal Template with the Foundational Five Works for Everyday Life

I’m so excited to share my simple checkbox system I’ve been using for almost a decade with thousands of clients, with you because it’s going to help you feel so much more confident and at ease when you go to make a meal, knowing you have a well-balanced plate with a quick check. 

This system is rooted and inspired by nutrition science 101 in balancing macronutrients for health. As Dietitians we’re taught all about the MyPlate and Diabetic Plate Method, both of which provide a guide for how to organize your plate with macronutrients. Our Nourish Meal Template including the Foundational Five elements of nutrition is our spin on the classic model including the Flavor Factor which is unique to Nutrition Stripped.

Before we dive into each macronutrient and refresh you on the basics of nutrition, it’s so important to honor that food plays more roles in your life than physical nourishment. That’s where our Flavor Factor really comes into play.

Food should also be a source of enjoyment, pleasure, be satisfying, and taste delicious! The Flavor Factor really celebrates that not only are we focusing on balancing the macronutrients, but we’re also focusing on flavor!

Before we jump into exactly what makes up the Foundational Five and how you can start using it in your daily life, it’s important for you to understand why we take this approach to nutrition here at Nutrition Stripped.

Well-Balanced Meals

Of course, when we’re talking about nutrition and caring for your wellbeing, we want to make sure that you’re nourishing yourself. At the same time, we don’t want anyone to feel that eating healthy is difficult, time-consuming, or taking away from the joy in life.

That’s why we use a really simple template — the Foundational Five Elements of nutrition — to make it easy for you to look at your plate and know you have a well-balanced meal, without needing to follow strict rules or count anything.

This template ensures each and every meal is packed with all the vitamins, minerals, and nutrients your body needs so you can feel satiated (full), energized, and well-nourished so you can tackle your day and know that you’ve cared for your health.

The Nourish Meal Template is a made up of a variety of nutrients to refer to whenever you’re creating or building a meal. It’s made up of five elements of nutrition:

Protein + Fat + Starchy or Sugary Carbohydrates + Non-Starchy Carbohydrates + Flavor Factor

The Foundational Five elements include the three major macronutrients, which is nutrition science 101 taught as dietitians! These include carbohydrates broken down into two subcategories based on their function, as well as the flavor factor.

No Counting or Tracking

We’ve all been on one of those diets or plans where you have to count and track everything you eat. While that might work for some people for a short-term fix, that’s not realistic to maintain 365 days a year for your whole life.

Most of the time, we’re not eating in situations where it’s even possible to track every ingredient, use measuring cups to dish out a portion, or know what’s even in the dish. We go out to eat, we eat at our friends’ or our family’s homes, etc. That’s what normal life looks like!

That’s why counting and tracking don’t work for our everyday life and why it becomes cumbersome or not even possible to keep up with. And when you’re not able to count and track something, you then don’t have the skills you need in order to navigate your food choices.

This is why so many people get stuck in the start-and-stop cycle that prevents them from maintaining healthy eating habits in their day-to-day life.

Rather than counting or tracking anything, we do a visual check to ensure all five elements are on the plate and learn the portion sizes that work best for each nutrient and our personal hunger levels.

Freedom to Enjoy All Foods, With No Foods Labeled as “Off-Limits”

As soon as you label a food as “off-limits” or “bad,” you become hyperaware, hypersensitive, and focused on that food choice.

When you’re face-to-face with these foods, you then may feel the lack mentality which causes you to want to overindulge in that food because you don’t know when you’ll be able to have it again since you’ve labeled it “off-limits,” rather than being able to enjoy a serving and be fully satisfied.

With the Foundational Five, the focus is on adding a wide variety of foods to your day and ensuring that you’re eating in a balanced way, rather than by removing foods (with the exception of if something must be eliminated because of an intolerance, allergy, or medical conditions).

Here’s what one of the members from The Method Membership by Nutrition Stripped shared about the Foundational Five:

“I think it’s more free knowing that I have so many choices of what to eat now. Portions are a little different and I’m definitely eating more regularly so I think I have a lot more energy. This weekend I had pizza and like knew that it was ok and for the first time in a while, I didn’t feel guilty. I had a side salad with it, drank extra water, and the next morning I went back to my normal routine. I have food freedom now. Now I eat a ton of different foods and never feel restricted.” 

With Simplicity Comes Consistency

One thing we know to be true is that things that come easy to us are easier to maintain. It’s what we do on a consistent basis — not what we do every once in a while — that can truly impact how we feel, our health, and ultimately our lives. That’s why the Nutrition Stripped Motto is: health is a daily practice!

So we like to keep things simple!

The Nourish Meal Template using the Foundational Five Elements of nutrition makes it easy for you to look at your plate and do a visual check to see that you have everything you need. It also is the perfect way to make easy meals in 15-minutes, perfect for weekday lunches and dinners so that you can be consistent with eating this way.

It can be used at any mealtime for any type of meal — a nourish bowl, soup, salad, smoothie, or yogurt bowl, you name it and it works. Plus, it can also be slightly altered to fit any individual’s personal needs.

So now that you know how this way of eating can support you and your healthy eating habits, let’s break down exactly what The Foundational Five is so you can use it at your next meal!

How To Eat Well With Ease Using the Foundational Five

First and foremost, we want to utilize whole foods as often as we possibly can.

What exactly do we mean by whole foods?

The real stuff, food components that are as close as they can be to their natural state; whole grains, beans, legumes, fruit, vegetables, healthy fat, and protein for example.

Remember, this is just a guideline. Each and every individual’s interpretation of the Foundational Five will look a little different!

Whether you enjoy animal-based proteins or opt for a vegetarian or vegan style diet, the Foundational Five will still work for you.

Now that we know the basics, let’s start talking specifics.

Protein

Protein is the first component in our Nourish Meal Template using the Foundational Five elements of nutrition.

It’s an important macronutrient to have in each of our meals for quite a few reasons. From helping to ensure that you feel full after your meals, to having a hand indigestion, muscle and tissue synthesis as well as immune health and various additional functions — it’s safe to say protein is vital.

Protein also makes up every cell in our bodies including the cells that make up your skin, hair, nails, muscle tone, digestive tract, and so much more. Since protein is involved in every cell in our body, it’s important to both eating enough but also eat the best quality when possible.

Nutrition research shows that eating protein at every meal, especially breakfast, can reduce the hunger hormone ghrelin and promote satiety. Depending upon your particular preferences, your protein choices may include plant-based protein, animal-based protein, or both!

Some examples include beans, legumes, tempeh, tofu, seitan, quinoa, nuts, seeds, nut butter, grass-fed lean beef, eggs, seafood, poultry, and more.


When shopping for animal-based proteins, look for options labeled with: organic, 100% grass-fed, wild-caught sustainable, and humanely raised to help denote a good choice.

If you’re purchasing from the butcher counter, ask them about the sourcing and share specifics of what you’re looking for so you get the best quality!

Fat

Next up we have fat, for the most part, we’re referring to unsaturated fat here. Of course, there are some exceptions to this overarching statement.

Unsaturated fats primarily consist of plant-based and seafood-based fat sources. Think of extra virgin olive oil, olives, avocado oil, avocados, nuts, seeds, nut butter,  salmon, tuna, mackerel, and sardines. We also recommend coconut and coconut oil, which is technically an unsaturated fat but an exception to the overarching guideline, and you can read more about why here.

In a meal, fat is essential for satiety (or fullness). Yes, protein plays a part in this as well, but fat certainly plays the lead role.

Omega-3 fats, for example, found in fatty fish and some plant-based sources have been shown to improve cardiovascular health and support brain health.

It’s also key for proper nutrient absorption. Certain vitamins (A, D, E, and K) are all fat-soluble, meaning they need a fat source in order to be properly absorbed. These are the vitamins that keep our brains, cells, hormones, tissues, hair, skin, and nails healthy. 

Adequate fat intake is even important for organ insulation as well as cellular and hormonal health.

Those are just a few of the reasons healthy fats are so important to eat on a daily basis.

Starchy and Sugary Carbohydrates

Starchy and sugary (S & S) carbohydrates are exactly what you picture when you think of carbohydrates. This is the category of carbohydrates that provide you with energy, which is why they’re so important to include in each and every meal.

Starchy carbohydrates are the body’s primary source of energy. Our brains, muscle tissue, and cells all utilize carbohydrates for energy, just in different amounts and ratios.

For this category of carbohydrates, think of things like potatoes, quinoa, rice, bread, peas, pasta, beans, corn, and fruit. All of these foods have great amounts of vitamins, minerals, energy, and fiber which is important for our energy, gut health, heart health, hormonal health, and hunger.

Beans, for example, contain carbohydrates, fiber, and a little bit of protein. The fiber found in beans and many whole-food carbohydrates is soluble fiber. 

Soluble fiber feeds the friendly bacteria in the gut which support healthy digestion and gut microbiota and may reduce levels of hunger-stimulating hormones produced by the nervous system that can increase due to stress in our lives or during fasting, food restriction, and yo-yo dieting.

For the sake of simplicity and organization, not only are starch-containing carbohydrates included in this group such as grains, potatoes, beans, etc. but we also include fruit and dairy as they contain higher amounts of carbohydrates and sugar than non-starchy carbohydrates.

Non-Starchy Carbohydrates

Non-starchy carbohydrates, on the other hand, don’t necessarily provide a substantial amount of energy. These carbohydrates are better known for their fiber, prebiotics, vitamins, and minerals.

When you hear non-starchy carbohydrates, think of greens and vegetables! These are your leafy greens like arugula, kale, and romaine as well as your veggies like Brussels sprouts, bok choy, tomatoes, cucumbers and so many more.

Fiber is so important to any diet as it balanced cholesterol levels in the blood, regulates bowel movements, regulates blood sugar levels, regulates your satiety levels, lowers the risk of certain types of cancer, reduces the risk of diabetes, and aids in digestion overall. 

These plants should make up the bulk of your plate – the more, the better! Their fiber and water content help to keep you full and provide your body with the nutrients you need to support healthy digestion.

Flavor Factor

Last but certainly not least, we have the flavor factor. This is the fun part!

Your flavor factor maybe a sauce or mustard, herbs, spices, or seasonings – whatever you enjoy cooking or preparing food to boost the flavor and even the nutrients.

Yes, herbs and spices make food taste great, but they’re also packed with antioxidants that help you to glow from the inside out.

If you’re a new cook and just starting to familiarize yourself with seasonings and spices, head here to learn about some of the basics!

Foundational Five Portion Sizes

So now we know what we’re including in our Nourish Meal Template using the Foundational Five elements of nutrition, but how much of each nutrient are we supposed to use?

In reality, portion size varies from person to person. With that being said, we have a place for you to start.

Begin by focussing on adding a serving of each of the five components to each of your meals. Similar to what we’re taught as dietitians with the plate method, this focuses on those vegetables since most Americans do not consume enough daily. Generally speaking, your plate should somewhat resemble the following graphic:

 

 

But again, portion size will change depending on not only your particular needs but also your nutrition goals.

From a mindful standpoint, you can start with these general guidelines, then slightly increase or decrease based on your individual hunger and satiety cues.

If on the other hand this sounds too abstract and you would prefer more direct guidance in terms of portion size, please don’t hesitate to reach out to work with one of our Registered Dietitians! You can discuss your goals and needs with them to determine a plan that will work best for you.

Putting the Nourish Meal Template using the Foundational Five Elements of Nutrition Into Practice

Let’s get started!

Now first, if you don’t already have the Nutrition Stripped Guide for Creating Healthy Eating Habits, be sure to download that now to get the steps and practices to make maintaining this healthy eating habit easier!

Then you can take a look at some of our favorite recipes that will help you familiarize yourself with the Foundational Five-way of eating and try one out the next time you go to meal prep.

Breakfast

  1. Gut Health Supportive Smoothie
  2. Smokey Huevos Rancheros
  3. Baked Raspberry Porridge

Lunch

  1. Buffalo Tempeh Nourish Bowl
  2. Hearty Vegetable Bowl
  3. Chickpea Burgers

Dinner

  1. DIY 15-Minute Nourish Meal
  2. BBQ Tacos
  3. Chicken Tortilla Soup
  4. Chana Masala 

Put the Foundational Five Nourish Meal Template Into Practice to Eat Well Every Day

Now that you know what the Foundational Five system is, it’s time to put it into practice. Ideally, we’re eating the Foundational Five at every meal, but we’re human and especially when you’re getting started learning this system, that’s not realistic to expect overnight. So instead, what’s one meal of the day that you feel you struggle with the most? Try eating the Foundational Five at that meal and see how it goes!

Also, keep in mind that depending upon your particular nutrition goals and/or medical history, this guideline may need to be adjusted to better suit your individual needs.

If this sounds like you and you’re wondering whether or not you should seek out guidance, don’t hesitate to reach out! You can schedule a free discovery call with one of our Wellness Coaches and Registered Dietitians to determine what will work best for you.