8 Simple Ideas for Nutrient-Dense Meals and Snacks

Healthy Dining's Dietitians



Finding a mix of nutrient-dense meals and snacks that you enjoy is a great way to eat healthfully, and is a simple way to add color and flavor to your plate.

These delicious tweaks will add health-optimizing nutrients to your day and decrease the extra "junk" your body doesn't need.


What Does Nutrient Dense Mean?


Nutrient dense refers to food that is rich in nutrients (vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients) in comparison to the total energy, or calories in that food. Examples include fruit, vegetables, legumes, lean proteins, and whole grains.


What Does Energy Dense, or Calorie Dense Mean?


The counterpart to nutrient dense food is energy dense food which refers to the number of calories (energy) in a specific amount of food. Beware of processed foods like baked goods, chips, soda, and ice cream which are examples of high calorie, yet low nutrient, types of foods. While everything has a place in a balanced eating pattern, when it comes to high calorie and low nutrient foods, it is best to avoid or consume these in small portions.


Simple Ways to Increase Nutrients in Meals & Snacks


Whether you're a casual exerciser, or an elite athlete, you have daily energy and nutrient needs. While some people require more total daily calories to meet the demands of their exercise, everyone benefits from incorporating nutrient-dense meals and snacks.


Here are 8 simple ways to create nutrient-dense meals and snacks any day of the week:

  1. Blend burgers with veggies

  2. Spice up your recipes

  3. Build a colorful bowl

  4. Swap in non-fat Greek yogurt for dips

  5. Try bean-based dips

  6. Choose plant-based colorful snacks

  7. Find flavorful drinks lower in calories and sugar

  8. Look for lighter dessert options that don't sacrifice flavor

Interested to learn the nutrition value of these changes? Let's take a closer look at each one.


Nutrient-Dense Meal Ideas


Blend burgers with veggies for more flavor, less saturated fat, and fewer calories (plus it's better for our planet!).

Add minced veggies like mushrooms, bell peppers, onions, even black beans with your burger meat. Try pre-roasting or grilling the veggies for richer flavor. Top your burger with other fresh or grilled veggies instead of cheese and mayo.


Spice up your recipes

Try to add spices to almost everything. Black pepper, garlic powder, thyme, oregano, rosemary, sage, turmeric, ginger, chili powder, cayenne pepper, cumin, cinnamon, nutmeg, and so many more! Spices (and herbs) are high in health benefits and can be used instead of salt or sugar.


Build a colorful bowl

Gather fruits, vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats and lean proteins, and make them into a beautiful masterpiece. You'll get the benefit of a colorful meal, with the addition of powerful nutrients called phytonutrients from the plant-based foods you choose. Think green brussels sprouts, white quinoa, red and orange bell pepper...the list goes on. Phytonutrients have powerful health benefits and anti-inflammatory properties.


Nutrient-Dense Snack Ideas


Swap in non-fat Greek yogurt for dips

Lower in calories and higher in protein than sour cream or mayo, non-fat Greek yogurt can be flavored with herbs and spices for a delish dip. This swap is becoming so popular that you can even find Greek yogurt dips at the store to save time.


Give bean-based dips a try this year

Lentils, white beans, black beans and pinto beans can all be pureed with your favorite seasonings and a little olive oil or veggie broth to create a protein-packed and nutritious pairing for veggies.


Choose plant-based colorful snacks

Opt for popcorn, jicama dippers and other veggies, fresh fruit, nuts, whole grain crackers in place of the standard chips for munching before the meal.


Cut sugar and calories not flavor in drinks

Stick with iced tea flavored with a few slices of fruit or fresh, sweet berries or blend punch and juice with sparkling water for more drink with less calories. For a cooling indulgence with fewer calories, make a sparkling margarita or wine spritzer by replacing a portion of the mixer or wine with sparkling water.


Enjoy sweet rewards without the guilt

Granita, sorbet or even frozen fruits serve up a satisfying finish to your meal with fewer calories and less sugar and fat. A drizzle of dark chocolate, dollop of whipped topping or some chopped nuts can add a touch more decadence and still keep calories in check.


Nutrient-Dense Recipes

Looking for recipes to follow to maximize the nutrients in your meals? Try one of these: