Nutrient dense meals are key when it comes to optimizing overall health and feeling our best. Keep reading to learn what nutrient dense means and examples of nutrient dense foods, recipes, and snacks!
What Does Nutrient Dense Mean?
The term nutrient dense essentially means the amount of nutrients in a food/meal/snack/recipe. The more nutrient dense something is, the more nutrition it has! I recommend to include nutrient dense options as much as possible when it comes to eating, cooking, and meal planning.
A common example I like to use is potato chips versus a baked potato. Potato chips are deep-fried and fairly processed, whereas a baked potato is a natural, whole food that contains nutrients like potassium and vitamin C. Plus, if you top it with some plain low-fat Greek yogurt (instead of butter and sour cream), you're getting extra protein and probiotics!
Long story short, the closer something is to it's natural state (aka less processed), the more nutrient dense it probably is.
Nutrient Dense Foods
Writing out a full list of nutrient dense foods is difficult because there are so many! Think any and all fresh or frozen produce (like fruits and vegetables), beans, legumes, whole grains, low-fat/fat-free dairy, nuts, seeds, fish, lean meats, tofu, etc. Here are some of my favorite specific nutrient dense foods:
- Berries (strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries)
- Tart cherries (not maraschino!)
- Leafy greens (spinach, kale, etc)
- Greek yogurt
Nutrient Dense Snacks
I always recommend including a fruit and/or veggie into every snack in order to create a nutrient dense snack. Here are my go-to nutrient dense snacks:
- Greek yogurt parfait with berries and almonds
- Hummus with baby carrots and sliced cucumber
- Scrambled eggs with spinach, peppers, and onion
- Guac with sliced bell peppers
- Smoothies with frozen cauliflower and spinach or kale (plus fruit)
- Apple or pear with low-fat cheddar cheese
- Small handful of mixed nuts
- Half (or whole) turkey sandwich on whole wheat bread with hummus, low-fat cheese, and spinach
- Homemade trailmix with air-popped popcorn, walnuts, no sugar added dried fruit, dark chocolate chips
- Dates filled with natural peanut or almond butter and drizzled with dark choclate and sea salt
Nutrient Dense Recipes
A lot of the recipes on my website are nutrient dense but here are some of my favorites!
- Healthy Chocolate Zucchini Bread
- Carrot Cake Breakfast Cookies
- Baked Oatmeal with Blueberries & Almond
- Chocolate Chia Seed Pudding
- Zucchini Breakfast Muffins
- Stovetop Apple Butter Recipe
- Easy Berry Chia Seed Jam
- Date Caramel Sauce
- Pumpkin Baked Oatmeal with Coffee Yogurt Sauce
- Healthy Beef Chili Recipe
- Butternut Squash Pasta Sauce
- Hummus Salad Dressing
- Kale Caesar with Crispy Chickpeas
- Spicy Peanut Noodles Recipe
- Crispy Broccoli Potato Latkes
- Easy Sweet Potato Casserole
- Creamy Tomato Sauce (Without Cream!)
- Roasted Ranch Cauliflower
- Baked Tortilla Chips Recipe
- Healthy Buffalo Chicken Dip
- Fresh Strawberry Fruit Salsa
- Homemade Healthy Ranch Dip
- Best Hummus Recipe
- Crispy Roasted Broccoli
- Crispy Chickpeas with Truffle Salt
- Gingerbread Cookie Bars
- Frozen Yogurt Granola Cups
- Frozen Chocolate Banana Sandwiches
- Healthy Cookie Dough Dip
The secret to improving the nutrient density of recipes is to add ingredients that are naturally nutrient dense and/or making swaps that improve the nutrient profile. For example, if a recipe calls for oil, subbing half of the oil for applesauce or mashed banana. Or swapping low-fat dairy for regular full-fat. One of my favorite things to do is blend veggies into sauces and dips to sneak them in without adding much flavor!
Nutrient Dense Meals: Conclusion
The key to improving the nutrient density of your meals, snacks, and recipes is to start small. Evaluate what you're currently doing and find small ways here and there to improve the nutrient profile! This could mean adding baby carrots to your hummus instead of/in addition to pretzels or pita chips, adding diced apple to a salad, or a few handfuls of spinach to your pasta sauce.
It's all about small, sustainable changes and every little bit counts here! I would love to hear your thoughts on this article so please review it below. I'd love your feedback!
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Resource: Putting it all Together
If you don't want to think about all the details of putting together nutrient dense meals and snacks, let me help! I have a 4-week meal plan calendar that takes care of 30-days' worth of breakfasts, lunches, dinners, snacks, and sweet treats!
It contains live recipe links, customizable grocery lists, and a portion size guide based on your body composition goals. The entire calendar is written by myself, a registered dietitian, so the nutrition piece is completely taken care of! Check it out HERE!