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What are balanced menus anyway?

Great question. The answer is almost as intuitive as it sounds, honestly. Balanced menus are about making sure more of our meals are more in line with leading evidence-based nutrition science more of the time.

Wait, do you mean vegan?


What about whole-food plant-based?


So, paleo?


Hmmm, I’ve heard things about the Keto diet.

Definitely not.

Balanced menus aren’t about one specific diet or ideology.

Eating only kale for every meal isn't balanced either. All-or-nothing diets are, by definition, not balanced.

Sure, there are camps on all sides of the nutrition debate that champion one diet over another - and no matter how much we yell at each other in the comments section about how right one diet is, different beliefs and behaviors are sure to persist. Even if there was a major, global consensus about a singular way to eat, the unfortunate thing about rigid, unyielding nutrition advice is this: even the most precise, undeniable science and its accompanying meal plans won’t work for everyone.

This is true for so many complex reasons not the least of which are accessibility and food environments, cost, culture, knowledge, cooking skills, competing priorities, confusion, food industry-influenced misinformation campaigns, and geography. Just to name a few.

Many well-intentioned people believe that information and education are enough to change the lifelong dietary patterns of others - likely because education and information is what changed their own eating habits. While this is certainly true for some, this belief oversimplifies the complex nature of behavior change and the particularly sensitive relationship many people have with their food.

That’s why, even though we each have our own beliefs about what we consider healthiest and the scientific consensus is increasingly pointing toward heavily plant-based diets, here at Balanced we aren't on a mission to convince individuals what they should be eating or how to feed their families.

We're here to advocate for food system changes that are reasonable, feasible, and sustainable at a large scale.

We advocate for something slightly less strict than any one type of diet. Something slightly more realistic. Something a bit more balanced if you will.

Given the current dietary patterns of most Americans, wherein over 57% of our diets are made up of ultra-processed food products, we’re consuming at least 50% meat, eggs, and dairy than recommended, and 97% of us are fiber deficient, that balance is going to look like more plant-proteins, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains in place of some animal-source proteins and junk food products.

It’s just that simple.

Breakdown of the Standard American Diet (left) Minimum recommendations from the USDA Dietary Guidelines (right)

For our diets to get truly balanced, our menus and community institutions have to do the same. This means taking a hard look at the foods our families are being served and demanding better on the whole.

To be clear, championing for balanced menus isn’t some covert mission to take away choice and shove kale down anyone’s throat - quite the opposite in fact! Although kale is delicious.

Balanced menus are about real choice. And choice depends on having a diversity of options and access to foods of substantial nutritional value. So if we're being honest with ourselves, asking someone to choose between pepperoni pizza and chicken nuggets isn’t choice at all. It’s just more of the same thing.

And clearly more of the same (unhealthy) thing isn’t balanced at all.


Audrey Lawson-Sanchez is the founder and executive director of Balanced. She lives in Kansas City with her daughter, husband, and admittedly too many pets.

Balanced is a 501(c) nonprofit organization. We depend on the generous donations of our supporters to keep our work going strong. If you value our content or our work, please consider a donation of any size.

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