Canadian Firefighter Magazine

Recipe Rescue: It’s all about balance

By Patrick Mathieu   

Features Nutrition canadian firefighter firefighters wellness

Photo credit: Patrick Mathieu

At Waterloo Fire Rescue, I am fortunate enough to work with one of the leaders of the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) Peer Fitness Initiative Team, Luke Pederson. He has a super progressive mind and is a true pioneer in firefighter health and fitness. Our stations are posturized with small tidbits of useful information from the IAFF on everything to help us all lead and live healthier, happier lives. Posters include tips on fitness, body movement, sleep, hydration, cancer fighting tips and nutrition—to name just a few. I find great value in seeing these little reminders on our station walls and would highly recommend it for all departments. For the purpose of this article, though, I’m going to hone in on one particular poste that focuses on nutrition and building a better plate.

A key to good nutrition and feeling full after eating is to aim to eat meals that are well balanced. But what does that mean? What does a well-balanced meal and building a better plate consist of?

The new standard food guide plate consists of:

  1. Making half your plate vegetables and fruits. They should always make up the largest proportion of the foods you eat throughout the day.
  2. Making one-quarter of your plate whole grain foods. Grains and starchy foods vary in calories, fat, sugar and fibre, but they are all higher in carbohydrates. Healthy grains and starchy foods include brown rice, whole wheat pasta, potatoes (with the skin), as well as turnips and butternut squash.
  3. Making one-quarter of your plate protein foods. Tip: choose lean proteins. Try using protein-based foods that come from plants, limit red and processed meats.

So basically, a balanced meal is one that offers a variety or balance of foods and therefore nutrients. Generally, a balanced meal or snack will hopefully consist of at least three different food groups (like carbs, protein, fat, etc.) A well-balanced meal typically consists of a source of carbohydrates, a serving of protein, some healthy fat and one or more servings of vegetables and fruit.


Eating balanced meals is important for several reasons, such as increasing the variety of your intake and feelings of fullness. When you aim to include different foods like grains and starches, proteins, healthy fats and fruits/vegetables in your meals and snacks, you’re increasing the variety in your diet. Eating a varied diet is important because it increases the likelihood that you’ll meet important nutrient requirements.

By increasing your dietary variety and adding several nourishing foods to your meals, you’re taking care of various aspects of your health at once. By adding fruits, vegetables and other plant foods like grains and nuts, you’re eating more fibre – which is important for digestive health and your gut microbiome. You’re also eating vitamins and minerals that are essential for good health. By incorporating protein, you’re supporting your muscles, bones and a wide array of important body functions. By adding sources of healthy fat, you’re supporting things like heart health and your body’s ability to absorb fat-soluble vitamins.

Eating balanced meals is important for several reasons, such as increasing the variety of your intake and feelings of fullness.

Balanced meals that include things like fibre (found in fruits/vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds), protein and fats not only increase the variety in your diet, but they also help you feel fuller. They do this because they digest slower. For example, a slice of toast with jam would not keep you nearly as full as a slice of toast with jam paired with two scrambled eggs and some orange slices. The protein from the eggs and fibre from the orange slow down the digestive process, helping you to feel full for longer.

Satisfaction generally comes from gaining pleasure from the eating experience, so in addition to a variety of food groups, try to find ways to incorporate flavours and textures that you love. These are definitely part of a balanced meal, too. Trust me, making healthy choices on a consistent basis will be much more sustainable if you are enjoying your eating experience!

Well-balanced, filling meals also help to keep your blood sugar levels stable. By avoiding big spikes and crashes in our blood sugar levels, we’re also going to feel more stable energy levels, so we’re not always heading towards the coffee pot.

As firefighters, we like to keep things simple, and building a balanced meal is not something we need to overthink. Sometimes, a balanced meal might emphasize fruit and vegetables less, and look something like one third vegetables, one third grains or starches and one third protein. Sometimes, your plate may be one half fruits and vegetables and one half protein-rich foods or whole grains. This can still be considered a balanced meal, too. However, when you’re able, aiming to include fruits/vegetables, grains/starches and protein foods is ideal from both a nutrition, energy and fullness/satisfaction standpoint. Of course, it’s important to aim for a varied diet and eat lots of nourishing foods, but we are human. That being said, there are days when some of your meals lack vegetables. Or maybe you just want a big bowl of pasta, or pizza, without the side salad. This is all perfectly okay and a part of normal life. Listen to your body, and work on honouring your hunger and cravings as well as building balanced meals.

Eating well isn’t about being perfect. It’s about what you do most of the time, not all of the time. There is plenty of room for fun and enjoying the eating experience, in addition to taking care of you.

For a balanced and super colourful plate, try this recipe from my cookbook, The FireHouse Chef , for grilled tuna with Sicilian salsa.

Eat well and stay safe!

Grilled ahi tuna with Sicilian salsa recipe


4 ahi tuna steaks (about ½ lb/225 g each)

2 Tbsp (30 mL) grapeseed oil, for coating

Spice rub

1 Tbsp (15 mL) garlic powder

1 Tbsp (15 mL) dried basil

1 tsp (5 mL) ground fennel seeds

¼ tsp (1 mL) red chili pepper flakes

½ Tbsp (7.5 mL) kosher salt

1 tsp (5 mL) lemon pepper or freshly ground black pepper

Sicilian salsa

¼ cup (60 mL) chopped cured black olives

1 cup (250 mL) chopped tomatoes

¼ cup (60 mL) chopped fresh basil

3 garlic cloves, minced

¼ tsp (1 mL) cayenne

2 Tbsp (30 mL) extra virgin olive oil

Juice of ½ lemon

Kosher salt, to taste

Prepare a grill for direct grilling over high heat and oil the grill rack. Coat the tuna with grapeseed oil.

Spice rub. In a small bowl mix together the garlic powder, basil, fennel seeds, chili flakes, salt and pepper. Sprinkle both sides of each tuna steak generously with the spice rub.

Sicilian salsa. To make the salsa, combine all ingredients in a bowl, taste and season with salt. Set aside.

Grill the tuna directly over high heat for 1 to 2 minutes per side, until grill-marked and still rare in the middle. Arrange the tuna steaks on individual plates and top with the salsa. Serve alongside your favourite pasta.

Patrick Mathieu is an acting captain at Waterloo Fire Rescue in Ontario. He was recently featured on Food Network’s Chopped Canada. @StationHouseCCo.

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