Karen Ensle EdD, RD, FADA, CFCS
Family & Community Health Sciences Educator
Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Union County
Recommended strategies for taking small steps to eat healthy and balance your calories were released as “Choose MyPlate” on June 2, 2011. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced this new visual icon to help people make healthier food choices. MyPlate is a simple picture of a plate that represents the proportions of food one should consume including fruit, vegetables, protein, and grains with dairy as the beverage.
You can easily notice that half of the plate should be filled with fruits and vegetables. The plate icon also shows the relationship of grains to protein foods. Although protein is an important part of our diet, the amount of protein consumed should be limited to small portions. Dairy is represented in the graphic as an important component of a meal with an emphasis on consuming low-fat or fat free dairy foods.
The USDA makes the following recommendations for the American diet:
- Balance your calories by enjoying your food, but eat less. Avoid oversized portions and make physical activity a part of your daily routine!
- Increase the amount of fruits and vegetables in your diet. Vary the vegetables you eat by choosing raw or cooked, fresh, frozen, canned, or dried/dehydrated produce. They may be served whole, cut or mashed.
- Make at least half of your grains whole grains. Substitute brown rice for white and whole wheat bread for white. Other examples include bulgur or cracked wheat, oatmeal, and whole cornmeal.
- Switch to fat-free (skim) or low-fat (1%) milk.
- Select lean or low-fat meat and poultry foods. The USDA recommends including at least 8 ounces of cooked seafood per week for adults.
- Reduce consumption of foods high in fat, salt and sugar. Cut back on foods high in saturated fats and added sugar and salt including: cakes, cookies, ice-cream, candies, sweetened drinks, pizza, and fatty meats like sausages, bacon and hot dogs. Use these foods as occasional treats and not everyday foods.
- Compare sodium in foods. Use the Nutrition Facts Label to choose lower sodium versions of foods like soup, bread, and frozen meals.
- Drink water instead of sugary drinks.
A variety of resources are available at the MyPlate website. Sample menus for a 2,000-calorie food pattern over a period of seven days provide suggestions for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Average amounts of foods are shown in cups and provide a quick reference for weekly menus. Also included are tips for healthy eating when eating away from home and making healthy choices from a restaurant menu.
The MyPlate website offers printed materials including recipes, coloring sheets, and nutrition tips. Interactive tools include: a Daily Food Plan you can customize for your personal diet, Daily Food Plans for Preschoolers, Daily Food Menus for Moms, MyFoodapedia, (quick access to food information, food groups, calories, and food comparisons a Food Tracker, (feedback on your daily food intake and physical activity), and a Food Planner. Visit the website for all these helpful resources.
Remember, the intention of Choose MyPlate is to suggest that Americans take small steps to make sure their food intake includes nutritious foods and that children and adults are also physically active. Making healthy choices is up to you. Start today and improve your health and that of your family!