Making My Plate Work for Your Family
By Tons of Fun Nutritionist Tamara Melton, MS, RD, LD
In 2011, the USDA introduced My Plate, a new symbol for healthy eating to replace the 20-year-old food pyramid. The simpler design shows that nutrition doesn't have to be complicated.
My Plate is divided into four quadrants. Fruits and vegetables make up half the plate, while grains and protein make up the other half. It's important to note that My Plate is just a guide, so servings don't have to be proportional.
Gone are the old pyramid's references to sugars, fats and oils. What was once a category called "meat and beans" is now simply "protein," making way for seafood and vegetarian options like tofu. Next to the plate is a blue circle for "dairy," which could be a glass of milk or a food such as cheese or yogurt.
Though a plate is certainly easier to relate to than a pyramid, My Plate's simplicity may cause some parents to be confused about what exactly to cook. After all, even something as nutritious as a vegetable can be prepared in a way that's unhealthy. Fortunately, we're here to help. And as you'll see, My Plate is an excellent guide to creating healthy, balanced meals for you and your family.
Tips for making a healthy plate:
Choose lots of colors.
Children (and adults) love eating from colorful plates. Aim to have 3-4 colors in the foods on your plate.
Let your kids help create the menu.
Children will often come up with interesting combinations (chicken and Cheerios, anyone?). Allowing kids to share in the menu planning gets them excited about the meals, and may mean less pickiness at the dinner table.
Make a vegetarian meal 1-2 nights per week.
Meals using proteins such as beans and legumes are often less expensive and encourage creativity in menu planning.
Don't eat it all at once.
Younger children may not be able to eat all parts of the plate at one meal. Saving the dairy or fruit for a snack later in the day is appropriate and healthy.
Know your substitutions.
For breakfast, it is ok to replace the vegetables for all fruit, and for dinner, it’s ok to replace the fruit with all vegetables.
My Plate Dinner Ideas
Spaghetti and Meatballs, Side Salad and Strawberry Parfait
Grain: 1 cup spaghetti
Protein: 3 oz lean beef or lean turkey meatballs
Vegetables: ½ cup tomato sauce; 1 cup green salad with ½ tablespoon olive oil and ½ tablespoon balsamic vinegar
Dairy/Fruit: 1 cup low-fat Greek yogurt layered with 1 cup of sliced strawberries