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Healthy Living Blog

Information and inspiration to help you make a habit out of living healthy.


How to Build a Healthy Plate

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

By , YMCA Registered Dietitian


Remember the food pyramid your teachers made you learn in middle school? The one that showed you how many servings of each food group to eat? You can probably picture it, but do you really remember how many servings of grains you’re supposed to have each day? Did that fall in the middle of the pyramid or was it the top?

Well, you can stop racking your brain because there’s an easier method to figure out how to fuel your body, and it will transform the way you eat and think about food.

Several years ago, the USDA introduced the My Plate Method. This simple approach asks you not to memorize a pyramid, but to just look at your plate. Follow these tips to build a healthy plate every time, and achieve your nutrition goals!

Make half your plate fruits and veggies: Instead of trying to remember that the average adult should aim for 5-9 servings of fruits and veggies daily, just shoot for making half of your plate full of a rainbow of produce! Remember to incorporate fresh produce as often as possible, but frozen, canned, and dried can all provide lots of vitamins and minerals as well. Aim for incorporating a variety of veggies and keep in mind that with fresh produce, typically the darker the colors, the more nutrients are present.

Make half your grains whole: The grain category should take up about a quarter of your plate, and this category consists of things like breads, cereals, and pastas. Choosing whole grains adds more heart- and gut-healthy fiber as well as more minerals like zinc, magnesium and B vitamins. Look for the word “whole” at the beginning of the ingredients list, or keep an eye out for the whole grain stamp on the front of the package to know you’re choosing the right thing.

Choose lean proteins: Protein takes up the other fourth of your plate and is important for building strong muscles, as well as helping you feel fuller, longer. Chicken, turkey and fish are your best bets for animal sources of protein because they’re lower in saturated fats, but try to include non-animal sources of proteins as well, such as beans, legumes, nuts, and seeds.

Pick low-fat or fat-free dairy: The MyPlate model includes a side of dairy because it is important to aim for three servings of dairy daily in order to get adequate amounts of calcium and vitamin D to build strong bones and teeth! Opting for low fat milk, yogurt, or cheese will keep you from racking up the calories, while still getting the nutrients you need.

Take it one plate at a time

I know it can seem overwhelming to determine how to eat well in today’s age, and it can be easy to overcomplicate basic nutrition principles. By building a healthy plate at each meal, you eliminate confusion and allow yourself to focus on what’s real and what your body needs the most. Next time you’re trying to figure out what to eat or feed your family, just focus on taking it one plate at a time.

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