It has been one year now since the USDA updated their nutrition recommendations, moving away from a pyramid to a plate. MyPyramid, released in 2005, had many good intentions, but turned out to be too abstract for most folks. I think MyPlate is more user friendly.
What are the main ideas? First of all, we need to use smaller plates. Fifty years ago, dinner plates were the size of our salad plates today! If your dinner plate more closely resemble serving trays, it is time to rearrange your cupboards to make those huge plates hard to get to. Use plates that are about nine or ten inches across. Smaller plates, bowls, cups and serving utensils can all contribute to reasonable portion sizes and a healthy weight.
We need to base our meals on produce; loads of fruits and vegetables! We can probably get away with not having vegetables at breakfast, but they need to be the star of the show at lunch and dinner. Go for a variety; a lot of what gives fruits and vegetables their color, also gives them their nutrition. Vary your color for a healthy meal! White onions, green broccoli and orange carrots all have different vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals to offer and have great flavor to boot!
More fruit? All forms count (fresh, frozen canned, dried and 100% juice), but try to minimize your intake as juice. From the website, here are some tips for including more fruits throughout the day:
Keep a bowl of whole fruit on the table, counter, or in the refrigerator.
Buy fruits that are dried, frozen, and canned (in water or 100% juice) as well as fresh, so that you always have a supply on hand.
Consider convenience when shopping. Try pre-cut packages of fruit (such as melon or pineapple chunks) for a healthy snack in seconds. Choose packaged fruits that do not have added sugars.
Protein foods include red meat, chicken, pork and fish, but also beans and peas, processed soy foods like tofu tempeh and veggie burgers, seafood nuts and seeds. Proteins provide the amino acids your body needs to build and maintain muscle tissue, our red blood cells and immune system and more. Proteins also provide many minerals, such as iron, magnesium and zinc, as well as some B-vitamins. If you're selecting fatty fish, such as tuna, salmon and sardines, you're also getting the benefit of the essential fatty acids EPA and DHA.
Most of us eat plenty of grain foods, (bread, bagels, cereal, rice, tortillas) but many of us could improve our level of whole grains. A grain is the seed of the plant and has three parts; the germ (food for the seed; loaded with nutrients), the bran (the hard outer coating; loaded with fiber) and the endosperm, what is left after refining a whole grain. Look for breads and crackers that have "100% whole grain" on the package, whole grain cereals and oatmeal for breakfast, and brown rice and quinoa with dinner. You can do it!
Lastly, on the side of the plate is a circle of dairy to represent a glass of milk, yogurt or cheese. Dairy is a good source of calcium, potassium and magnesium, all important for bone health. Dairy is also fortified with vitamins A and D. If you don't tolerate milk well, or chose a non-dairy alternative, that is a good choice too; just make sure that the soy or rice milk is fortified with these nutrients so that you're diet is well balanced!