Family LIfe

Get Your Plate in Shape!

The human body is like a machine, if you put sub-quality things into it, that's exactly what will come out of it - sub-quality yuck. Compare the body to a car; if you fill your gas tank with the inappropriate mixture of fuel will it work? Of course not! Yet, each day human bodies are being filled with sugars, processed foods, bleached flours, artificial colorants and flavors and toxic chemicals.

There are so many diet plans out there claiming to make you slim and trim that it's mindboggling to sort out what's good for you and what isn't. It doesn't have to be that complicated and let's start by taking the "slim and trim" out of the equation. Let's go for HEALTHY. Eat healthfully and the rest magically happens. Since March is National Nutrition Month, it's the ideal time to learn what healthy eating is and how easy it really is. Let's change our focus to healthy eating.

You've probably heard of the Food Pyramid created by the US Government to serve as guidelines for nutritious eating. In 2011, the USDA scrapped the pyramid in favor of the MyPlate. It's designed to be less complicated and helpful to create a balanced diet. MyPlate is divided into four slightly different sized quadrants, with fruits and vegetables taking up half the space, and grains and protein making up the other half.

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (formerly the American Dietetic Association) offers the following recommendations to "Get Your Plate in Shape":

Make half your plate fruits and vegetables.
  • Eat a variety of vegetables, especially dark-green, red and orange varieties, as well as beans and peas.
  • When buying canned vegetables, choose "reduced sodium" or "no salt added" whenever possible. Rinsing whole varieties like beans, corn and peas can also reduce sodium levels.
  • Dried and frozen fruits and those canned in water or their own juice are good options when fresh varieties are not available.
  • Make sure every meal and snack has at least one fruit or vegetable or both.
Make at least half your grains whole.
  • Choose brown rice, barley and oats and other whole grains for your sides and ingredients.
  • Switch to 100-percent whole-grain breads, cereals and crackers.
  • Check the ingredients list on food packages to find foods that are made with whole grains.
Switch to fat-free or low-fat milk.
  • Fat-free and low-fat milk have the same amount of calcium and other essential nutrients as whole milk, but less fat and fewer calories.
  • If you are lactose intolerant, try lactose-free milk or a calcium-fortified soy beverage.
Vary your protein choices.
  • Eat a variety of foods each week from the protein food group like seafood, nuts and beans, as well as lean meat, poultry and eggs.
  • Eat more plant-based proteins such as nuts, beans, whole grains and whole soy foods like tofu and edamame.
  • At least twice a week, make fish and seafood the protein on your plate.
  • Keep meat and poultry portions lean and limit to three ounces per meal.
Cut back on sodium and empty calories from solid fats and added sugars.
  • Drink water instead of sugary drinks like regular sodas, fruit-flavored drinks and sweetened teas and coffees. Choose 100-percent fruit juice.
  • Compare sodium in foods and choose those with the least amount listed on the Nutrition Facts Panel.
  • Season foods with spices or herbs instead of salt.
  • Select lean cuts of meat or poultry and fat-free or low-fat dairy products.
  • Use heart-healthy oils like olive, canola and sunflower oil in place of butter or shortening when cooking.

Sound complicated? Not at all! And to make it easier, you can check out the MyPlate program and register for their SuperTracker. It's free and once you register, you'll find a sample plan and a place to "track" your food. Enter what you're eating and find out just how healthy is it. Can't get too much easier than that - and it's all free, your government tax dollars at work!

A few tips:
  • Starting children eating right early on is ideal, but it's never too late to introduce nutritious eating. Start with baby food when your baby is ready. Read labels to make sure baby is receiving healthy servings and less additives and preservatives, or make your own. Steam, puree, and freeze baby food as you prepare meals for adults and older children (before spices and seasonings are added). It takes more time to prepare initially, but as babies grow they'll be used to the taste of adult food and transition much easier. You can read more about making your own baby food on For information on feeding your children from ages one to three, check out StorkNet's Normal Nutrition, Growth and Development, One to Three Years Old article.

  • Healthy eating should include the entire family. It's great to tell children to do things, but much more effective if they see mom and dad doing them too. It's also fun to involve them in the process. Allow them to select a meal, help prepare the meal, select healthy snacks, or choose their lunch menu. The idea is to keep healthy foods available in readily available portions and to have fewer quantities of unhealthy items on hand. Healthy eating is just like most things - it's a habit and requires regular practice in order to make it stick.

  • Try to schedule family meals as often as possible. Whether large or small, statistics show that families who sit down regularly together for meals have children who are less likely to use drugs, are less likely to snack on junk foods, and are more likely to eat fruits and vegetables. Family meal time is an excellent time to introduce new foods as well. One family selects a new fruit or vegetable once a month and has all family members vote on the food. A majority vote determines whether or not the food should be added to the regular grocery list. Try to make it fun, mix it up and learn healthy nutrition together.

Let's get our plates in shape and celebrate National Nutrition Month not only during March but all through the year. Let's beat our current obesity epidemic and make Type II Diabetes a disease of the past. Eating healthfully isn't difficult or even expensive. It just takes a little knowledge and planning. We owe it to our children to do nothing less!

Copyright 2012 StorkNet Family Network

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