MyPlate Makes Balanced Nutrition Easier

A healthy diet builds strong bodies and minds. While your eating and fitness habits will change during different times of your life, the basics will remain the same.

Mastering MyPlate

MyPlate is a visual guide from the U.S. Department of Agriculture that replaces the old food guide pyramid and can help everyone plan a balanced diet.

The old method focused on the types of foods you should eat over the entire day, or in some cases over a week. MyPlate sets up a way to eat healthier at every meal — whether you’re eating off a plate, a bowl or a napkin — based on a few easy ideas:

  • Start with a small plate, as a reminder to eat less and avoid oversized portions.
  • Half of your plate should be vegetables and fruits (it’s best to have a little more vegetables than fruit).
  • The other half of your plate should be grains and lean protein (it’s best to have a little more grains than protein). As often as you can, choose grains that provide a good source of fiber, like whole grains.
  • Lastly, with most meals include low-fat or non-fat dairy foods or foods that are rich in calcium.

Why are the different food groups important?

Eating a variety of foods helps you get the balanced nutrition you need for better health. There are also certain nutrients — fiber, calcium, potassium and vitamin D — that are called “nutrients of concern” because many Americans don’t get enough of them. MyPlate reminds us to eat a variety of foods that provide these nutrients.

  • Fruits provide potassium, vitamin C, fiber, folate and phytonutrients.
  • Grains provide fiber, B vitamins, and folate.
  • Dairy foods provide calcium, vitamin D and potassium.
  • Protein foods provide iron, B vitamins, magnesium and zinc.
  • Vegetables provide potassium, vitamins A and C, fiber, folate and phytonutrients.

Don’t feel that you have to eat from every food group at every meal.

Snacks are a great way to fill in any nutrition gaps from your meals. For example:

  • A breakfast of cereal, fruit, and milk is a great start to your day. When you need a snack to fuel up between breakfast and lunch, choose something that will provide the vegetables and protein you didn’t eat for breakfast, like vegetable sticks dipped in hummus or celery dipped in peanut butter. 
  • If you don’t eat any grains for lunch because you had a salad with beans or chicken, snack on some high-fiber crackers and fruit in the afternoon. 
  • Many people don’t eat fruit as part of their dinner, so eat the fruit as a refreshing, wholesome dessert or evening snack.

Using MyPlate for One-Dish Meals

The goal of MyPlate is not for every meal to look like a plate of separate foods. You probably don’t eat that way. But if you keep MyPlate in mind when cooking “combination” foods like casseroles, burritos or stir-frys, you can create more and more balance in your meals until healthy eating becomes a habit that you don’t have to think about. When choosing ingredients for your one-dish meals, try the tips below to follow MyPlate recommendations.


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Casseroles and Stir-Frys

  • Pack in the veggies. Try to use two or three different colors of vegetables for a variety of nutrients. 
  • Try to use whole grain pasta or brown rice instead of white.
  • Meat should be a small part of the recipe. Consider the meat a flavoring rather than the main part of the dish.
  • If there is no dairy in your recipe, try to choose calcium rich foods like calcium fortified tofu, broccoli or leafy greens.
  • Instead of filling your plate with the dish, serve a smaller portion so that you have room for some fruit for dessert. Add 1 ounce sliced lean deli turkey to crackers.

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Soups

  • Choose a variety of vegetables. If you like creamy soup, try using vegetables to thicken the soup instead of cream. For example, you can use pureed corn and chicken broth to thicken a hearty chowder recipe.
  • Choose just enough low fat, low sodium proteins like chicken, fish, lentils or beans to flavor the soup.
  • If your soup doesn’t have a lot of high fiber ingredients, enjoy it with whole grain crackers or a roll.
  • Try adding kale or greens for some calcium if you didn’t eat any dairy foods for your afternoon snack.
  • End the meal with a fruit based dessert that provides some more fiber, like baked apples stuffed with dried fruit and high fiber cereal. Add 2 tablespoons sunflower seeds to popcorn.

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Burritos, Burgers and Wraps

  • Make sure to top or stuff these foods with with plenty of vegetables, and also serve some on the side. Try to get a total of one cup of vegetables in the meal.
  • Use low fat cheese.
  • Use whole grain buns, wraps or tortillas that provide a good source of fiber. Corn tortillas and brown rice are good options, but they don’t provide as much fiber as other whole grain choices, so try to include other high fiber foods like beans.
  • End the meal with a smoothie made from whole fruit, ice and a splash of milk or calcium fortified orange juice.