Last week, a mighty pyramid was toppled by the humble dinner plate.
For nearly a century (since 1916), the USDA has provided nutrition and food guidance to Americans, and the food guide pyramid has been a big part of that for the better part of the last 20 years.
After fiddling around with flow-charts, food wheels, brochures, and pyramids, USDA nutrition guidance looks to be coming back to the dinner table.
The new plate-shaped icon is both simple and easy to understand. It does the job of emphasizing fruits and vegetables, which is a valuable enough stand-alone message. It can also be a good jumping off place for more personalized nutrition counseling.
“This is a quick, simple reminder for all of us to be more mindful of the foods that we’re eating and as a mom, I can already tell how much this is going to help parents across the country,” said First Lady Michelle Obama.
“When mom or dad comes home from a long day of work, we’re already asked to be a chef, a referee, a cleaning crew. So it’s tough to be a nutritionist, too. But we do have time to take a look at our kids’ plates. As long as they’re half full of fruits and vegetables, and paired with lean proteins, whole grains and low-fat dairy, we’re golden. That’s how easy it is.”
What to Love about MyPlate
- Emphasis on vegetables and fruit. They make up half the plate.
- No counting calories, servings, or portions. My best advice to reduce all of these is to simply use a smaller plate!
Shop Like an RD
When I’m grocery shopping for my family of two (just me and my husband), my first stop is Great Right Now Produce in the What’s Good section.
As a rule, I put at least one each of the six options in my cart (there are 3 top-rated veggies and 3 top-rated fruits), and I commit to making meals and snacks out of them. This is a great way for us to try and learn about how to prepare a variety of seasonal produce.
Next I click in to shop all Peak Produce to see if there’s anything else in there that looks good to me. Now this next step may seem like overkill for some, but next I also do a sweep of the vegetables section, then the fruit section, to see if there’s anything else I’d like to have on hand for the week.
When I have plenty of produce in my cart, I move on and look for sustainable seafood, skinless antibiotic-free chicken, or edamame (or other beans) as the protein in my meals.
Last, I go cruising through the grocery department for whole grains and dried beans. I like brown rice (and its quick cooking cousin, brown rice cous cous), red or black quinoa (it’s pretty and nutritious), lentils and whole grain pasta.
Finally, if we’re running low, I make sure to drop into my cart Fair Trade coffee, almond milk, and organic, lactose-free, 1% milk. By way of indulgences, Kosher Dill Spears also make a fairly regular appearance in my cart — my husband loves them. And to be honest, so do goldfish crackers!
USDA’s Healthy Eating in 3 Simple Ideas
1. Balance Calories. Enjoy your food, but eat less. Stay away from over-sized portions.
2. Eat More of This. More fruits, veggies, low-fat or non-fat milk, and whole grains.
3. Eat Less of That. Keep sodium in check in foods like soup, bread, frozen meals, and drink water, not sugar.
Though the plate icon is extremely simple, the introduction of MyPlate does not ignore or erase the complexities of choosing healthy foods; and it shouldn’t. Useful information on specific foods, portion sizes, how to build a healthy meal plan and more are still important (USDA provides information and tools available at www.choosemyplate.gov).
A Few Reservations
- My Plate does a great job of focusing on foods, not nutrients, except in the case of protein. Protein is a nutrient, and it can come from meat, poultry, eggs, or beans, grains, and dairy foods — and it’s also something Americans get plenty of.
- It doesn’t communicate the role of processed foods or nutrients such as saturated fat, added sugars, and sodium that are clearly connected to major health conditions.
- Dairy foods are not a necessary part of the diet — but at least it’s off to the side.
The bottom line is that My Plate is a simpler and easier-to-understand way to think about eating for health and wellness. Of course, it is just one tool among many that nutritionists, health care professionals and parents can have in their toolbox.
For more of my food tips (all with great savings!), check out my Healthy Living for Less section.