It’s National Nutrition Month – “Eat Right, Your Way, Every Day”

By Kelsey Vaughn, RD, CHOC Children’s clinical dietitian

This March is the 40th anniversary of National Nutrition Month, and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics encourages you to “Eat Right, Your Way, Every Day.” The theme of this year’s National Nutrition Month asks you to take a look at how your meals compare to current MyPlate standards and emphasizes that it is possible for all people to make foods choices that promote optimal health. This month is the perfect time to reflect on how you can “Eat Right, Your Way, Every Day”.

The MyPlate logo (pictured here) was launched in June 2011 by the United States Department of Agriculture , replacing  the MyPyramid logo previously seen on  food labels. MyPlate is a more visual way of demonstrating what eating healthy can look like and encourages us to choose foods from a variety of food groups to promote a balanced diet.

Eating the MyPlate way ensures we will better meet our vitamin and mineral needs with our daily food choices and promotes caloric balance by emphasizing portion control. The following food groups make up MyPlate: fruits, vegetables, grains, protein and dairy.

Fruits and Vegetables:
One quarter of MyPlate is portioned for fruits, and vegetables fill another quarter of the plate. Together, fruits and vegetables make up half the plate. Fruits and vegetables are full of nutrients and are low in calories. By filling half our plate with these foods, we are able to get adequate amounts of the essential vitamins and minerals that help keep our skin, nails and hair healthy and our immune system strong while not going overboard on calories.

Grains take up the third quarter of MyPlate. Pasta, cereals, bread, tortillas and other grain products help us to further meet our nutrient and fiber needs. Fiber is important to digestive health, and MyPlate emphasizes choosing whole grains such as brown rice, oatmeal, and whole wheat bread that are rich in fiber for maximum health benefits.

The final quarter of the plate is reserved for protein.  Most Americans consume more than enough protein to meet their needs, so MyPlate emphasizes portion control by recommending only ¼ of our plate be filled with protein and allowing the remaining ¾ of our plate to be filled with other food groups. MyPlate encourages both lean animal proteins and plant sources of protein. Poultry, pork, fish, lean red meats, nuts, seeds, beans and legumes are a few excellent protein sources.

The glass on the side of MyPlate represents a serving of dairy. Low-fat dairy products such as milk, yogurt and cheese are great sources of calcium, which is important for bone health.  Incorporate dairy into each meal of the day for adequate calcium intake.

We all have individual food preferences that are shaped by our family, culture, traditions and lifestyle. Despite our personal food preferences, we can all eat healthy, balanced meals each day by using the MyPlate guidelines. We don’t have to give up our favorite foods to eat healthy; ALL foods can fit into a healthy diet when consumed in moderation and in appropriate portion sizes.  Salad

Below are a few examples that highlight how a variety of foods can fit with MyPlate guidelines:

• Beans with rice and mixed vegetables (protein, grain, vegetable) , topped with cheese (dairy) and served with a side of mango (fruit)

• Small chicken breast (protein) served with large green salad topped with berries (vegetable, fruit) and served with a whole wheat roll (grain) and a glass of low-fat milk (dairy)

• Whole grain pasta with marinara sauce (with added vegetables such as mushrooms and onions) and lean ground beef (grain, vegetable, protein) served with green beans (vegetable) and low-fat cottage cheese topped with pineapple (dairy, fruit)

Take a look at how your plate compares with MyPlate recommendations this National Nutrition Month. Incorporate your preferred fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, low fat dairy products at meal times so each meal can be a step toward better health!

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