Shape Up Your Plate for National Nutrition Month & Beyond

March is just around the corner — a perfect time to recognize National Nutrition Month! Check out the helpful nutrition facts and guidelines below, by Sarah Kavlich, RD, clinical dietitian at CHOC Children’s.

Each March, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (formerly the American Dietetic Association) encourages Americans to return to the basics of healthy eating by consuming the recommended amounts of fruits, vegetables, grains, proteins and dairy through a month- long campaign called “National Nutrition Month.”

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, founded in 1917, is the world’s largest organization of food and nutrition professionals. The Academy is dedicated to improving the nation’s health, and advancing the profession of dietetics through research, education and advocacy.

National Nutrition Month began in 1973 as a week-long event known as “National Nutrition Week.” In 1980, the event expanded into a month-long observance as a response to growing public awareness in the area of nutrition. To recognize the dedication of registered dietitians as the leading advocates for advancing the nutritional status of Americans and people around the world, the second Wednesday of each March is celebrated as “Registered Dietitian Day.” This year – 2012 – marks the fifth annual Registered Dietitian Day.

The theme for this year’s National Nutrition Month is “Shape Up Your Plate,” based on the 2011 “MyPlate” campaign launched by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to replace “MyPyramid”. The initiative of “MyPlate” (as seen below) is to divide your plate into four sections: fruits, vegetables, grains and proteins, as well as a glass of a dairy product. Go to to find examples of foods for each section of your plate, portion sizes, benefits and helpful tips.

Shaping up your plate is about balancing your calories. You should enjoy your food, but avoid oversized portions. Increase some foods, while reducing others. By ensuring that half of your plate is made up of fruits and vegetables, you will feel full without going overboard on calories. Make at least half of your grains whole by choosing brown rice, whole wheat bread and quinoa.

Switch to fat-free or low-fat (1%) milk and dairy products. You can reduce your sodium intake by reading food labels on various foods such as soups, bread and frozen meals, and choosing foods that are lower in sodium. Lastly, make sure to drink water or sugar-free beverages in place of sugary ones.

What better time to re-vamp what’s on your plate than spring. March marks the beginning of spring when various fruits and vegetables like broccoli, beets, blood oranges, chard, kale, lemons, mushrooms and strawberries are beginning to wake up from their long winter’s nap and make their grand entrance onto your plate. Planning your meals around fruits and vegetables that are in season will make shopping easier, and lead to better-tasting meals made with fresh ingredients.

Visit  to find a recipe using kale. (*Substitute whole wheat pasta to increase the fiber content.) Serve this pasta with a side of roasted asparagus topped with orange segments to shape up your plate!

Make March your start for simple changes that will last a lifetime.

Resources: , , and .

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