Getting Your Plate in Shape: The Plate Method

It’s National Nutrition Month: Did you get your plate in shape?

 The idea of how to use your plate for portion control, balanced eating, and even diabetes management has been known as “The Plate Method”. One version, for example, is from Harvard (below). Another is “My Plate” from http://www.choosemyplate.gov/. Both are relatively similar and encourage you to balance your meals with healthy fats, lean proteins, and carbohydrates coming from vegetables and fruits.

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               The Plate Method can be a great starting point for anyone who wants to eat better, eat balanced meals, and not stress over counting calories.

If you’re considering this method, you will want to:

  • Make half of your plate non-starchy vegetables and a smaller portion/side of fruit.

  • Consider 1% or skim milk in place or higher fat milks if you want to watch your calories and fat intake.

  • Try to make at least half of your grains whole grains; consider ancient grains such as quinoa or amaranth for more variety.

  • Change up your protein sources to get a variety of nutrients. Consider salmon or tuna for their omega-3 fatty acids and maybe an addition of plant-based proteins for even more variety.

  • Consume foods and beverages with little or no added sugars. Even if you’re considering fruit juice, try to limit it to 4 ounces. Try to stick with water, which you can flavor or infuse with herbs and fruits. Consider tea and coffee, without too much added sweeteners or cream, instead of soda.

  • Keep an eye on your sodium intake and try to avoid adding salt to already prepared meals. Keep the table salt off the table and make it inconvenient. Try using herbs and spices for more flavor. Remember! If you prepare the food at home, you have more control over the amount of salt, fat, etc. that is used.

  • Choose foods with healthy fats over saturated and trans fats.

  • Eat for your needs. Try to only eat until full. Extra calories can lead to extra, unnecessary body weight.

  • Cook at home when possible. Cooking at home allows you to be in control of what goes on your plate and may help save you money.

  • When dining out:

    • consider looking at the menu online so you know what you should order

    • try to use the plate method, if possible. Select your lean protein, select your non-starchy vegetables, choose your starch in the form of starchy vegetables or grains, a side of fruit, and you’re on your way to a balanced meal.

    • consider asking the server to put half of your order in a to-go box before it arrives at your table

  • Keep track of what you eat throughout the day. There are many of free websites, phone apps, and inexpensive notebooks that will allow you to track your meals without adding up all the calories (but some may do it for you automatically, if you are interested in that).  Of course, using the plate method is simple and you don’t have to track all of your meals unless you feel that doing so might provide you with insight such as a food allergy/intolerance, unbalanced meals, or excessive calories.

  • When drinking alcoholic beverages, do so in moderation: 1 drink/day for women, 1-2/day for men are the general recommendations. What consists as a drink serving does vary depending on the alcoholic beverage your are drinking.

  • Be physically active.

Why Do I Encourage a Plate Method?

I think using the plate method makes meal planning easy. You can choose your lean protein choice, non-starchy vegetables, a side of fruit, and some fat in the form of olive oil for cooking, a little butter for flavor, or as dressing over a salad to create your recipes when at home or order these items from a menu when dining out without fretting over exact calories. If you try to follow the plate method and choose foods in their less processed forms and avoid excess sodium then eating a healthy, well balanced meal every meal each day can become simple.

You can download your own plate method worksheet here: http://platemethod.com/downloads.html

Test Your Nutrition Knowledge

A free basic nutrition quiz here: http://nutrition.about.com/library/blnutritionquiz.htm

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Week 14 countdown: Fruits and Vegetables

According to the “14 steps to unprocessed foods” challenge I am participating in, I am to include two different fruits and/or vegetables at every meal.

Breakfast

First of all, I chose some of my already established breakfast choices and asked how I could add more fruits and vegetables to them. Here are a couple of examples:

  • Scrambled eggs or omelets: these are easy choices to add vegetables to. For convenience, I purchased frozen (usually organic for personal preference) vegetables and tossed them into the skillet first with olive or canola oil and then added my eggs, as desired. I stick with the general rule of a serving of vegetables as 1 cup raw or 1/2 cup cooked.
  • Hot or cold cereal: another choices that made it easy to add fresh fruit to; strawberries, blueberries, and peaches are my top choices. I also like to add a little cinnamon for blood glucose control (see a post about this later) and taste.
  • Of course, if I didn’t feel like I could get enough in with what I was eating, other options included a yogurt with fruit added (I usually buy a large tub and add my own fruit), I could have a small glass of fruit/vegetable juice, or I could throw in whatever I felt like into a smoothie and take it with me to sip on throughout my morning.
  • Now, for my simple tastes, I could eat the cereal and/or eggs every other day for each day of the week and be satisfied. However, if you’re craving more adventure, I suggest that since we’re talking about fruits and vegetables, you take a visit to VegetarianTimes.com Breakfast Recipe Section or any recipe website/book you enjoy that will encourage you to add in more fruits and vegetables.

Lunch/Dinner

For lunch and/or dinner, I suggest falling back on “The Plate Method” because it allows you to pick the protein, vegetable, starch, and fat of your choices which is convenient when you’re at home or dining out. It’s also perfect if you’re a visual person. Now, The Plate Method is often something used for diabetics but even though I don’t have diabetes, I find it to be a very effective visual aid to remind people, including myself, of what a balanced meal consists of.

The Plate Method

The typical guidelines are:

  • Fill 1/2 of your plate with non-starchy vegetables
  • Fill 1/4 of your plate with lean protein
  • Fill 1/4 of your plate with starches (grains, breads, starchy vegetables)
  • Add a serving of fruit, if appropriate/desired
  • Use heart-healthy fats/oils for preparation
  • Add seasonings and spices with minimal sodium for flavor
  • For more details, check out the images linked above

I actually use this method when grocery shopping- sometimes I draw the plate out on a sheet of paper a few times and write in the different proteins, starches, etc. that I want in my meals for that week or I use the hand-drawn plates to come up with my meals. This method works great for simple meals. For combination meals and recipes, I like to use a variety of websites that give me the nutritional information such as http://www.eatingwell.com/.  As I mentioned above, there are some wonderful plant-based or vegetarian recipes out there that will help you figure out what fruits and vegetables to add to your meals- you can simply swap out their recommended meatless choices, such as soy, for your own meat of choice in the recipes.

Share with us! What are some tips or recipes you use to get more fruits and vegetables into your meals? Did any of my tips spark any ideas? Please share so that others may also benefit from your experiences. Also, keep an eye out as I will try to update this post with more tips, pictures of some of my meals, and recipe inspirations.

DISCLAIMER:

This article is for informational purposes only, and is educational in nature. Statements made here have not been evaluated by the FDA.  This article is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. Please discuss with your own, qualified health care provider before adding in supplements or making any changes in your diet or exercise routine.