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 Both are relatively similar and encourage you to balance your meals with healthy fats, lean proteins, and carbohydrates coming from vegetables and fruits.


               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:

Test Your Nutrition Knowledge

A free basic nutrition quiz here: