Last week, the USDA unveiled the new MyPlate image to replace the outdated food pyramid. When I first saw the new image, I felt a welcome relief at the simplicity of this concept. The plate seemed like the iPhone of the nutrition world. Simply and intuitively designed – replacing a complex chart of recommendations with something that even a busy person could use in their every day lives.
As an individual and as a parent, I have worked hard for the last 5 or more years to dramatically change the buying and eating habits in our household. We buy most of our food, at least during the months from May until November, at the farmer’s markets around town. We try to buy most of our meat, eggs and dairy products from local farms. For the food that we purchase from the supermarket or from restaurants, I make a conscious effort to buy mostly real foods that are not full of preservatives, additives or other unidentifiable ingredients. Despite these efforts, it can still be a challenge to make sure that my meals are nutritionally well rounded.
My favorite feature of the new design MyPlate is that it is accessible even to the youngest children. Most people in this country eat their meals off plates, or at least are familiar with them. The idea of how much food to put on the plate and in what proportions resonates with me. Perhaps this image will also have the secondary effect of acting as a wake-up call to any Americans who are currently eating their meals primarily on the go, in their cars, or as undefined snacks constantly throughout the day (“grazing” as my father used to call it in our house).
Secondary Benefit of the Plate Image? Perhaps People will Focus on Sitting Down to Meals
To me, the take home message in the new image is that the healthiest option is to eat real meals, sitting down, preferably with others. These meals should be loaded with vegetables and fruits, with the addition of grains and protein. I suspect that the new USDA plate does not look like the plates of most Americans today at the average meal. Many, myself included most of the time, eat meals with more grains or proteins covering the plate than vegetables or fruits most of the time. However, this seems like a very achievable change to make. As long as we can help people get access to vegetables and fruits (outside the scope of this post – but there have been plenty of things written about how much easier it is in this country to get cheap meats and carbs than fresh fruits and veggies), then it seems simple with this guide to adjust your plate to be half covered in vegetables and fruits each meal.
Easy Enough for Kids and Busy Parents
The other reason I like this image, besides its simplicity, is that it is easy. A child could easily use this as a template to fill their plate. Moreover, there are already a ton of children’s plates on the market that are easily divided…perhaps there should be similar plates for adults – I suspect someone is marketing this as I type. In case you were worried, someone has already developed the “Bacon My Plate” items. But, the point is that if you are a harried parent in today’s busy world, you may be searching for easy healthy foods for your kids. Well, perhaps the answer is here, just make sure that you fill the plate according to the guidelines and voila – dinner is ready.
Entire USDA MyPlate Website Devoted to Tips and Tools
What is less obvious from the media coverage in the last few days about the USDA MyPlate announcement is that the recommendations are not just in the image. The USDA has created a complete website and brochure that detail the recommendations much more thoroughly. It also includes a number of interactive tools that help you evaluate the food group, calories and other details about particular foods. There are tools to help you plan meals, specific recommendations for toddlers and pregnant/nursing moms, advice for weight loss and other tips. A few of the other tips from the USDA brochure that I found especially important:
- Make half your plate fruits and vegetables
- Eat red, orange, and dark-green vegetables
- Eat fruit, vegetables or unsalted nuts as snacks – they are nature’s original fast foods.
- Switch to skim or 1% milk.
- Make at least half your grains whole.
- Vary your protein food choices.
- Twice a week, make seafood the protein on your plate.
- Use a smaller plate, bowl, and glass.
- Stop eating when you are satisfied, not full.
- Keep physically active.
These are just a few of the recommendations that accompany the new MyPlate image. There are lots more details available online. One of the recommendations that I was given when my son was a baby, just learning to eat finger foods, was to provide him with a rainbow of foods. Again, I think that the image works! If you feed your children (and yourself) a variety of different colored foods (and I am talking natural colors – think cherries, oranges, yellow peppers, spinach, blueberries, eggplant – not artificial colors…not fruit loops) throughout the day and week, you will provide a natural array of different vitamins and minerals without having to worry about reading labels.
What are your tips for healthy eating? Do you like this new image? Do you think that it will make any impact on the obesity crisis?