Simplify healthy eating by learning to use ChooseMyPlate to plan your meals!
ChooseMyPlate was created to show people how to eat in the healthiest way. The image of dividing a typical dinner plate into 5 balanced food groups was designed to remind us to eat a variety of healthy foods, in proper amounts. This simple eating pattern has been shown to help us live our healthiest life!
A poor quality diet and lack of physical activity has led many people to develop chronic diseases such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and obesity. In an effort to reduce chronic disease and improve the health and lives of people ages 2 and older, the USDA published current recommendations for a healthy pattern of eating. (2015-2020 recommendations can be found here). The Choose MyPlate graphic was developed as an icon to reflect those nutrition guidelines.
The ChooseMyPlate way of eating is similar to eating a meal using a portion control plate (eat from all the food groups in the proper amounts) and is easily adaptable for any eating style. Most people will be able to follow the the food groups, regardless of cultural food preferences, the foods that are in season, and no matter your budget.
There are three principles that make ChooseMyPlate recommendations effective in healthier living. The basic nutrition ideas can categorized by variety, nutrient density, and amount.
- Variety refers to eating a diverse selection of food within each food group. For example, you don’t want your grains to consist of only bread, all the time.
- Nutrient density means eating healthy, whole foods, and not high calorie junk food! The nutrients in a particular food, undiluted by added salt, fat, refined starches or sugar. Eating food in it’s whole, unprocessed form can assure you are getting the most nutrient dense form of that food.
- Amount simply means, don’t overeat. Following guidelines for recommended calorie intake for height and body weight is still important, even when you are eating healthy food! The plate helps you stick to single servings of food.
Using MyPlate to Eat Real Meals
Why are there 5 food groups?
- Each food group not only offers important nutrients for your diet, but all the food groups act synergistically. When eaten together, they have a more powerful impact on health. For example, vitamin C works better in the presence of iron. Fats can be utilized to transport fat soluble vitamins like vitamins A, D, E, and K. When these nutrients stand alone, they are not as effective as when eaten with other foods. All 5 food groups contribute something to assist with their synergy.
Do I have to eat all 5 food groups, at every meal?
- Along with the synergy of the food groups working together, our bodies are smart enough to allow for a compounding or cumulitive effect of the food. It used to be thought you had to eat beans and rice in a single meal to get all the essential amino acids, but now we know, these don’t have to be eaten at the same time. Your body can use some amino acids from one meal, and combine it with amino acids from a later meal, and still be able to make complete proteins. Showing all the food groups on a single plate just acts as a basic overall guideline, keeping in mind that half your diet should be comprised of fruits and vegetables, etc. will keep you healthy.
What are the 5 food groups on Choose MyPlate?
What I love about the ChooseMyPlate eating style, is that it’s so simple! Simply eat from each food group each day, and don’t worry about the details. I’ll briefly explain each food group and how to make the most of them, but NO NEED to make it complicated. I’ve taught kids around the country who understand the plate method with one single lesson.
Vegetables: Make half your plate fruits and vegetables.
The first food group, and likely the hardest to eat consistently from is veggies. The specifics if you want to dive deeper into vegetable recommendations include:
- Eat a variety of vegetables from subgroups which include dark green, red, orange vegetables, starchy vegetables, and legumes like beans and peas.
- It’s ok to include fresh or raw, frozen, canned, juiced and dried vegetables.
- The goal for veggies is 2 1/2 cups per day.
- Nutrients you get from eating veggies include: fiber (mostly from the starchy veggies and legumes), potassium, vitamin A (mostly from the red and orange veggies), vitamin K (mostly from the dark greens), vitamin C, magnesium, copper, vitamin B6, folate, iron, thamine, choline, and niacin.
- Build a healthy myplate breakfast that includes veggies by adding mushrooms and peppers on your eggs for breakfast, carrots as a snack, a green salad for lunch, and some roasted broccoli for dinner.
Fruit: Make half your plate fruits and vegetables
Fruit is easy for most people to eat enough of during the day, and fresh fruit is generally accessible all year. To get into more dietary specifics for really optimizing the fruit category is as follows:
- Eat from fresh, whole fruits when you can.
- It’s ok to include fresh or raw, frozen, canned, juiced, mashed, and dried fruit.
- The goal for fruit is 2 cups per day.
- Nutrients you can get from fruit include fiber, potassium, vitamin C, and folate.
- Build a healthy myplate breakfast to include fruit by adding a banana, include an apple for a snack, bring dried fruit in your portable lunch, and try berries and cream for a dinner dessert!
Grains: Make half your grains, whole grains
Grains aren’t just meant to be for bread. Chances are, if you can’t eat bread, there are other grains that you will be able to tolerate well, allowing the grain food group to still be present in most diets. Here’s the essentials to know about grains:
- Make half your grains, whole grains. This means, as opposed to grains that have been refined and stripped of it’s fiber and nutrients, eat grains as close to their naturally whole state as possible.
- It’s a good idea to include a variety of whole grains such as rice, quinoa, oats, and even popcorn.
- The goal for grains is the equivalent of 6 ounces per day.
- Nutrients you get from grains include dietary fiber, iron, zinc, manganese, folate, magnesium, copper, thiamin, niacin, vitamin B6, phosphorus, selenium, riboflavin, and vitamin A.
- Build whole grains into your day by choosing oatmeal for breakfast, popcorn for a snack, whole wheat bread for lunch, and brown rice for dinner.
Protein: Vary Your Protein
Protein is essential for every diet, and some proteins are higher quality than others. Using 1/4 of your plate for protein is a good guide to getting enough during the day. Here’s the specifics for incorporating protein into your diet for even greater health.
- Choose protein sources from both animal and plant based sources. The animal sources include seafood, lean meats, poultry, dairy and eggs. While plant sources include legumes (beans and peas), nuts, seeds, and soy products.
- The recommended amount of protein is 5.5 ounces per day.
- Protein is good for getting vitamin B12, B6, niacin (poultry is a good source of niacin), riboflaven, selenium, choline, phosphorus, zinc, copper, vitamin D, and vitamin E. Animal proteins are a good source of heme iron, while plant proteins are a good source of non-heme iron.
- Build a variety of protein into your diet by choosing eggs for breakfast, nuts and seeds for a snack, lunch meat or peanut butter on your sandwich for lunch or chicken on a green salad, and some fish for dinner.
Dairy: Choose Low-fat or fat-free dairy sources
While including dairy as a food group might seem redundant, as it could be counted with the proteins, there is some evidence to emphasize dairy as it’s own food group. The specifics of the dairy food group include:
- Choosing low fat and fat free dairy options. These have still been found to be healthier than their full fat counterparts.
- It’s OK to include plant based milks as well as animal based milks. Plant based soy milks that have been fortified with calcium viamin A and vitamin D, however other “milks” like almond, rice, coconut milk are not included in the dairy food group.
- The recommended amount of dairy is based on age, rather than calories. These range fro 2 cups to 3 cups for ages 2-18 years old.
- Nutrients in the dairy group include calcium, vitamin D, phosophorus, vitamin A, riboflaven, B12, protein, potassium, zinc, choline, magnesium, and selenium.
- To build dairy into your daily diet choose milk on your oats or cereal for breakfast, protein shake for a snack, yogurt for lunch, and some cheese with your dinner.
So, let me know in the comments what you think of the Choose MyPlate style for eating! I think it’s the simplest and most effective diet we have, and following it can have a huge impact on your overall health!
Choose MyPlate Resources:
Check out Canada’s Food Plate here.
Printable handout- How to use MyPlate