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Healthy Eating for the Entire Family

Elizabeth Ward, MS, RD

Healthy Eating for the Entire Family

If you’re like me, you crave a more balanced life with less to do and more time to relax. Achieving balance in any area of life, including eating, is not always easy, but it is a worthy goal because a balanced lifestyle is the foundation of your good health, and your family’s.

You want better nutrition for yourself and your family, but you may not know how to achieve it. Perhaps you would just like someone else to tell you what to eat. MyPlate, the government’s new symbol for good nutrition, comes very close to doing just that. It’s a visual reminder of what to put on your plate, in your hand, and in your cup at every meal and snack. It is an icon that everyone, including kids, can use to make wiser food choices.

Maybe you didn’t think highly of the food pyramid. To be honest, I didn’t much care for the symbol itself, and thought it nearly useless for meal planning. But MyPlate is different, and deserves attention. Everyone can identify with a plate and a cup. Even better, MyPlate takes a meal-by-meal approach to healthy eating that helps you improve your diet at your very next meal.

Here’s what to put on your plate to reflect MyPlate’s suggestions, which apply to everyone over the age of two. (Younger children need smaller portions.)

  • Pile half of it with fruits and vegetables
  • Allow a bit more than one-quarter of the plate for grains, preferably whole grains
  • Fill the remainder of the plate with lean protein foods, such as meat, poultry, seafood, and beans
  • Add a cup of fat-free or low-fat milk and yogurt

Calorie balance is one of MyPlate’s guiding principles, and that’s where portion control comes in. You can’t just pile your plate, or use an oversized dinner plate, you need to eat in a way that fits your personal calorie “budget,” which depends on your age, physical activity level, and gender.

Healthy eating is typically thought of as an all-or-nothing affair, with no middle ground. MyPlate is not a rigid prescription for taking away all the foods you crave, however. Just as there is no single “American” diet, there is no one recommendation for healthful eating.

You don’t have to give up wine, hot dogs, chips, and cookies, or anything else you love in the name of good health. While acknowledging that some foods are better than others, MyPlate does not demand dietary perfection. Instead, it allows for modest portions of high-calorie foods and alcohol beverages daily (as long as it’s safe for you to drink), if you like. To make sure my diet is “balanced,” the MyPlate way, I eat a small portion (less than I would like, of course) of chocolate every day!

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