Thursday, June 5, 2014

Nutrition Education: Food Groups and My Plate

Today will be the second post on my new segment "Nutrition Education". There are so many new education tools out there for people to become more in tune with what their body needs. A tool that most people are familiar with is the food pyramid. You probably remember your elementary school having these pyramids posted all over the lunch rooms. This was created to show the major food groups and to show how much of each of those groups your body needs on a daily basis.

So, how do I use this tool to help my diet?

First of all, you will need to know what a serving looks like so that you can approximate how much you eat efficiently.

I like this chart a lot because it uses well known objects to compare with food sizes. It is much easier to tell you to find a vegetable that is about the size of a tennis ball rather than saying find one serving of veggies.

A very simple way to use this is to break down what you eat and put it into categories.

For oils, spreads, and dressings- you want to use these as little as possible. So keep that in mind when preparing your meal!

That leaves us with 5 main categories: Dairy, Vegetables, Fruit, Meat, and Grains.

In order to keep with these recommended values- separating them into each meal will give you a better idea of how to eat them consistently throughout the day.

For instance, meat and dairy are recommended to have 2-3 servings per day. If you eat three meals per day, this means that you could have a glass of milk and a serving of meat or eggs and you would meet the requirements for these. If you do not eat meat, some alternatives would be nuts, beans, or tofu.

Fruits and veggies want a little more attention in your diet than the animal-based products. It is recommended  to have 2-4 servings of fruit per day and 3-5 servings of vegetables per day. This means that you should have at least one serving of fruit and veggies at each meal. An easy way to add extra veggies in your day is to pack a bag of fresh vegetables to munch on during the day-- or you can add them to your pasta, smoothies, etc. for a hidden boost of nutrients.

Last but not least, are the grain products. Carbs are supposed to be about 60% of your total calorie intake every day. So it makes sense that it is recommended to have 6-11 servings of grains per day. This doesn't have to be just bread--it can be pasta, granola bars, pretzels, cereal and more. Snacking on granola bars and having whole grain toast in the morning will add more servings of grains without much extra effort!

The USDA has come out with a new visual called "My Plate" which helps you to visualize what your plate should look like at every meal. Now I realize that your plate may not like this at every  meal, especially at breakfast. But it is a good building block to start with.

At a dietetics conference I received a Tupperware container that split up the different sections of the plate to show exactly how much of each food group you should have on your plate.

There are tons of ways to incorporate every food group into your diet. Different types of foods such as stir fry, skillets, and sandwiches are great ways to get it all together.

Feel free to mix your foods together! My Plate is used as a guide, it is not something that you have to follow exactly. If you want to add cheese or yogurt to your meal instead of a glass of meal--go for it!

Try an egg skillet for breakfast! Mix together scrambled eggs, spinach, cheese, peppers, onions, or whatever vegetables your heart desires. Add a piece of whole wheat toast and a glass of juice or fresh fruit and you will have tons of energy for your morning!

Spruce up your salad by adding grilled chicken, fresh strawberries or any other fruit, croutons and a glass of milk for a light, well balanced lunch. 

Try a stir fry for dinner with rice, fresh grilled vegetables, a lean protein, and maybe some pineapple. Serve with a glass of milk and you will be all set!

If you eat meals like these while snacking on some fresh veggie sticks and whole grain crackers, granola bars, or other snacks like this your body will thank you because you are now providing lots of vitamins and good nutrients for it to work with!

Thanks for reading!

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