Monday, July 2, 2012

Reinventing Our Plate

All of the information about portion size and what we should be eating must be sinking in, because I’ve got a new way of loading up my family’s’ plates. Vegetables and fruits take center stage while the meat, dairy, and grains play side dishes.

The sweet potato and fresh-from the garden squash and beans play the main role on this plate.
We got a few more veggies in by adding a small salad.
As I became more concerned about the nutrition in our household, I realized that we may not be getting enough of the recommended vegetable servings in our diet. I try very hard to always provide something plant-based and colorful at lunch and dinner, but I’m thinking it’s time to step it up and at least follow the USDA MyPlate suggestion: Half your plate should be fruits and vegetables. I’ve been consciously doing this for a little over a year now.

Here are a few ways that we have increased on fruit and veggie intake:

  • You can’t leave the breakfast table without having at least one fruit, but two is better. I always try to keep bananas and berries on hand. I like grapefruit and usually eat it 3 times a week. I’m not a juice person, but will drink it if I’m running behind on time.
  • Have a serving of fruit at lunch and one at dinner or for a snack. I always have 4-5 different kinds of fruit on hand depending on what is in season or on sale. Bananas and apples are always around (my husband gets very unhappy if they are not), and I will pick others depending on what is in season or on sale. Frozen fruit is great for smoothies, and canned fruit is a last resort, but I keep it in the cupboard just in case.  When buying apples, I like getting the bags of small apples. Occasionally, I can only find the large apples that are worth eating. In those cases, we share. I also keep dried cranberries or raisins around; they are a great substitute for candy.
  • Think "Veggies" at lunchtime. Load sandwiches with spinach and other vegetables like cucumbers, pickles, peppers and more. Then add a baked sweet potato or a few baby carrots instead of chips. If chips are easy, opt for corn chips and chunky salsa (limit the chips – don’t let your kids eat out of bag). I also make sure my kids finish the salsa (1/2 cup serving). You can also serve a salad as the meal with different types dark green lettuces and 2-3 other veggies or fruit.
  • At dinner, serve at least two colorful vegetables. White potatoes and sweet corn are counted as starches in my kitchen, but a better option than white bread. Sweet potatoes have become a family favorite and very easy to cook. I actually prefer to cook them in the microwave.  In fact, the microwave or steamer is my preferred way to cook most my vegetables.
  • Figure out how to add more veggies to your standard recipes. I have started adding squash, peppers and onions to my spaghetti sauce. I add a can of black beans and onion to my taco meat. Fajitas are a favorite because you can cook the meat with onions, peppers, squash and more, and then add salsa and avocado to finish. Stir-fry dishes are also easy to add lots of veggies to. Think about trying veggie-full soups. On pizza night, I limit my kids to one slice, and we add a salad or baby carrots and a fruit.

For additional tips, I found these resources at
  • Add More Vegetables to Your Day
  • Focus on Fruits
  • Smart Shopping for Veggies and Fruits
  • Liven Up Your Meals with Vegetables and Fruits
  • Kid-Friendly Veggies and Fruits

Size Matters

One thing that we all need to be careful to do as we are adding vegetables and fruits is to decrease the portions of the other foods. Taking a cue from the 250 to 400 calorie frozen meals like Lean Cuisine and Healthy Choice, I serve most of our meals on a 7-inch plate or a soup bowl (daddy is excused from this). I get the bigger plates out when I want to add more veggies, but know that I don’t have to cover it entirely – keep food out of the outer rim.

For anyone who needs a visual guide to help them fill a healthier plate, there are several “portion” plates on the market:

Find your Zen when eating:
Functional and beautiful:
For the educational approach:

Last year I rated USDA’s new My Plate, and did not give it a very good review - I Give the New USDA Dietary Guidelines a C Minus - but now realize that the My Plate is a good place to start for better eating, and is best used with the store of healthy eating tips on its website:


  1. Great post!! You could be a dietician. I took pictures of my dinner plates for a week, that definitely helped me realize how much veggies I should aim for

    1. I took a career/personality test in college, and nutritionist was at the top of the list. Love that I have found a way to share all of my passions via my blog. Thanks for reading!


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