With nutrition information coming from every direction, how can a busy parents know they are doing the right thing when planning meals?

The media world is chock-full of various health advices on nutrition and eating healthy. More often than not, this information is conflicting or just down right confusing. For example: Do I count carbohydrates or calories? Are potatoes good or bad for me? Do I use butter or margarine? And just what are trans-fats?

For a clear answer, look no farther than your plate. What goes on your plate goes into your and your family’s mouths. Take a moment to visualize whether your family’s plates are supporting health.

Key Elements of a Healthy Plate

  • Plate Size—In this world of portion distortion, it is easy to forget that healthy bodies are not designed to handle large quantities of food. A healthy adult plate is only about nine inches round. (The average restaurant plate is twelve to fifteen inches). I have started to use my dinnerware salad plates as dinner plates–perfect size. Don’t forget that portion sizes matter for children as well. We all want healthy growing children, but children do not need to eat adult portions to keep them thriving. For both adults and children, keeping a healthy perspective on portions prevents overeating and obesity.
  • Color—Half of a healthy meal plate will be colorful and nutrition-packed with fruits or vegetables. Non-starchy vegetables are going to have a high nutrition value and be less than or around fifty calories per serving. For children, who can be picky eaters, remember that parents lead by example. If you don’t eat them or don’t want to try them, then why would they want to? Be sure to continually expose your family to new fruits and vegetables.
  • Healthy Protein—All bodies need a good protein source to maintain health. A quarter of the plate should be devoted to a healthy protein source such as skinless poultry or fish. Cooking the protein in a healthy manner also matters. Be sure to bake, grill, or broil as well as drain excess fat. Also consider alternatives to animal protein such as beans, tofu, and low-fat cheese. Most healthy protein servings will offer about 15-20gm proteins and be less than five grams of fat.
  • Healthy Choices—The best possible choices for your healthy plate are going to be lower in sodium, fat, and sugar. Choose whole fruits over juice more often to get the fiber and less fruit sugar. Choose or prepare vegetables without added salts or fats, such as butter or cheese sauce. I find a splash of lemon juice with olive oil or a sprinkle of sodium-free spices makes vegetables dance.
  • Grains and starches – These should have some fiber content and also be minimally processed to avoid unwanted salt and fat. In total, reducing added sodium, fats, and sugars in a daily diet will support health and reduce the risk of developing obesity and the chronic concerns associated with obesity such as diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.

The Look of a Healthy Plate

  • Half the food is non-starch vegetables with fruit as a dessert.
  • Another quarter of the plate will have a healthy whole grain or starch.
  • The last quarter should be a healthy, low-fat protein source.
  • Be sure to include a good calcium source such as low-fat milk or yogurt. I like combining fruit and yogurt in a small ½ cup bowl as my dessert to get a nutrient rich but delicious finish to my meal.

By Cheryl Tuttle MHS, RD, CSO, LDN – Cheryl is a Bachelors graduate of Salem College in Winston Salem, NC, and a Masters graduate from Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, NC. She conjointly completed her Masters and dietetics education under WCU’s dietetics program to earn her RD in 2006. She has since been a practicing RD on the clinical dietetics team at Pardee Hospitalin Hendersonville, NC.