Two weeks ago I wrote about my family’s experience with a vegan diet. I am a licensed and registered dietitian, so I am always interested in various eating programs and wondered what the result would be if I incorporated various plans into our family dinners. This week I’d like to report to you the method of eating my family engages in most of the time: The MyPlate method. Unlike the food guide pyramid that many of us grew up with, the MyPlate method is a visual aid that kids actually use and learn from every time they eat.
MyPlate is divided into sections of approximately 30 percent grains, 40 percent vegetables, 10 percent fruits and 20 percent protein. (Although I am not a stickler for filling up the exact space in this manner, just generally) There is also a smaller section representing dairy, such as a glass of milk or a yogurt.
Benefit #1: Simplicity and Flexibility
- It is easy to understand.
- Vegetables comprise the largest part of the meal.
- Together, vegetables and fruits are about half the plate.
- You can put whatever foods you like on that plate so it makes meal planning both flexible and economical. You can even use leftovers.
- You don’t have to count servings or worry about portion sizes.
- It monitors proper portion sizes to help eliminate overeating.
When I use the actual plates with the “MyPlate” logo printed on it, my 8 year old definitely eats a more balanced meal. These meals on average include more fruits and vegetables. For me, it makes meal planning easier because I just have to think about what I am going to put in each section. I truly believe that using this plate with your kids is one of the best ways to helping them become better eaters.
You can purchase the actual “MyPlate” plate from your local Hy-Vee Dietitian or you can order them online. They have both plastic, reusable, versions as well as paper plate versions. There are different designs available too.
The MyPlate method is great for kids because they can be involved in preparing their plate or even the meal. You don’t need the plates with the logo on it (although they are pretty inexpensive). Once you get the hang of it you can pretty much just visualize the approximate portions of each group on their own. Before long, your family will just “know” the proper elements of the method.
You can also incorporate lessons in nutrition that accompany the “MyPlate” meals by visiting the “Choose My Plate” website. It has lots of fun and informative materials to help parents provide a balanced diet for their family. For kids, there’s a great website which offers games, quizzes, activity sheets, music to go along with the MyPlate method.
Benefit #2: Economical
This meal plan is not only flexible and simple, it is also economical. So many diets send your grocery bill through the roof, but here are some ways to avoid that:
- Fruits and veggies generally cost less when they are in season. Choosing frozen veggies and fruit canned in juice is a great money saving choice.
- Add a whole grain such as brown rice, whole wheat pasta or a whole grain tortilla. Even a piece of bread will work. You can also use gluten free grains, if you are on a gluten free diet.
- Include a small portion of lean meat. Keeping meat portions small also helps to trim grocery bills. For a real money saver or if you are a vegan or vegetarian, serve cooked dry beans in place of meat.
- Compared to other dairy products such as cheese or yogurt, milk is the best buy. If you are a dairy free family, you can replace with a dairy substitute like soy milk.
- You can always use leftovers for other “MyPlate” meals. Throwing food away is like throwing away money.
In summary, MyPlate is very successful with my family for various reasons. For me, it allows me more flexibility, is economical, and doesn’t take a lot of brain power for those days that are exhausting. For my husband and teenage daughter, it provides them with a complete, well-rounded meal that can incorporate their favorite foods. For my littlest child, she enjoys engaging in the meal preparation and arranging the food on her plate like a puzzle. I’ll continue to make most of my meals according to the general principles of MyPlate. I’d love to know if you have ever tried this method. Also, if you do try it, let us know what you think!