What does MyPlate really mean for you and your family?
Bhavna Arora, M.D.
In 1992, the USDA created the Food Guide Pyramid. It was a simple illustration to convey the elements of a healthy diet. The USDA updated the pyramid in 2005, however, there was concern that it was too vague. So in June 2011 the USDA introduced a new and simpler concept called MyPlate.
So how does MyPlate translate to a healthy lifestyle for you and your family? Although it illustrates the important building blocks of a healthy diet, it can be taken one step further to focus on the healthier choices of those elements. There are also other important parts of a healthy diet that are not part of the icon.
Fill more than half of your plate with vegetables and fruits
The more color, and the more variety, the better. It makes the plate interesting for kids as well. Help them pick out colorful fruits and vegetables when grocery shopping. Potatoes do not count as healthy vegetables! Vegetables can be easily incorporated in dinner. You can get in daily intake of fruits by putting them in school lunches and having them as part of the after school snack.
A quarter of the plate is for grains, but they should be whole grains
MyPlate tells you to reserve a quarter of your plate for grains. Eat whole grains, since these have a gentler effect on blood sugar and insulin than refined grains. Whole grains include whole wheat, brown rice, steel cut oats, barley, and the like, as well as foods made with them, such as whole wheat pasta. The less processed the whole grains, the better. Choose whole wheat pasta for dinner and brown rice or quinoa rather than white rice. Whole grain oatmeal for the kids is a great way to start the morning.
Pick a healthy source of protein to fill one quarter of your plate
On MyPlate, the protein quadrant of the plate should be fish, chicken, beans, nuts and less red meat and processed meat. Make sure you have plant based sources of protein included. Mix nuts and beans in your salad. Make lentil soup or beans for dinner. Hot dogs are not part of a healthy diet!
Don’t overdo the dairy
Recommended calcium intake varies by age, but 2 to 3 servings a day of dairy are all you usually need to meet the RDA for Calcium. For children over 4 years of age and adolescents it is 1000–1300 mg. There are not very many good food sources for Vitamin D so 15 min of direct sun or supplements are needed to make the daily requirement. For children less than 1 year, 400 IU of Vitamin D is recommended and 600 IU of vitamin D is recommended for kids 1 year and up.
Choose healthy fats
Although not mentioned in the MyPlate use healthy oils, like olive and canola, in cooking, on salad. Limit butter, and avoid unhealthy trans fats.
Drink water, coffee or tea
Milk is not essential to your meals. You can have water, coffee, green tea. No sugary drinks! Put water or a low sugar juice for school lunches.
Eat in moderation
Focus on the quality rather than the quantity.
Go out for a walk after dinner with your children. Have the children participate in activities and sports. It is recommended that children and adolescents get 60 min of moderate to vigorous exercise preferably daily.
Week of Menus #2
I always incorporate vegetables into dinner. One of my favorite ways to enhance the vegetable intake of my children is to make a “vegetable base” of carrots, celery, baby spinach, Parmesan cheese and basil. Sometimes I add in red bell peppers as well. The carrots give it an orange color so it is perfect to add to pasta dishes and other Italian dishes (such as my version of minestrone soup, or as my kids like to call it “pasta soup”). I also use it to make “Italian quinoa” by adding it to the water. Make this base on Saturday or Sunday.
2 lb bag of carrots, peeled and cut in ½ inch rounds
1 cup diced yellow or white onion
3 Trader Joe’s frozen garlic cubes
1 cup of chopped celery
3 cups of baby spinach
1 cup of chopped basil
¼ cup shredded Parmesan cheese
1 tbsp. dried oregano
1 32 oz. can crushed tomatoes
You can serve stews, chili, and lentils with quinoa, brown or white rice. I like to use enamel cast-iron dutch ovens of varying sizes for stews and curries because it enhances the flavor.
I use frozen garlic cubes from trader joe’s for ease. Add 2 tbsp. oil to a large pan on medium heat. Add onion and cook for 2 to 3 min. Add garlic and cook for additional 2 min. Add all other ingredients and simmer for 40 min until carrots are tender. Let cool and then puree in a powerful blender such as Vitamix so mixture is smooth.
You can freeze some of the puree or store in Mason jars. I place the mason jars in my electric pressure cooker with water halfway up on high pressure for 30 min. Cool and store in the fridge. That way, it lasts longer and I have it ready to go when I need it.
On Sunday, make the vegetable base. You can also make the burgers and freeze but they are also very easy to make on the same day. Make the stew and the meatballs on Sunday as well if you have time.
Monday: Chicken Stew
Tuesday: Spaghetti & Meatballs
Wednesday: Quinoa & Black Bean Burgers with Corn
Thursday: Pasta Soup with Italian Sausage
Friday: Night Out or Leftovers
If there are extra meatballs or burgers, I freeze them using the Foodsaver. It helps on those days that I need something ASAP and can just pull it out of the freezer.
Quinoa & Black Bean Burgers with Corn
- Make it easy: Double the recipe to make more burgers. Freeze extras for the next time you need something in a pinch!
- Flavor it up: Add your favorite spice rub onto the corn. For a spicy and tangy flavor, add Garam masala and squeeze lime over them when ready to serve.
- Flavor it up: Add 1 diced jalapeno and/or ½ cup of diced red pepper to your patty mixture. Add guacamole or salsa on top.
- 1 cup low sodium chicken broth
- ½ cup of brown quinoa
- 1 15 oz. can of black beans, drained & rinsed
- ½ cup of panko bread crumbs
- ¼ cup of chopped onions
- 1 large egg beaten
- 1 tsp coriander
- 1 tsp cumin
- 1 tsp of kosher salt
- 2 frozen cubes of garlic
- ½ cup of chopped cilantro
Bring broth to a boil in a 2-quart saucepan. Add the quinoa and simmer on medium low until quinoa is tender and all liquid is absorbed (about 15 min). Remove from the heat and let sit for 5 min.
Heat 2 tbsp. of oil over medium heat. Add onions, garlic, red pepper. Cook for 2 to 3 min. Transfer to the food processor. Add the beans and quinoa and pulse until beans are chopped and mixture is combined. Do not over process! Put in a bowl and add cilantro, egg, bread crumbs, cumin, coriander. You should be able to form about 6 patties with the mixture. Wrap in plastic wrap and freeze or use right away.
When ready to cook, heat 1 tbsp. of canola oil and cook for 3 to 4 min on each side until heated through. Serve on a whole wheat bun.
- 4 cobs of corn
- Salt & pepper
- Olive oil or butter
Clean corn. Rub a small amount of oil/butter and salt & pepper. Wrap in foil. You can do this ahead of time and refrigerate the corn. When you are ready to eat, place in a toatser oven or regular oven on 450ºF for 30 min. Remove foil and serve.
Make it easy: Make it ahead on the weekend and serve after a long Monday at work. Just heat and serve!
- 4 chicken breasts sliced in thick even pieces or 4 chicken thighs
- 1 cup white flour with 1 tsp. salt and pepper added in
- 1 carton of low sodium chicken or beef broth
- 1 pound of butternut squash cut in 2 inch squares
- 2 sprigs of thyme
- 2 garlic cubes
- 1 sprig of rosemary
- 1 cup of crushed tomatoes
- ½ cup of vegetable base
Add 2 tbsp. of light olive oil or canola oil to a sauté pan. I like using cast enamel pans since it enhances the taste of stew. Shake off excess flour and place chicken pieces in the pan. Brown the chicken on each side, approximately 7 to 8 min on one side and 3-4 min on the other side. Remove and put aside. It will not be fully cooked. Add onions and garlic to the oil. Add more oil if needed. Once onions are translucent, add the chicken back. Add chicken broth, base, tomatoes, thyme, rosemary and simmer on medium low for 1 hour. Add more salt and pepper to taste.
I make numerous versions of this chicken. For lemon chicken, I skip the crushed tomatoes and base. I add dry white wine such as sauvignon blanc to the onions and garlic and cook it down. Then add the chicken and chicken broth. Simmer until chicken is soft for about 1 hour. Add ¼ cup of lemon juice, 1 tbsp. of lemon zest and capers at the last 10min of cooking. For a version of Marsala chicken, I add dry Marsala wine and sliced Cremini mushrooms. You can make this chicken any flavor you like! I even have an Asian version.
Spaghetti & Meatballs
- Make it easy: Double the recipe and freeze the extra meatballs. You can use them whenever you need something quick!
- Make it easy: Use a good quality of store-bought turkey meatballs.
- Flavor it up: Add a tablespoon of butter to your pan while cooking the pasta & meatballs.
Meatballs (make on Sunday, if possible):
- 1 package ground turkey
- 1 tbsp. dried oregano
- 4 tbsp. finely chopped basil
- 5 tbsp. finely chopped parsley
- 2 garlic cubes
- 2 tsp. salt
- ½ tsp. black pepper
- ¼ cup breadcrumbs
- 1 egg
- ½ cup of finely shredded Parmesan cheese
Add all components in a bowl and mix. Do not over mix. Shape them into balls. In a heavy pan, add 3 tbsp. of canola oil on medium-to-medium high heat. Brown the meatballs on all sides. Remove when cooked all the way through, approximately 15 to 20 min. You can cover the pan for 5 min so they can “steam” and cook all the way through. Watch closely so they do not overcook and get dry. Cool and put in an airtight container in the fridge.
On Tuesday, Cook whole grain spaghetti in boiling salted water until nearly done about 10 min. Drain and save the pasta water. Add spaghetti to the pan with 1 cup of the vegetable base, marinara sauce and some pasta water. Add meatballs. Continue to cook spaghetti and add more pasta water as needed until the spaghetti is done and the meatballs are moist.
Pasta Soup with Italian Sausage
Flavor it up: Add crushed red pepper to spice up. Add 1 cup of baby spinach & shredded carrots to boost your veggie count!
- 1 cup vegetable base
- ½ cup crushed tomatoes
- 1 carton of chicken broth (1 quart)
- 2 cups of broccoli
- 1 can of cannelloni beans or Garbanzo beans drained and rinsed
- 3 to 4 turkey sweet Italian sausages such as Jennie-O
- Whole grain pasta such as rotini or shellsTake sausages out of the casing. Chop the sausages and sauté in 1 tbsp. canola oil for about 10 min. Add vegetable base, crushed tomatoes, and broth. Let simmer for 15 min. Add beans and pasta. Soup is done once the pasta is soft. Add more water depending on the consistency of the soup you want. Sprinkle some minced parsley on top.