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Using 'My Plate' to Plan Healthy Meals

A healthy diet starts with balancing portions so you get enough of what you need without too many calories.

Some children like to pick foods based on color. If your kids are like mine, then "orange is the color of choice—a plate of macaroni and cheese, carrots and chicken nuggets. It's sometimes hard to get them to "eat the rainbow."

"A healthy diet should incorporate a variety of foods of different colors," said Nancy Pelant, a registered dietitian at . "That includes more fruits and vegetables and smaller portions of protein and grains."

Nancy showed me the Choose My Plate website managed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and intended to help Americans eat a healthier, balanced diet. The visual nutrition guide, which replaces the food pyramid, uses color-coded, easy-to-read graphics with proportionate sections for fruits (red), vegetables (green), protein (purple), grains (orange) and a separate segment for dairy (blue). The plate is designed to encourage people to balance calories while increasing some foods and decreasing others.

Nancy suggested the following ways to use the food plate to plan your own meals that can be both colorful and healthy:

Go green.

Vegetables are not only full of vitamins and minerals, but they also can brighten your plate. Try broccoli, cherry tomatoes, acorn squash and sweet potatoes that taste great and are good for you. Remember to keep frozen and canned vegetables on hand for a quick-and-easy dish to add to any meal. 

Think red.

Dried, frozen, fresh or canned fruits provide nutrients that are important for health, including potassium, dietary fiber, vitamin C and folic acid. Try adding fruits such as bananas or blueberries in your breakfast cereal, pick up a tangerine or some grapes to go with lunch, snack on some raisins, and add dried cranberries or orange sections to a salad at dinner.

Pick purple.

Most people should eat five to seven ounces of protein foods daily. Choose lean or low-fat cuts of meat and avoid deli meats. It’s okay to have one egg a day and opt for seafood twice a week. Try beans, peas, soy products, nuts and seeds that are good sources of protein and also naturally low in saturated fat and high in fiber.

Try orange.

Whole grains as part of a healthy diet can help reduce the risk of some chronic diseases. Choose foods that list a whole-grain ingredient first, such as brown or wild rice, bulgur, buckwheat, oatmeal, whole-grain cornmeal, and whole wheat, oats or rye. Try eating whole-wheat pasta, using barley in vegetable soup, or substituting millet or oat flour in muffin mixes.

Be blue.

Dairy products such as milk, yogurt, cheese and fortified soymilk provide calcium, vitamin D, potassium, protein and other nutrients. Choose fat-free or low-fat milk and look for reduced-fat or low-fat cheeses. Avoid regular cream cheese, and cream and butter that are high in saturated fat. People who are lactose-intolerant can try lactose-free milk or soymilk for calcium.

For more information visit Choose My Plate. It has great tips for healthy eating on a budget, weight management, and sample recipes and 7-day menus. 

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

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