March is one of my favorite months because it’s National Nutrition Month. Today, with 17% of children from ages 2 to 19 years old classified as obese, it’s more important than ever to take advantage of this annual observance, and resolve to teach our children more about nutrition.
And teaching kids about nutrition is getting easier. Last summer, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) replaced the nutrition icon that many of us grew up on – MyPyramid – with a new one, MyPlate.
MyPlate is super-easy for children to understand. It provides a visual representative of a balanced diet based on the 2010 Dietary Guideline for Americans. MyPlate is divided into the 5 food groups; fruit, vegetables, grains, protein and dairy.
Fruit and veggies: The USDA suggests half your plate should be filled with nutritious fruits and vegetables. This could be a 1/2 cup of cranberry juice at breakfast, an orange at lunch and a half cup of sliced apples at dinner. Have a sweet tooth? End each meal with a piece of fruit. For many families, vegetables can be a harder sell – it’s harder to find veggies that kids will like, and they’re often more work for parents to prepare. But don’t be discouraged – frozen and canned vegetables can be just as nutritious as fresh, and a lot easier for busy families to fit into their meal plan.
Grains: One-fourth of your plate should be made up of grains. This can be a 1/2 cup of cooked pasta, 1 cup of dry cereal or a slice of bread. Half of your grains should be whole grains. Look for products with whole wheat, brown rice, bulgur, buckwheat, oatmeal, whole grain cornmeal, whole oats, whole rye or wild rice as the first ingredient; this ensures you’re getting a whole grain.
Protein: The remaining fourth of your plate is reserved for protein. Protein is not only steak and chicken, but also nuts, seeds, peanut butter and beans. Meat, poultry and fish should be 2 to 3 ounces or the sizes of a deck of cards. Other protein options are 1 tablespoon of peanut butter or 1/2 cup cooked beans.
Dairy: Off to the side of the plate is a place for your nice, cold glass of low-fat or fat-free milk. You can replace the cup of milk with a cup of yogurt or 1 1/2 ounces of low-fat natural cheese. (Sour cream fan? Replace it with plain, low- fat yogurt).
With the new MyPlate icon, kids can easily visualize what a healthy diet is supposed to look like. As you’re planning meals, get them to discuss how to make the meal fit that pattern, and encourage them to come up with healthy foods they like that will balance out the plate. And soon, helping them eat better will be a piece of cake…or, make that a piece of fruit.