What's on your plate?

July 26, 2011|Lynn Little

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's new icon replacing the MyPyramid image is a plate, something everyone, even children, can relate to.

The MyPlate icon divides the plate into four food groups: fruit, vegetable, grains and protein, with a fifth group next to the plate to represent dairy foods. It applies to breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Two-thirds of adults and one in three children in America are either overweight or obese and are at a greater risk for developing heart disease later in life. That's evidence of a clear need for an easy-to-use guide like MyPlate ( to help busy consumers make healthier food choices.

MyPlate is consistent with the USDA's 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans ( recommendations, which include:

 Enjoy what you eat, but balance your food choices with your activity level.

  •  Eat less, being extra vigilant when portions are large.
  •  Fill half your plate with fruits and veggies.
  •  Drink low-fat (1 percent) or fat-free milk.
  •  Make half your grains whole grains.
  •  Choose foods that are lower in sodium, based on food labels.
  •  Drink water instead of sugary drinks.

Look over this list of recommendations: How many can you check off?  

Start by looking at your plate and what foods and portion sizes are on it. At you will find portion recommendations for each food group. Use a modestly sized (8 to 10 inches) plate rather than a large (12 to 14 inches) dinner plate to help you eat healthier and consume fewer calories.

The modest-sized plate makes the recommended smaller, healthier portions look like a satisfying meal.

Here are a few easy-to-remember visuals that represent one standard, healthy portion:

  •  An ice-cream scoop could hold about one-half cup of fruits, veggies or grains.
  •  A serving of lean protein such as chicken, fish or lean meat is about the size of a deck of playing cards.
  •  Several tablespoons of nuts are equal to a small handful.
  •  One serving of bread is about the size of a BlackBerry or iPhone. To be certain you make half your grains whole grains, check the food label for the word "whole."
  •  An 8-ounce glass of milk is equivalent in size to a fist. One full serving may fill your glass only part way. Use a measuring cup to find out how many ounces are in your glasses at home.

Already feeling challenged to fill half your plate with fruits and veggies? Keep fruits and veggies in plain sight, in a bowl on the counter or in the refrigerator, in clear containers at eye level rather than hidden in the crisper drawers. If fruits and veggies are in plain sight you are likely to reach for them more often.

At, you can analyze your diet, get a personalized plan, find menus, tips and resources, and ask a question. Focus on what you put on your plate, and you'll be making an investment in your own good health and that of your family.

Lynn Little is a family and consumer sciences educator with University of Maryland Extension in Washington County.

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