Guest post by Christine M. Palumbo, MBA, RD
National Nutrition Month is here with plenty of reasons to make over your plate into a one that is better for you. In case you don’t know, National Nutrition Month is celebrated every March by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (formerly the American Dietetic Association) as a reminder to return to the basics of healthy eating. This year’s theme, “Get Your Plate in Shape,” is a natural extension of the latest graphic of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
Make Over YOUR Plate:
Make half your plate fruits and vegetables.
- Make sure every meal and snack has at least one fruit or vegetable – or both!
- Dried and frozen fruits and those canned in water or their own juice are good options with a similar nutrition content as fresh.
- Eat all the colors of vegetables including white. Make it a game to see how many colors you can enjoy in a given week. Try a new one every time you grocery shop. Seek out unfamiliar ones by frequenting ethnic or “fresh” stores.
TIP: Cook a satisfying bowl of oatmeal in the microwave in just 2½ minutes by adding ¼ cup of California Raisins and a little sprinkle of cinnamon to the oats and water. Top with a few chopped walnuts after it’s cooked.
TIP: Make “Ants on a Log” with peanut or almond butter spread on celery and studded with California Raisins. Kids can help with this one!
Make at least half your grains whole.
- Choose whole wheat couscous, brown rice, barley and oats and other whole grains for your sides and ingredients.
- Switch to 100 percent whole-grain breads, cereals and crackers. Note: multi-grain is NOT the same as whole grain.
- Read the fine print on ingredient lists on food packages. Look for the word “whole” as the first on the list, or at least close to the top.
TIP: When preparing a whole grain that takes a long time to cook, such as brown rice, wheat berries or barley, make a double or triple batch and freeze the rest in small freezer-safe containers. Make sure you label them.
Switch to fat-free or low-fat milk.
- Fat-free and low-fat milk have the same amount of calcium and other essential nutrients as whole milk, but less fat and fewer calories.
TIP: There is no need to buy two different types of milk for your family. After the age of two, low fat or fat free milk is appropriate for everyone. If someone in the family says they don’t like fat-free milk, gradually wean them from the fattier variety, but keep it a secret. Pour the lower fat milk in a clean higher fat carton, and they won’t know the difference (eventually you can let on).
Vary your protein choices.
- Eat more plant-based proteins such as beans, peas, nuts, seeds, as well as whole soy foods like tofu and edamame.
- Trim visible fat from meats and poultry, and avoid buying heavily marbled meat which you cannot trim.
- Limit meat and poultry portions to three ounces per meal, about the size of a deck of cards.
TIP: Seek out recipes where the meat is not the “star” of the dinner. Stir frys are a great way to use just a little meat.
Cut back on sodium
- Cook more fresh foods at home. Experts say that 77 percent of our sodium intake comes from prepared foods and eating out.
- Gradually reduce the amount of salt you use when cooking and at the table. It’s amazing how quickly your taste buds will adapt.
- Compare sodium in foods and choose those with the least amount listed on the Nutrition Facts Panel.
TIP: Season foods with lemon juice, vinegar, spices, herbs or even hot sauce!
Trim empty calories from added sugars.
- Incorporate healthy, no-added-sugar snacks into your diet, like California Raisins. The ingredient label says it all: raisins.
- Not all dried fruits are created equal, though. Craisins® sweetened dried cranberries contain at least 40% added sugar. Be a label reader and leave the processed, sugar-added options on the shelf.
- Drink water instead of sugary drinks like regular sodas, fruit-flavored drinks and sweetened teas and coffees.
TIP: Don’t like the taste of your water? Make “spa water” by floating some sliced cucumber, citrus fruit, strawberries, blackberries, raspberries or mint leaves in a pitcher that you leave in the fridge.