Four times a day and about 240 hours per year. That’s how often the average person thinks about food, according to a study by One Poll. Whether you’re daydreaming about pizza or a sweet treat, you can use that thinking time to make healthy choices.
If you treat food like it’s fuel for your body, it makes sense to make choices that help you stay healthy. But how to decide? MyPlate from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (myplate.gov) shows how to balance your plate for healthier eating. It starts with by dividing a 10-inch plate into these portions:
- Half of the plate for fruits and vegetables
- Whole fruits are better than juice
- Half of the plate for grains and proteins
- Choose mostly whole grains
- Limit protein to a palm-sized amount, or a quarter of your plate
- Cup of calcium-rich food
- Choose skim milk or 1%
- Try nonfat and unsweetened yogurt (add fruit like berries to sweeten it)
Now think about which fruits, vegetables, proteins and grains to choose. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025 from the USDA:
- Fruits, vegetables and whole grains
- Seafood, lean meats, poultry and eggs
- Legumes (beans and peas), soy products, nuts and seeds
- Fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products
These guidelines recommend limiting:
- Processed food (including chips, premade meals, breakfast and candy bars…)
- Saturated fats and trans fats
- Salt (sodium)
- Added sugars
A fun way to choose? Pretend you’re eating a rainbow. The Centers for Disease Control suggests picking an array of fruit and vegetable colors, including dark, leafy greens, oranges and reds - all loaded with vitamins, fiber and minerals.
It’s also fun to try something new, or a new combination. Some tips from MyPlate.gov include:
- Topping whole-grain cereal with your favorite fruit, adding berries to pancakes, or mixing dried fruit into hot oatmeal.
- Making extra vegetables and saving some for later. Use them for a stew, soup, or a pasta dish - or add leftover cooked vegetables to your omelet or breakfast wrap.
- Next taco night, try adding a new protein, like shrimp, beans, chicken, or beef.
- Trying low-sugar peanut or nut butter as a dip for apple or celery slices, or as a spread on whole grain crackers.
- Eating a hard-boiled egg with a dash of pepper for a good protein snack.
- Mixing unsalted nuts and sunflower seeds for a crunchy snack. Add some dried fruit like raisins, cranberries or chopped dates for a touch of sweetness.
But what about those comfort foods we all love? Because they can be high in calories, fat or sugars, the Centers for Disease Control recommends eating comfort foods only once in a while, or eating them in a smaller amount, and adding more physical activity and healthier foods to balance them out. You can also try lower-calorie versions of your favorites.
It might surprise you that eating healthy isn’t just about your weight. According to the CDC, benefits for kids include keeping skin, teeth and eyes healthy, supporting growth and brain development, strengthening bones and boosting immunity. So think about what you eat and savor the benefits of your healthy choices.
Family Medicine, Obstetrics/Birth, Women's Health