Get Your Plate in Shape!

March 19, 2012 Megan Ellison, MS, RD, CD

Did you know that MyPyramid is out and MyPlate is in? I love this new graphic that was adopted by the USDA last June. Dietitians have been advocating this way of eating for a long time and consumers tend to find it easier to understand. I mean, we typically eat off of plates not pyramids, right?

The Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics (formerly the American Dietetic Association) is on board with MyPlate as well. This March, in honor of National Nutrition Month, the Academy’s theme is “Get Your Plate in Shape”.

Here are a few tips for shaping up your plate:

  • First of all, the size of your plate does matter and this is one instance where bigger is not necessarily better. Think “plate” not “platter” and aim for a 9” diameter.
  • Make half of your plate colorful fruits and/or vegetables. Plan to vary your fruits and vegetables so that you get a rainbow of color over your week or month, which then provides you with a range of different phytochemicals (beneficial plant chemicals).
  • Make at least half of your grains whole instead of refined. Examples are brown rice instead of white rice or whole wheat bread instead of white bread. Look for the word “whole” as the first item in the ingredient list. These small changes add up to more fiber, vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals.
  • Choose lean proteins to cut down on saturated fat, calories and cholesterol and limit protein to a quarter of your plate. Aim for at least 2-3 servings of fish and/or seafood per week. And don’t forget about good plant-based sources of protein such as beans and nuts.
  • Augment with dairy, such as topping broccoli with a sprinkle of shredded cheese or a spoonful of plain yogurt on a baked potato. Aim for a lower fat version for your dairy products in order to cut down on the saturated fat and calories while still getting the beneficial vitamins and minerals, such as calcium, magnesium and vitamin D.
  • Sometimes it is not practical to have all 5 food groups in one meal and it certainly is not recommended to overconsume just to get in all 5 groups. Instead, aim for at least 3 food groups per meal while maintaining appropriate portion control.
  • Use between-meal snacks to obtain the food groups you may have missed during your meals. For example, if you have vegetables, grains, and protein for dinner, then you could have a piece of fruit and cheese for a snack to round out that day.


Mixed meals are a little harder to visualize. For example, what about spaghetti?

Out of shape plate: out of shape plate        In shape plate: in shape plates


Grain: Whole wheat spaghetti (1/4 plate or in a small bowl)
Protein: Lean ground beef or turkey (aim for a portion no bigger than the palm of your hand)
Vegetable/Fruit:Tomato sauce & veggies such as saut�ed onions and peppers or steamed broccoli; Side-salad in another bowl or on a small plate.
Dairy: Sprinkle of parmesan cheese

Healthy Plate Dinner Ideas

  • Brown Rice: Cook per instructions. Aim for 1/2 to 1 cup serving per person. Remember that rice doubles in size when cooked. Start rice first due to length of cooking time.
  • Grilled Salmon: Place 20 ounce fillet of salmon on aluminum foil skin side down. Lightly drizzle fish with olive or canola oil and gently rub to evenly coat. Sprinkle with pepper and then top with lemon slices. Place second piece of aluminum foil on top and fold edges together to seal in steam and prevent oil from running out. Place on grill for 20 minutes over medium heat. Remove top foil for last few minutes of cooking. Fish is done when flaky and no longer translucent. Makes 4-5 servings.
  • Vegetable & Fruit Kabobs
    Bamboo skewers (~10)
    2 medium yellow squash cut into 1 inch pieces
    8 small boiling onions, peeled or 1 medium onion cut into 8 wedges
    8 cherry tomatoes
    8 medium fresh mushrooms
    1 bell pepper cut into 1” pieces
    ¼ Pineapple cut into 1” pieces (or canned chunk pineapple)

    Directions: Soak skewers in pan of water while you are chopping vegetables (this helps to keep them from splintering and burning). Alternate the vegetables and fruit on 8-10 skewers. Place on a grill rack on medium or at ~350 degrees. Baste with Italian dressing and turn frequently for 15 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Makes 4-5 servings.

Portion sizes will vary depending upon individual needs, however the ratios ( ¼ protein, ¼ starch or grain, and ½ fruits/vegetables) should be approximate to the MyPlate guidelines. You will likely notice that there is much more variety on your plate!

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