For many folks, the thought of keeping track of what we eat makes healthy eating seem more work than it’s worth. So how can we eat healthy without being obsessed with numbers?
The Healthy Eating Plate Model is a simple, easy to remember image that you can “carry around” in your head, using it to double check that you have a good balance of foods on your plate, or in a sandwich or other portable item.
It works like this:
- At most meals, especially lunches and dinners, include foods from the three different categories - Grains/Starchy Vegetables, Protein Foods, and Fruits &/or Vegetables.
- Foods such as olive and other vegetables oils and even the occasional pat or two of butter are also part of healthy eating. In the Plate Model image, it is assumed fats are used in the preparation of a meal.
The Plate Model can also be useful for those who are working to get back in touch with their internal cues for eating. That’s because it helps us put together meals that helps our appetite regulatory system work the way it was designed to work.
For the women who come to Green Mountain, it’s part of our structured approach to eating that helps women learn how to eat again after too many years of dieting or otherwise restricting what they eat because of weight worries.
Structure translates to eating regularly and well-balanced.
- Eating regularly is about eating every 3-5 hours or so.
- Balance is about following the Healthy Eating Plate Model.
As you practice listening to your body while you eat this way, you’ll begin to know intuitively when it’s time to eat and how much you need. Forget about counting calories or fat grams, or weighing or measuring food. This can get in the way of listening to internal cues that tell us how much we need.
After a while, this practice becomes internalized so you no longer have to pay as close attention; it becomes just the way you eat.
The tips following the plate graphic give you more information.
Here’s how it works:
- Visualize dividing a small to medium-size dinner plate in half; then divide one of the halves in quarters.
- Place Grains/Starchy Vegetables on one quarter, Protein Foods on the other quarter, and feature Non-Starchy Vegetables on the remaining half. This provides about one serving Protein Food, one serving Grains/Starchy Vegetables and two servings Vegetables. When choosing grain foods for the Grains/Starchy Vegetables portion of the plate, choose whole grains most of the time, such as whole grain breads, cereals and brown rice.
- You may or may not want to enjoy extras at a meal, indicated by the small side plates. Sometimes you do because, for example, a roll “finishes” the meal for you – say a favorite meal of crispy baked chicken, garlic mashed potatoes and fresh broccoli just doesn’t feel complete without an accompanying dinner roll. Other times, you might prefer to skip the roll and just have more mashed potatoes if you’re still hungry after the first serving. Or ou might choose to have a dessert, be it fresh fruit or a piece of that yummy chocolate cake. Or you may not be hungry for either and just skip any extras at a meal.
- Use the Plate Model as a guide for where to begin. As you eat, assess how satisfied and full you are becoming. That helps you decide whether you need to eat all that’s on your plate, have a little more, or don’t want to finish all you started with. Remember: How much you need to eat to feel satisfied depends on how hungry you are, which depends on many things including your level of physical activity and how much you ate at previous meals or snacks. Don’t expect to need the exact same amount of food each time you eat.
- You may or may not want to enjoy milk with your meal. If you don’t, you can choose it at other times to ensure you get the calcium you need for healthy bones, or choose other calcium-rich foods.
- Protein Foods are optional at breakfast and snacks. It generally depends on what you’re eating (example: most of us like our cereal with milk) and/or how hungry you are – if you’re fairly hungry, a Protein Food in combination with a Grain/Starchy Vegetable or Fruit &/or Vegetable can make for a more satisfying meal or snack. Many people report feeling more satisfied when they include a Protein Food at breakfast.
- If you aren’t eating on a plate, this image helps you remember the types of foods that you want to include in a meal. For example, a turkey sandwich with lettuce, onions and tomatoes fits the model.
- Remember, you don’t have to follow this perfectly. Normal eating isn’t perfect. Just aim for including these foods in most of your meals and snacks.
When we eat according to this model most of the time, we get the number of servings from each food group that are recommended for healthy eating.
Isn’t that a lot simpler than trying to remember how many servings of each type of food we eat each day?