The Green Mountain approach to healthy eating is simple. At most meals, especially lunches and dinners, include foods from 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.
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. To eat without overeating and also ensure healthy eating, use the Plate Model. This simple method helps ensure we get the proper balance of foods for healthy eating.
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.
- We may or may not want to enjoy extras at a meal, indicated by the small side plates. Sometimes we do because, for example, a roll “finishes” the meal for us – 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, we might prefer to skip the roll and just have more mashed potatoes if we’re still hungry after the first serving. Or we might choose to have a dessert, be it fresh fruit or a piece of that yummy chocolate cake. Or we 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 we eat, we then want to assess how satisfied and full we are becoming. That helps us decide whether we need to eat all that’s on our plate, have a little more, or don’t want to finish all we started with. Remember: How much we need to eat to feel satisfied depends on how hungry we are, which depends on many things including your level of physical activity and how much we ate at previous meals or snacks. Don’t expect to need the exact same amount of food each time you eat.
- We may or may not want to enjoy milk with our meal. If we don’t, we can choose it at other times to ensure we get the calcium we need for healthy bones. If the Protein Food we choose as part of our main entrée is a milk-based food, we may not need to drink milk, or a full three servings, during the day to get the recommended amount of calcium. Postmenopausal women likely don’t get the calcium they need even when consuming three servings of milk foods daily; in that case, consider taking a calcium supplement. Additionally, if you prefer not to drink milk, you may consider a calcium supplement along with other calcium-rich foods. Check with your healthcare provider if you have questions.
- Protein Foods are optional as part of breakfast and snacks. It generally depends on what we’re eating (example: most of us like our cereal with milk) and/or how hungry we are – if we’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.
If we eat according to this model most of the time, you’ll 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?