Healthy Eating Plate Model

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 throughout your day. It may work best for you to aim to eat a balance at most meals and even snacks. Or if you like to eat small meals throughout the day, it’s just about focusing on getting these types of foods in over the course of  most days.

It works like this:

The Plate Model can 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 supports our appetite regulatory system in working 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 described above.

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. There’s no magic to this. If it works better for you to divide it into thirds, that’s fine, too.
  • 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 much of the time, such as whole grain breads, cereals and brown rice.
  • 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.
  • If you aren’t eating on a plate, this image helps you remember the types of foods that you may 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 eating a mix of these foods over time.

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?

3 responses to “Healthy Eating Plate Model”

  1. Brenda Graef says:

    This truly sounds like a great plan to teach us how to look and treat food in a different way. Sounding good and practicing these guidelines are two different things for sure. I will make notes and see where I can make changes in my lifestyle of terrible not eating foods for the exact reason you said – fear of gaining more weight. Thank you for sharing your site with me and many others and I will see how I progress here on my own with your guidance.

    • Marsha Hudnall, MS, RDN, CD says:

      Eating balanced meals and snacks can go far in helping us end struggles around weight, Brenda, but it’s not the whole story. Many of us who fear weight gain have a lot of emotional issues surrounding that. So we recommend an approach that also helps you deal with that. It’s about taking care of ourselves physically and mentally. Best wishes to you!

  2. […] the difference between sitting down to a nutritionally balanced meal using the plate model as an example versus counting […]

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