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Posts Tagged ‘portion sizes’


In an ongoing quest to communicate with the American public about nutrition, the USDA has released a new symbol of healthy eating—MyPlate.

The New MyPlate for Americans

I’m happy about this new icon because it falls right in line with the way I teach families how to plan healthy meals already. When you look at MyPlate, you can see that the plate is divided into 4 sections (quarters) and each section represents a food group. Add a glass of low-fat milk or a cup of yogurt and you’ve got a balanced meal. How easy is that?

While it appears easy, the truth is, for many families, it’s not. Barriers to actually getting a meal on the table and having everyone sit down together aside, this new food guide for Americans keeps the idea of what a meal should look like simple.

And we like simple.

The new MyPlate guide emphasizes many messages for Americans, but one important (and implied) idea is to include as many food groups at each meal as you can. This is not an encouragement to overeat–it’s a way to do better with balance and variety at meals–you will still need to keep those portions in check.

And you’ll be happy to know the food groups remain essentially the same:

The Food Groups

Although I don’t encourage parents to plate food for their children (I’m in favor of family-style meals–more on that later), having a visual reference such as MyPlate is no doubt a practical tool for families and children. With MyPlate, families may have a better sense of how to balance a meal, how much to serve and where to make up the gaps in nutrition. Even kids can make sense of this new plate!

I can already see art projects on paper plates in the classroom or at home…

MyPlate is based on the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans and is designed to help people make healthier and better food choices. It features these messages to help Americans focus and improve upon key behaviors:

Balance Calories

  •  Enjoy your food, but eat less.
  • Avoid oversized portions.
Foods to Increase
  • Make half your plate fruits and vegetables.
  • Switch to fat-free or low-fat (1%) milk.
  • Make at least half your grains whole grains.

Foods to Reduce

  • Compare sodium in foods like soup, bread, and frozen meals—and choose foods with lower numbers.
  • Drink water instead of sugary drinks.

MyPlate has an interactive website also:

Snapshot of the Interactive Tools for MyPlate

I invite you to check out MyPlate and the new interactive tools and let me know what you think. Go ahead, it’s free and you have unlimited access.

While no single message, food or icon will solely change human eating behavior, or produce a healthy human, every step towards positive change is a help.  MyPlate isn’t perfect (what is?), but it’s better.

I’ll still be teaching portion awareness, the 90:10 Rule, balance, variety, good fats vs. not-so-good fats, and of course the new MyPlate principles.

I am curious to know what you think about MyPlate?

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My pediatric clients know how difficult it is to go to parties, celebrations, or gatherings that have food as a central focus.  This is a problem with which adults are often challenged, but is a growing reality for many children, too.

School parties, birthday parties, end-of year celebrations, holiday festivities and sporting event gatherings are just a few of the regular party events that children face.  And many of the parents I work with are frustrated with the number of food-focused events their children have to tackle, especially if healthy eating is a priority, or weight is an issue.

“I can’t decide what to eat…I want it all!”.  “There are so many desserts and they all look good…”.  “All my favorite foods seem to be at parties.”  These are real sentiments from real children.  

True, it seems that parties and celebrations are loaded with temptations and often offer all the “fun” foods that may be regulated or infrequently found at home.  While you or your child may feel that attending a party is a lost cause when managing the balance of healthy eating during festive events, there are some strategies that can be useful in approaching the party scene.

Here are some approaches to think about BEFORE you get on the party eating circuit:

  • Survey the foodscape.  Check it all out (the food that is) without eating anything.  Look at all the offerings, make mental notes of what you’d like to eat, what looks interesting, and what is an absolute no-go.
  • Select the most important and special dessert (or junk food item) –the one you cannot leave without eating!  Being good or selecting the “healthier option” may leave you feeling deprived and unsatisfied.
  • First Course: Fruits and Veggies.  Fill your plate with fruits and veggies first (and eat them).  You will have started to quell the hunger pains, and contributed to the overall health of your day.
  • Don’t be a cow! Cow’s are notorious for grazing…eating all day long.  Individuals tend to lose track of how much they have eaten when they graze;  the same goes for drinking calorie-rich beverages.  Rather, be a dog–make your plate (or bowl!), eat it, and move on!
  • Limit your sodas.  The calorie and sugar content of sodas and other sugar-sweetened beverages are significant and can add up, especially when children are having a good time (and not paying attention to how much they are drinking).  Remember, all sweets are treats and count as “fun foods”, even the ones you drink.
  • Eat like a Spaniard…on a little plate, with a little portion.  Savor the flavor of little bites of different foods, rather than a large portion of one food.

These strategies may help your child be more thoughtful in their food choices, and make good decisions at parties. It also gives them strategies to use when faced with tough decisions: which “fun foods” and how much?

You wouldn’t give your child an unlimited budget for a shopping spree!  Take the same approach with smorgasbords– teach your child how to manage “fun foods”, especially at parties, for a lifetime of smart spending.

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We’ve all heard the saying, “you are what you eat.”  Is your child the proportions of his/her portions?  Research shows that increased portion sizes may be associated with childhood obesity because calorie intake also increases.  In fact, 40 years ago, the size of the largest fast food burger, fries, and soda is the same size as the smallest meal available today.  These super-sized meals may be super-sizing our kids. 

Perception deception The way our children (and parents) view food is influenced by savvy marketers, in part.  Views also reflect a history with food and eating, current trends in nutrition, cravings, and peer influences.  Don’t believe everything you see and hear about food— the term “healthy” can be over-used and misleading.   Eat at home as often as possible, and be sure to sift through nutrition information by using credible sources, such as a Registered Dietitian (RD).   

I can’t get no…satisfaction  Studies have shown that, despite an increase in calories, bigger portions don’t help kids feel full and don’t result in less eating later.  Also, foods that are low in nutrients (empty calories) don’t satisfy in the long run, and sometimes cause increased hunger later.  Focus on providing nutrient-dense foods regularly, so that these become the staple of your child’s diet. 

Proper portions  The USDA provides consumers with a guideline for portions.  Be sure to look at the child-specific guidelines—they are different than the adult-based ones.   Also, beware of words that warn of portion distortion– value meal, combo, ultimate, tub, supreme, biggie, deluxe, and super-size—it may be tempting to think more is better, but in this case, more is more calories.

To ration, or not to ration? Teaching your child to be aware of portions is important.  Helping them visualize amounts can be positive, but measuring them can soon become negative, if restrictive.  Family-style feeding  appears to be more conducive to normalized portions and eating patterns, than pre-plating your child’s meal.  Picture these to help kids choose healthy portions:

  • a deck of cards for meat or fish
  • 3 dice for cheese
  • a lightbulb for rice and pasta
  • a baseball for fruits/veggies, milk, and breakfast cereals
  • a poker chip for oils, salad dressings, and other fats
  • a hockey puck for biscuits and muffins
  • a CD for waffles and pancakes

Step up to the plate– Serve meals on smaller dishes to create the perception of a full plate.  Creative ideas like bento boxes  and condiment cups in measured sizes can also be a fun and easy way to serve kids at school and home.  Take the guesswork out of meal portions by following this portion plate guideline:  divide your meal plate like this:  ½ fruits and vegetables, 1/4 lean protein, and 1/4 whole grains.

Why Weight?  to begin teaching your child about normal portion sizes and to make your child aware of restaurant/fast food portion traps?   Arm your child with accurate perception and awareness when it comes to food portions—YOU can help your child determine portion reality—before they bite.  Why Weight?

 

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