Choose MyPlate!

By Claire Benoist, UC Davis Nutrition Peer Counselor

Have you heard of MyPlate? MyPlate is one of my favorite tools to use as a nutrition peer counselor. I’m not a big fan of math or measuring. To me, figuring out how much protein 0.8g per kg of body weight would be or keeping track of all the vitamins and minerals I need to eat every day sounds like too much work. As a visual person, I prefer to think about filling my plate according to MyPlate guidelines. This way, I know my body will get the nutrients it needs without having to make it complicated. I also like not counting amounts and cups because then I can fill my plate according to my appetite rather than restricting or overeating based on arbitrary numbers.

Ok sounds good but, what is MyPlate?

Glad you asked! Let’s break it down:

Veggies/Fruit
Fill ½ of your plate with your favorite fruits and vegetables. Bell peppers, carrots, oranges spinach, mangoes, strawberries, tomatoes, lettuce, grapes, broccoli, fresh, frozen, canned, cooked, raw whatever you prefer! Note that you can choose to have a half a plate of fruit or vegetables or a combo! Getting a variety of fruits and vegetables will allow you to get all the minerals, vitamins, phytonutrients and fiber our bodies need and love.  

Protein
Fill ¼ of your plate with protein. This can be an animal source of protein: chicken, eggs, beef, fish, pork, yogurt, etc or plant source: tofu, beans, lentils, tempeh, etc. Protein helps to keep you full after a meal and gives your body the building materials it needs to make muscle, enzymes and all kinds of important proteins your body needs to function and thrive.

Grains/Starch
Fill the last quarter of your plate with grain/starch. This includes bread, pasta, rice, quinoa, barley, tortilla, potatoes, sweet potatoes etc. These are full of carbohydrates which are our bodies’ favorite source of energy. Whether you’re studying, working out or watching Netflix all day, these will prepare you for any activity you have planned.

Liquid oils (not pictured)

Liquid oils like olive oil, canola oil, and avocado oil provide our bodies with unsaturated fats which help us feel full and provide many important functions throughout the body from lowering “bad” cholesterol to reducing inflammation. Though not technically liquid, fish, avocados and nuts are great sources of healthy fats too! If you did not cook the foods on your plate with any liquid oils, a little drizzle over your vegetables could be a good topper.

Claire, you forgot about the cup of milk!
Good eye, I did leave out the milk. The cup of milk is added because dairy is a great source of calcium and vitamin D (which helps our bodies absorb calcium), and calcium is important for bone health. However, we can get these nutrients from other sources. If yogurt or cheese is your source of protein, boom, there’s your calcium. Beans, lentils, seeds, some nuts and leafy greens, and tofu also contain calcium. Not to mention foods and drinks that might be fortified with calcium (like some cereals, fruit juices and non-dairy milks).  So, if you are consuming a variety of foods, you should be able to meet your calcium needs without the milk. If you like milk, go for it! I just personally prefer drinking water with my meals and getting my calcium from other sources.

A couple notes:

  • These won’t always be neatly separated into sections of your plate. Sometimes you’ll make a salad or a wrap and it will all be mixed together. That’s ok!
  • You can use MyPlate for snacks, too! The portions might be smaller but the proportions are the same.
  • Remember this is just a guideline. A tool that can help you think through composing a balanced meal. I love this tool but if it feels restrictive or confusing to you, make an appointment with a nutrition peer counselor and we can help you figure it out or find another model that will work better for you.

Now for some examples!

Tofu and Vegetable Stir Fry served with Rice.

(photo from eatingwell.com)

Greek chicken salad

(Photo from foodnetwork.com)

Bell peppers, hummus and crackers (or pita)

(photo from eatingwell.com)

Toast topped with ricotta cheese and fruit

(photo from eatingwell.com)

What is your favorite balanced plate? Share in the comments!

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