March is here, the days are getting longer and spring is in sight! Spring is a great reminder to start over and spend a little time where it matters most – to promote health. March is National Nutrition Month, an annual campaign by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics to promote healthy eating and physical activity. The theme of this year’s campaign is “Personalize Your Plate” to remind us that good nutrition can be tailored to your lifestyle, goals and personal tastes.
Eat a variety of nutritious foods every day
Choose healthy foods from all food groups. Choose water and other beverages to ensure healthy hydration. Every time you choose a meal or snack, you “personalize” your plate. We are all different and our decisions are shaped by many factors – not just taste preferences – but also more complex factors such as access to food, culture and tradition. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to fitness and health. For example, if you are lactose intolerant, you might avoid dairy products, but dairy products provide important nutrients like calcium, potassium, and vitamin D that people of all ages need to grow and maintain stronger bodies and minds. If you’re lactose intolerant, personalize your plate by choosing aged cheeses like cheddar or parmesan, which contain almost no lactose, or cultured dairy products like yogurt or kefir, which contain beneficial bacteria that help you digest lactose, or lactose-free milk – real milk, minus the lactose.
What our children eat is critical to laying the foundation for health for the rest of their lives. See the new nutrition guidelines for advice on personalizing children’s plates. The new dietary guidelines even added guidelines for infants and young children for the first time!
Plan your meals every week
MyPlate-based food, based on the Nutrition Guidelines for 2020, can help us plan meals and fill our plates to make sure every bite and sip counts. Fill half of your plate with fruits and vegetables, a quarter with lean protein such as chicken, seafood, beans and nuts / seeds, a quarter of whole grains, and a serving of dairy – at least twice a day for adults.
Plant-based eating is another popular way to personalize your plate for people who choose to eliminate or eat very little meat and want to include more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains in their diet. In fact, the dietary guidelines indicate that many Americans fall short when consuming these foods. When deciding on a plant-based diet, be sure to include dairy products as they contain high quality protein. This is important for flexitarians and vegetarians who may be limiting their meat intake. Plant-based foods combined with dairy products are a superfood power couple. In addition to protein, milk contains three nutrients that are often missing from the American diet – calcium, vitamin D, and potassium.
When planning meals for the week, choose healthy main course recipes combined with simple side dishes of fruits and vegetables. Then use a grocery list when you go shopping based on what you have planned and what you already have on hand. Creating a meal plan in advance saves time and money.
Learn skills to prepare delicious meals
Lack of cooking skills and time are the two most commonly reported barriers to cooking meals at home. However, preparing meals at home can be easy to learn and even take less time than eating outdoors. Making meal preparation a family affair brings families together and prevents one family member from becoming overburdened. Cooking with parents is the best way for children to develop cooking skills and cultivate tastes for healthy foods. Even young children can learn to safely chop softer fruits and vegetables with nylon serrated knives if supervised. Don’t be afraid to try new flavors and foods. The late cookery teacher Julia Child, who knew how to humorously encourage novice cooks to try, once said: “The only real stumbling block [to cooking] is fear of failure. You don’t have to cook fancy or complicated masterpieces – just great food made from fresh ingredients. “Make sure you take your kids to the kitchen to learn how to personalize their own plates!
Contact a registered dietitian for specific help
Special diets, food intolerances, and food allergies can pose additional challenges to eating a wide variety of foods. Eliminating entire food groups can result in missing vital nutrients and, with proper knowledge and planning, can be unnecessary. Ask your doctor or health care provider to refer you to a registered dietitian for personalized nutritional advice to help you with special dietary needs – especially those with adolescent children. Since most years of bone building occur in childhood and adolescence, what is on our children’s plates and in their cups matters. Dairy products are a common group of foods that are sometimes unnecessarily eliminated. Calcium and vitamin D are important bone-building nutrients, but unfortunately many children don’t get enough by the age of two. Making sure your child is getting the recommended servings of dairy products based on their age is critical to long-term health. Children aged nine and over need three servings a day. Dairy products are an easy way to provide calcium and vitamin D for building healthy bones during these crucial years. Always consult your doctor for help managing specific diets.
Take away message:
Choose healthy foods from all food groups.
Choose water, dairy products, and other beverages to ensure healthy hydration.
Don’t be afraid to try new foods and new flavors.
Practice good hand washing and food safety at home when preparing meals.
Schedule meals for the week to save time and money.
Cook and share meals as a family whenever possible.
For a time-saving twist on breakfast, try the following recipe for overnight oats made from flaxseed, yogurt, and low-fat, regular or lactose-free milk. Adding flax flour to oats provides extra fiber and essential omega-3 fatty acids. Adults and children alike will love this oat for breakfast!
Blueberry Overnight Oats
Preparation time: 10 minutes
1⁄2 cup of milk
1⁄2 cup of old-fashioned uncooked oatmeal
1⁄3 cup vanilla Greek yogurt
1/4 cup chopped almonds
1 tablespoon of flax flour
1⁄8 teaspoon of ground cardamom
1⁄2 cup of blueberries
1 tablespoon of honey
In a small bowl or 12-ounce glass, combine the first six ingredients (milk through cardamom), reserve a tablespoon of the chopped almonds for the topping, and stir until well mixed. Top with blueberries and chopped almonds. Cover and refrigerate overnight or at least six hours. Drizzle with honey just before serving.
References and resources:
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (2021). National Nutrition Month 2021: Personalize Your Plate. Retrieved from: https://www.eatright.org/food/resources/national-nutrition-month
The Milk Alliance (2021). Blueberry flax overnight oats. Retrieved from: https://thedairyalliance.com
U.S. Department of Agriculture MyPlate (nd). Healthy eating on a budget. Retrieved from: https://www.myplate.gov