March is here, the days are getting longer, and Spring is within sight! Spring is a great reminder to start fresh and spend a little time where it matters most – promoting good health. March is National Nutrition Month, an annual campaign of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics to encourage healthy eating and physical activity habits. The theme for this year’s campaign is Personalize Your Plate, to remind us that good nutrition can be tailored to fit your lifestyle, goals, and personal taste.
Eat a Variety of Nutritious Foods Every Day
Choose healthful foods from all food groups. Choose water and other beverages to keep you hydrated healthfully. Every time you choose a meal or snack, you are “personalizing” your plate. We’re all different, and our choices are shaped by many factors – not only taste preference – but more complex factors too, like access to food, culture, and tradition. There is no “one size fits all” approach to fitness and health. For example, if you’re lactose intolerant you may be avoiding dairy foods, but dairy provides essential nutrients, such as calcium, potassium and vitamin D, that people of all ages need to grow and maintain stronger bodies and minds. If you are lactose intolerant, personalize your plate by choosing aged cheeses, like cheddar or Parmesan, which contain almost no lactose, or choose cultured dairy foods, 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 vital to lay the groundwork for health for the rest of their lives. Look to the new Dietary Guidelines for advice on how to personalize children’s plates. The new Dietary Guidelines even added guidance for infants and toddlers for the first time!
Plan Your Meals Each Week
Eating the MyPlate way, based off the 2020 Dietary guidelines, can guide us with planning meals and how to fill our plate to make sure every bite and sip counts. Fill one-half of your plate with fruits and vegetables, one-fourth with a lean protein, such as chicken, seafood, beans, and nuts/seeds, one-fourth whole grains, and a serving of dairy – at least twice daily 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 diets. In fact, the Dietary Guidelines point out that many Americans fall short when it comes to consuming these foods. If you choose a plant-based meal plan, be sure to include dairy foods since they provide high-quality protein, which is important for flexitarians and vegetarians who may be limiting their meat intake. Plant-based foods combined with dairy are a superfood power couple. In addition to protein, milk adds three nutrients frequently lacking in American diets – calcium, vitamin D and potassium.
Choose healthful main dish recipes combined with simple sides of fruits and vegetables when planning meals for the week. Then use a grocery list when you go shopping based on what you have planned and what you already have on hand. Making a meal plan in advance saves time and money.
Learn Skills to Create Tasty Meals
Lack of cooking skills and time are the two most reported barriers to cooking meals at home. However, preparing meals at home can be simple to learn and can even take less time than eating out. Making meal preparation a family affair brings families together and prevents overburdening one family member. 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 cooking teacher Julia Child, who was a master at using humor to 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 good food from fresh ingredients.” Remember to get your children in the kitchen to learn how to personalize their own plates!
Consult a Registered Dietitian for Specialized Help
Special diets, food intolerances, and food allergies can provide an extra challenge to eating a variety of foods. Eliminating entire groups of foods can lead to missing out on important nutrients and may be unnecessary with proper knowledge and planning. Ask your doctor or health care provider for a referral to a Registered Dietitian for personalized nutrition advice to help with unique dietary needs – especially for growing children. Because most of the bone building years occur in childhood and adolescence, what is on our children’s plates and in their cups is important. Dairy is a common food group that is sometimes unnecessarily eliminated. Calcium and vitamin D are important bone-building nutrients, but unfortunately many children are not getting enough as early as their second year of life. Ensuring your child is getting the recommended servings of dairy based on their age is critical for their long-term health. Children ages nine and older need three servings per day. Dairy is an easy way to provide calcium and vitamin D for building healthy bones in those crucial years. Always consult with your healthcare provider for help in managing special diets.
Choose healthful foods from all food groups.
Choose water, dairy, and other beverages to hydrate healthfully.
Don’t be afraid to try new foods and new flavors.
Practice good handwashing and home food safety when preparing meals.
Plan meals for the week to save time and money.
Cook and share meals together as a family whenever possible.
For a time-saving twist on breakfast, try the following recipe for overnight oats made with flax seeds, yogurt, and low-fat, regular, or lactose-free milk. Adding flax meal to oats provides additional fiber and omega-3 essential fatty acids. Adults and children alike will love these oats for breakfast!
Blueberry Overnight Oats
Preparation Time: 10 minutes
1⁄2 cup milk
1⁄2 cup old-fashioned rolled oats, uncooked
1⁄3 cup vanilla Greek yogurt
1⁄4 cup chopped almonds
1 tablespoon flax meal
1⁄8 teaspoon ground cardamom
1⁄2 cup blueberries
1 tablespoon honey
In a small bowl or twelve-ounce jar, combine the first six ingredients (milk through cardamom), reserving one tablespoon of the chopped almonds for topping, and stir until well combined. 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 Dairy Alliance (2021). Blueberry Flax Overnight Oats. Retrieved from: https://thedairyalliance.com
U.S. Department of Agriculture MyPlate (n.d.). Healthy Eating on a Budget. Retrieved from: https://www.myplate.gov