February 27, 2012

National Nutrition Month March 2012
“Get Your Plate in Shape”

Emily Minton, Dietetic Intern,
Bay Pines VA Healthcare System

National Nutrition Month is a nutrition campaign focused on promoting the development of healthy eating and physical activity habits. National Nutrition Month started as a weeklong event in 1973. By 1980, the campaign grew into a month long event. Each year a new educational theme focused on healthy lifestyle choices is chosen. This year’s theme is “Get Your Plate in Shape.”

With the recent introduction of MyPlate, the new food guidance system, this year’s theme is a great way to give people the tools they need to build a delicious plate full of a variety of healthy and tasty food from the five food groups; Vegetables, Fruit, Grains, Protein Foods, and Dairy. So, how can you get your plate in shape? Use the following tips to get started.

Make half your plate fruits and vegetables. Eat a variety of vegetables. You can choose fresh, canned, or frozen items. If you use canned vegetables, look for low sodium products. Fruit makes a great snack or a light dessert. When using canned fruits, choose products that are packaged in water or 100% juice.

Make at least half your grains whole. Look for products that are 100% whole-grain. Rice, pasta, cereal, crackers, and bread all have 100% whole-grain options. If you aren’t sure if the product is 100% whole-grain, check the ingredient list.

Switch to fat-free or low-fat milk. Instead of whole or 2% milk, try low-fat (1%) or fat-free (skim) milk. These two options have the same amount of essential nutrients like calcium and less fat and calories than whole or 2% milk. Also try other low-fat or fat-free dairy products such as yogurt, cheese, and ice cream.

Vary your protein choices. There are a variety of foods found in the protein food group. Try to vary your choices during the week. Foods to pick from include seafood, nuts, beans, lean meat, poultry, and eggs. Remember to keep your lean meat and poultry servings small, about three to four ounces, the size of a deck of cards.

Cut back on sodium and empty calories from solid fats and added sugars. Replace sugary drink with water and choose 100% fruit juice instead of fruit-flavored drinks like fruit punch. Compare the amount of sodium in different products and choose foods with the lowest amounts. Add flavor to your food with different herbs and spices instead of salt and cut back on desserts, pizza, and other high fat foods.

Enjoy your food but eat less. When eating out, ask for a box and bring half of your meal home. Also try looking for lower calorie options. Many restaurants put special marks next to healthier choices. Make sure to keep an eye on your side dishes! Instead of fries, ask for steamed vegetables, salad, or a baked potato. Try cooking at home more to have total control over what goes into your food and how much you make. Avoid large portions by using smaller dishes. Keeping a food log is a great way to analyze your daily intake and work on problem areas.

For more information on how to “Get Your Plate in Shape,” visit the National Nutrition Month’s homepage at or visit the MyPlate SuperTracker at to create your own personalized eating plan.

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