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Personalize Your Plate for National Nutrition Month to develop a healthful eating pattern

By Tracey True
The Diary Alliance

March is National Nutrition Month® and this year the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics is encouraging you to “Personalize Your Plate!” Developing a healthful eating pattern is not a one-size-fits-all endeavor. We are all different, and our choices are shaped by many factors – not only taste preference – but more complex factors too, such as access to food, culture, and traditions. No matter your situation, there is more than one way to personalize your plate for healthful eating.

Choose a Variety of Foods

According to the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, a healthy eating pattern includes a variety of foods from all food groups. Each food group offers a unique package of nutrients that, when combined, help you become healthier now and maintain your health for the future.

Avoiding food groups leaves nutritional gaps. For example, if you’re lactose intolerant you may be avoiding dairy foods, but dairy provides essential nutrients, including calcium, potassium and vitamin D, which people of all ages need for growth and maintenance of stronger bodies and minds. These nutrients also play a role in preventing chronic diseases like heart disease, diabetes, and obesity.

If you are lactose intolerant, personalize your plate by choosing aged cheeses, like cheddar or Parmesan, which contain nearly no lactose. You could also try fermented dairy foods, like yogurt or kefir, which contain beneficial bacteria that help you digest lactose. Choose lactose-free milk instead of milk impersonators, which do not offer the same package of nine essential nutrients as real cow’s milk. Lactose-free milk is still real cow’s milk, just without the lactose.

Plan Ahead

Finding time to sit down for a well-balanced meal is often just as challenging as deciding what should be on your plate! Most Americans fall short when it comes to eating enough plant-based foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, as well as dairy foods, but planning a weekly menu will make healthful eating easier.

First, check your schedule to determine how many meals you can realistically eat at home each week. Then choose healthful recipes that include a variety of food groups. Eating the MyPlate way can guide you. Aim to fill ½ of your plate with fruits and veggies, ¼ with lean protein, such as chicken, seafood, beans, and nuts or seeds, and ¼ with whole grains. You can enjoy a cold glass of milk with your meal or add a serving of cheese or yogurt to your plate.

If you are limiting your meat intake to follow a plant-based diet, dairy foods are a great way to incorporate more high-quality protein into each meal or snack. One eight-ounce serving of milk provides 8 grams of protein! Pairing plant-based foods with dairy creates a superfood power couple. When combined, dairy and plant foods provide the four nutrients missing in most American diets – calcium, potassium, vitamin D, and fiber.

Learn New Skills

Make meals easier on yourself by learning new cooking techniques that can minimize the amount of time and effort spent on preparation. One-pot meals, sheet pan dinners, and slow cooker or instant pot recipes are just a few cooking methods that can simplify family meals. And never underestimate the power of repurposing leftovers.

Tracey True

Get the kids involved, too. What our children eat, and drink, lays the groundwork for health for the rest of their lives, and children are more likely to eat the foods they help prepare. Encourage older kids to learn new skills by finding fun recipes that explore new flavors and foods! Talk to kids of all ages about what it means to build a healthy meal. You can look to the new Dietary Guidelines for advice on how to personalize children’s plates, which includes guidance for infants and toddlers for the first time.

The bottom line is that everyone is different, and so are our food choices, Work with a Registered Dietitian to get guidance when personalizing your plate.

Tracey True is a registered dietitian from Maysville and currently works as Manager of Food and Nutrition Outreach for the Dairy Alliance, a regional nonprofit funded by dairy farm families of the Southeast.

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