If you didn’t catch last week’s long awaited reveal, you missed some big news….at least in the world of obesity prevention and healthy living. That’s because as of last week, it’s now out with the Food Pyramid and in with a fresh new USDA MyPlate. This fresh-faced picture of nutritional health comes in the form of a simplified icon illustrating what we all should be eating: fruits and vegetables filling half the plate, with the other half dedicated to grains (preferably whole) and protein. Ever since the plate’s big reveal, I’ve heard the question of whether this noble effort will make a difference in our big-picture fight against obesity.
In order to answer this question, we should first address the fact that just about everyone – parents and professionals alike – found the Food Pyramid (and it’s many pyramid permutations) more than a bit perplexing. Sure, in all of our heart of hearts we already know that we should be eating lots more fruits and vegetables interspersed with some whole grains and lean protein. But there’s no denying that a picture speaks a thousand words. Given that the recently retired pyramid icon typically required nearly that many words of explanation, the overall lack of understanding posed a pretty big problem. In other words, I hope the fact that we now have something far more visually appealing in MyPlate will make the nutritional message it serves much easier to digest.
That said, there’s a very big difference between knowing what we should be doing (or in this case, eating) and what we actually do or eat. When it comes to MyPlate, we therefore need to make sure to look beyond the colorful picture and commit to taking a closer look at other plate-related problems that are negatively contributing to our nutritional state of well-being.
This includes acknowledging the fact that far too many meals are eaten without even using a plate! Recent studies support the disturbing statistic that children get more than a quarter of their daily calories from snacking. And what they snack on is typically high-density, unhealthy foods. For anyone not up-to-speed on the terminology of poor nutrition, this translates into Cheetos and Big Gulps. Now before you shake your head in dietary disgust and then decide this doesn’t apply to you, I’m willing to bet that the eating and snacking habits of most adults aren’t much better. That applies not only to snacking, but to the huge number of Americans who consume fast food meals so often that they get by without plates altogether.
Although there are a few scattered efforts in the fast food industry to offer an healthier item or two on the menu, when we’re talking fast food, we’re almost always talking about the likes of French fries and bacon double cheeseburgers. When it comes to the problem of snacking and fast food alike, I think that even just requiring the use of a plate, and making it a rule that your children (and you) have to sit down to eat off of it could improve the situation. Combine that with a sincere effort to meet the new MyPlate recommendations and you’ll find that there’s absolutely no place on the plate for most fast food fare (or Cheetos).
Moving on to another super-sized plate problem, it’s worth pointing out that our eyes are not the only things that tend to be bigger than our stomachs. For those who do a good job of making a point to use a plate, you’ll want to be aware that there have been some pretty big changes made to plates over recent years….as in they’ve gotten bigger and bigger (right along with everything from soda bottles and bagels to mugs and bowls). And whether you believe it or not, studies show that the bigger the serving dish, the bigger the serving is likely to be. And the more we heap on our plates, the more likely we are to overeat. My suggestion? Try eating off a smaller plate, or at least resist the urge to fill it.
And finally, lets get to the substance at hand. What I really like about the new plate illustration is that it makes it much easier to compare it to one’s own plate full of food and in most cases, recognize the distinct lack of fruits and vegetables. It also has the added benefit of opening up new dietary possibilities. In my experience, most people seem to have quite a few preconceived notions about what’s appropriate to eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I’m willing to bet that even those who eat the recommended proportions of fruits, vegetables, grains and protein at dinner (and maybe even lunch) may not have previously consider serving up this balanced approach at breakfast.
So there you have it – a more detailed look at the implications of a plate than I ever thought I’d write, but one that I am convinced is well worth it. Both for your sake, and for your children’s, I hope all of you will give MyPlate the consideration it deserves. Whether you choose to plant a garden, take a trip to one of Omaha’s many farmer’s markets or spend more time in your local grocery store’s produce department, please don’t forget to consider that not everyone is fortunate to have access to affordable and readily available fresh fruits and vegetables (or whole grains or lean protein, for that matter).
If you’re interested in looking beyond your own family’s plate, consider checking out the Omaha Food Bank’s program that makes use of a produce truck (that looks convincingly like an ice cream truck) to deliver fresh produce to parts of Omaha with the greatest need. I’m sure they won’t mind me suggesting you call them up if you have produce to share or financial support to help further their worthwhile work.
Originally posted on Omaha World Herald’s Live Well Nebraska