By Kristen Schroeder-Brown, RN-BSN, CHES, CDE, Holy Cross Hospital, Community Outreach Department
Oftentimes we are told to eat healthy or make better choices about our food intake, but what does that really mean? The key to healthy eating is balance. Too much of any one item, including healthy items, can lead to possible health issues. Below are some tips and ideas on how you can incorporate healthy food choices into your family’s daily meals.
What Should My Plate Look Like?
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) created a wonderful tool called My Plate, which helps to describe the five essential food groups. The five food groups are: Fruits, Vegetables, Grains, Protein and Dairy. When you look at the USDA My Plate, it breaks down the first four food groups into even quarters on the plate. In other words, ¼ of your plate should be fruits, ¼ of your plate should be vegetables, ¼ of your plate should be protein, and the other ¼ of your plate should be grains. The fifth food group, dairy, is shown off to the side of the plate.
Fruits and vegetables add color to your plate and provide your body with a bunch of nutrients. If your family is on a budget, fresh, frozen and canned fruits and vegetables are all good options. When you are purchasing frozen fruits and vegetables you want to make sure they are ‘flash frozen’ so you get all of the nutrients. Additionally, make sure there are no added fats, salt or sugars. When buying canned fruits, make sure they are in water or 100% juice. When buying canned vegetables, make sure there is a ‘no added salt’ label and rinse them well before cooking.
Proteins, or meats, also provide you with nutrients and keep you full longer. Examples of proteins include: chicken, turkey, fish, pork, ground beef, and beans. The proteins such as chicken, turkey and fish are considered healthier options, as they are leaner cuts of meat.
Grains are also known as starches or carbs. Examples of grains include: cereal, bread, pasta, rice, and tortillas. When selecting grains, be sure to make half of your grains whole grains. Whole grains help with digestion, are heart healthy and help to keep you fuller longer. When looking for whole grain products, be sure to check the label and make sure the first ingredient
listed starts with “whole”, such as whole grain or whole wheat.
Dairy helps to keep our bones strong. When looking at dairy products, it is best to select products that are fat-free or low-fat (1%) milk. If someone in your family is lactose-intolerant, try lactose-free milk.
This plate provides you with an idea of the recommended amount of each food group. You can make different dishes, such as soups or casseroles with all of these food groups represented in the same dish. You just want to be careful with the portion sizes of each ingredient.
What Should I Drink?
Water, water, and more water! Water is a product that does not have any added sugars or sweeteners. Sweetened beverages, such as juices and sodas, can fill us up so we don’t have an appetite for the food that is needed for our proper growth. Additionally, sweetened beverages can potentially increase your risk of developing other health issues, such as tooth decay and obesity.
Healthy Snack Ideas
Here are some great healthy snack options the whole family can enjoy.
• Sliced Vegetables
• Sliced Fruit
• Cheese Stick
• Low-Fat Yogurt
• Trail Mix
• Unsalted Nuts/Seeds
• Unsweetened Applesauce
• Dried Fruits
Just remember, snacks should not replace a meal. They should be used when hungry in between meals. Snack bags or small containers can be used to help portion out a healthy amount of a snack.
Additional Healthy Eating Tips:
• Make sure to get the entire family involved. Let them assist in selecting the meals for the week, shopping for the food, and even preparing the meals.
• Don’t be afraid to try new things.
• Take a family favorite dish and try to think of ways to make it healthier.
• Make your plate colorful, by adding various fruits and vegetables to your plate.
• Prep your food ahead to save on time. Doing things such as slicing washing veggies, cutting up fruits, and even pre-packaging your snacks can help you save time.
Kristen Schroeder-Brown, RN-BSN, CHES, CDE is a Certified Diabetes Educator in the Community Outreach Department of Holy Cross Hospital. She specializes in Diabetes Prevention and Diabetes Self-Management. She is also a Master Trainer Select and Lifestyle Coach for the National Diabetes Prevention Program. She holds a BS in Health Education and a second BS in Nursing.