Does your plate look like MyPlate?

  
The Food Pyramid (1992-2005)

I remember learning about the Food Pyramid in elementary school, and for myself and most of my generation, that was the only formal nutrition education I received. Eat healthy, follow the food pyramid.  I had no idea, however, how I was supposed to apply a pyramid to my actual food choices. I recall celebrating the recommendation that carbohydrates like bread should be the foundation of my diet and thinking that the little dots throughout the pyramid (meant to represent fats and added sugars) were just decorative polka dots, but that was the extent of my understanding. There were some lesser-known older recommendations from the USDA (you can find a full history of nutrition guidelines on the USDA website), but the Food Pyramid imagery took hold as the most recognizable symbol of ‘healthy eating’ for Americans.

MyPyramid (2005-2011)

By 2005, however, the USDA decided to give the beloved pyramid a makeover and created MyPyramid, which added the element of exercise, and peoples were less than receptive to the rebranding. While the overall message was good (fruits and vegetables should each be about as important as grains; exercise is a key component of ‘a healthier you’), the graphic came across as confusing and somewhat sloppy with its half-cartoon/half-photograph images of food heaped at the bottom like they had fallen onto the floor. Most people I know never even saw this image or perhaps simply blocked it from memory.

MyPlate (2010 to present)

In 2010, with the release of the updated Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the USDA launched an entirely new image with a non-pyramid campaign: MyPlate. This shift brought the dietary recommendations directly to Americans’ dinner plates and made the concept of ‘healthy eating’ more relatable.  For the first time, there was an image people could apply at each meal; where the pyramid was an abstract structure representing overall diet, the public could easily look at their plates and ask themselves: how does this compare to MyPlate?

The dietary breakdown of MyPlate matches MyPyramid but portrays the information as a clean visual: about 25% of your plate should be a protein, 25% should be grains (or a starchy vegetable), and the other 50% should be a combination of fruits and vegetables. Dairy is also shown as an add-on for meals (stuck on the side as a presumed glass of milk). Though every given meal obviously can’t fit this template, MyPlate’s greatest attribute is that it is simple to understand, making it particularly great for teaching children from a young age.

The resources that accompany MyPlate are phenomenal though perhaps not as well known. On www.choosemyplate.gov, you’ll find a hub of information like a MyPlate in-depth breakdown, printable handouts, meal plans, tip sheets, online quizzes, infographics, a BMI calculator, and more for a huge range of audiences including children, students, adults, families, professionals, and non-English speaking readers.

As a Registered Dietitian, my number one concern is always how I can best share healthy eating guidelines in a way that makes sense for patients and clients. I need to explain things in a way people can apply throughout their day without overcomplicating things and risking burnout. MyPlate does just that. While the guidelines are generalized and may need tweaking for individual needs, it’s overall a good mental image to keep yourself in check throughout the day. I highly recommend looking through the MyPlate site – and I challenge you to take the MyPlate quizzes and see how your knowledge stacks up.

Cauliflower Fried Rice

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Cauliflower is one of the few foods that I believe earns the term ‘super’: it’s high in vitamin C, incredibly low in calories and carbohydrates, and is part of the cancer-fighting veggie group Cassica (along with broccoli, cabbage, and brussel sprouts — better known by the term ‘cruciferous’)

img_20180820_203508_6281132994166.jpg There’s no denying that plain riced cauliflower is visibly quite plain, and cauliflower on its own tends to taste bland — but this veg is a perfect blank canvas for bulking up recipes in a low cal, low carb way!

Although I am a long-time cauliflower lover, this was my first time experimenting with cauliflower rice, and since pork fried rice was a staple take-out food when I was growing up, I wanted to use those same savory flavors — but in a much healthier way.

 

The recipe I used is a loose one, meaning you can increase / decrease / omit / or adjust anything based on your own preferences!

 

Ingredients (Makes 2 large servings of ~1.5 cups)

  • 1 – 2 tsp sesame oil
  • 1 – 2 tsp rice vinegar (unsweetened)
  • 1 tsp Low Sodium soy sauce (low sodium is important- it cuts about 40% of the sodium!)
  • 1 small onion, minced
  • 2 cups of riced cauliflower
  • 2 Tbsp chicken broth, vegetable broth, or water
  • 1/3 cup green peas (I used frozen)
  • 1/2 cup sliced mushrooms, sauteed
  • 1 cup cooked brown rice (I used Minute Rice Brown Rice with Quinoa mix)
  • Optional: 1 egg
  1. Saute the onions in ~1 tsp sesame oil; sweat until translucent. Add in rice vinegar.
  2. Add your cauliflower rice. Season with low sodium soy sauce. Allow to cook together in pan until cauliflower becomes fork-tender but before it gets mushy. You may find it helpful to steam the cauliflower a bit by adding ~2 Tbsp of liquid (chicken broth, vegetable broth, or water will all work) and covering with a lid.
  3. Add peas, sauteed mushrooms, and brown rice to saute pan.  That’s all there is to it!
  4. Optional: Scramble egg and serve atop rice bowl.

If you want to get fancy, here are some other fun add-ins:

  • Chopped scallions
  • Grated ginger
  • Water chestnuts
  • Shredded carrotts
  • Broccoli florettes
  • Snap Peas
  • Edamame
  • Tofu
  • Chicken
  • Sesame seeds or Black sesame seeds

 

Healthy Baking Swaps

I love to bake, though when I first started experimenting in the kitchen, my recipes originally fell into two distinct categories:

  1. Delicious and decadent desserts that I bring to parties, holidays, or gatherings not made up of nutrition buffs
  2. Healthy, whole grain, low/natural sugar, lower-fat recipes that most my family kindly refers to as ‘cardboard’

I’ve since done more research on how to improve the nutrition of a recipe without sacrificing flavor, consistency, or appearance. Here are some stellar tips that I find particularly helpful from the experts at King Arthur Flour:

  1. Understand what will change if you cut sugar! 
    Sugar helps give baked goods the signature brown crust with a good crunch, so lowering the sugar will make a lighter product with a fluffier, more cake-like texture rather than crispy.  King Arthur’s has done some fun experiments showing that a recipe suffers if you cut the sugar by more than 50% (http://blog.kingarthurflour.com/2017/03/15/reduce-sugar-in-cookies-and-bars/) Hint: Natural sweeteners have just as many grams of sugar, though they may have trace amounts of other benefits and are generally less processed.
  2. Adding bran? Add more water!
    If you’re adding bran to a recipe for increased omega-3’s and the signature nutty taste, be aware that your product will likely small and dense unless you also adjust the water and add a bit more flour for rising.
  3. For high-quality whole grains, combine your flours.
    While some people do love a 100% whole grain bread (I know I do!), others like the fluffiness of a white bread. This same principle goes for cookies, cakes, etc- some whole grains may add flavor, but too many will make your product denser and will change it drastically from its original shape. Try using half all purpose flour and half whole wheat or other flour alternative for the best of both worlds.

For more tips, check out:

http://blog.kingarthurflour.com/2017/07/11/baking-with-reduced-sugar/
http://blog.kingarthurflour.com/2017/02/10/baking-ancient-grains/