ISHPEMING - If you sit down to eat, you probably have a plate in front of you. But what you choose to put on that plate makes the difference between a healthy meal and one that's not so healthy.
"Don't set yourself up for failure," said Brett Peterson, a dietitian for Bell Hospital in Ishpeming. "Plan ahead."
Although eating out, either at a fast food or sit down restaurant, is a popular option for those who feel pressed for time during the day, those who eat out regularly also encounter larger portion sizes and possibly increased sodium and fat. One way to avoid that is to eat at home most of the time.
Filling half your plate with vegetables is one of the top tips for putting together a healthy meal. Meals should also contain a source of protein, whole grains and dairy or a dairy substitute. (Journal photo by Johanna Boyle)
"Make going out to eat a special occasion," Peterson said.
Even for busy families trying to get to evening practices and activities, planning makes it possible to eat healthy, homemade meals.
Although many American diners plan meals with meat as the main attraction on the plate (like the typical frozen dinner), Peterson suggested starting with the vegetable to make a healthy meal. Just like the My Plate diagram which replaced the food pyramid for the government's recommendation of healthy meals, Peterson suggested filling half your plate with vegetables and fruit, either cooked or raw.
Making half your meal vegetables or fruit not only helps get you to the recommended number of daily servings, but also gives you a lot of fiber and nutrients that can fill you up, helping you to eat less.
Next, add a serving of lean protein, whether that is lean beef, pork, chicken or turkey. A serving of meat is about three ounces, or about the size of a deck of playing cards. Non-meat protein sources include beans and soy products, like tofu. Seafood is also a good protein source.
Making sure you eat whole grains is another good step toward a healthy diet. Since many grain products, such as cereals or breads, are made from refined grains (which strips away the bran and the germ of a grain, which contain the most nutrients) make sure you read the labels of the foods you purchase.
"Just because it's dark, does that mean it's whole grain? No." Peterson said. "Read the label."
Even though a label may say "wheat" or "whole grain," read the label to make sure it says "100 percent whole grain" or some sort of whole grain is listed first in the ingredients list. Checking to make sure the food contains at least two grams of fiber for bread or three grams of fiber per serving for cereal is also a good way to make sure it is made with whole grain.
While you might be eating a lot more vegetables by filling half your plate, you also want to watch the amount of sauces and salad dressings you put on them, since those typically contain large amounts of fat. For salads, have your dressing on the side and dip your fork into it so you get the taste of the dressing without consuming all the calories.
For dessert, if you like something sweet following your meal, turn to a piece of fresh fruit. Other options include a parfait made with low-fat yogurt and fruit or a fresh fruit salad. If you want something warm, try baking an apple and topping it with cinnamon.
Take the process of planning healthy meals as a chance to try out new fruits and vegetables. Try out new recipes, particularly ones that freeze well or can be made in a slow cooker for meals that need to be made quickly.
For more information on the My Plate diagram, visit www.choosemyplate.gov.
Johanna Boyle can be reached at 906-486-4401.