Q: At the Lawrence Public Schools Employee Health Fair, you showed me how to split up my plate to plan balanced meals. Can you go over that again with me?
A: Sure. I was demonstrating how to use the Idaho Plate Method for easy meal planning. It is an easy, visual way to set up healthy meals for yourself and your family. No weighing, no carrying around measuring cups and no expensive “special foods.”
Originally designed to assist people with diabetes, it can be used to help you eat healthy, lose weight and lower cholesterol. Planning your food intake is the first step. When you eat healthy, you feel better and your family eats better also. It helps them learn good eating habits for life.
To begin, you need a basic plate. Guess what? Plates have gotten bigger, so the amount of food we eat has increased, and waistlines have followed. A basic size plate is 9 inches. Take a ruler and measure across your plate. If the part where you put your food is 9 inches across, you have the right size plate. Do not use an oversize plate and plan on only filling it partway — you will be more tempted to overeat. The Idaho Plate Method also suggests that your food should be no greater than 1-inch high on the plate.
Now let’s look at your bowl for cereal and soup. A good size of bowl is the one you get a cup of soup in at a restaurant. You need a small bowl that holds about 1 cup. Next, you need a small dish, the type you get desserts in at buffet restaurants. It holds about 1/2 cup.
If you are not sure what size bowl and dish to use, use measuring cups to find out exactly how much the bowl will hold. Measure out 1 cup of dry rice (or cereal) into a bowl. If the bowl looks fairly full, it is the perfect size. Now measure out 1/2 cup of dry rice (or cereal) into a small dish. If the dish looks fairly full, it is the right size dish to use.
Now that you are using the right dishes, you are ready. Make sure to put the oversized dishes and bowls out of sight so you do not use them again.
Let’s look at each part of the plate.
Vegetables stay on one-half of the plate. This may be more vegetables than you are used to. That’s OK. By increasing your vegetables, you are bringing your meals back into balance and adding fiber, vitamins and minerals you might have been missing. Vegetables also help to fill you up without filing you out!
It’s best not to fill the half plate with only one veggie. You get tired of even your favorite foods that way. Try a small salad and half of a cooked vegetable so you have more variety. Non-starchy vegetables include lettuce, cabbage, cucumbers, peppers, mushrooms, onions, garlic, beets, green beans, broccoli, celery, carrots, cauliflower and tomatoes.
Some vegetables are higher in starch/carbohydrate. These vegetables belong in the bread and starch section of the plate. Corn, peas, yams, potatoes and winter squash (squash that has a hard shell) fit in this section, not on the vegetable section.
One-fourth of the plate is where you put your meat/protein. High-protein foods include meat, fish, poultry, tofu, eggs, peanut butter, nuts and cheese. Remember, low-fat foods are better for your heart and your waistline. Healthier cooking choices include baked, broiled and boiled items with little fat added. Healthier fats can be found in such fish as salmon and mackerel and in nuts (except coconut).
The other fourth of the plate is where your breads, starches and grains stay. You can eat a variety of foods in this group. Examples are noodles, rice, bread, cereal, crackers, small tortillas and dried beans (chili) or lentils. Remember that some vegetables are higher in starch/carbohydrate. Vegetables included in this group include corn, peas, yams, potatoes and winter squash. For cereal and soup, use the small bowl; it fits right on this fourth of the plate.
For milk, find a small coffee cup or glass that holds about 1 cup for foods in this section.
Skim milk, 1 percent milk and light yogurt are your best choices. You will need three servings per day from this group to get enough calcium. Teens and adolescents need four servings.
A serving of fruit is one small piece, like a small apple or orange. Use your small dish to hold fruits like applesauce or cut-up fruit. It holds a 1/2 cup. When using canned fruit, light-packed and juice-packed are the best choices. Juice servings are about 1/2 of a small coffee cup. Remember, juice does not fill you up. You will feel fuller if you eat a small orange instead of drinking juice.
What about dessert? Dessert may occasionally be substituted for the fruit serving. However, because desserts often contain a lot of sugar and fat, eat them in moderation. Moderation means eating small portions every once in a while, like one or two times a week
The Idaho Plate Method is flexible and allows you to substitute one type of carbohydrate for another. For example if you want two starches at one meal, you would then omit the fruit or dairy to make up for the addition. However, eating according to the original method gives you the most variety and nutrition.
— Susan Krumm is an Extension agent in family and consumer sciences with K-State Research and Extension-Douglas County, 2110 Harper St. She can be reached at 843-7058.