By Lisa Menna, spoonFULL Program Manager at CCSA
March is National Nutrition Month®, and this year’s theme is Personalize Your Plate. Along with the newly released Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025, there are tools to help everyone make the best choices for every stage of life, from infancy through senior years. Personalize Your Plate builds on the My Plate meal pattern by encouraging Americans to honor their own preferences, goals, culture, lifestyle and budget while optimizing nutrients in meals. Starting with My Plate makes it easy: two quarters (half) of your plate is fruits and vegetables and the other quarters are whole grains and a variety of mostly lean proteins. Even young children can use My Plate to help build healthier meals! Learn more about My Plate.
Nutrition Month’s Personalize Your Plate promotes creating nutritious meals to meet cultural and personal food preferences. “America is a cultural melting pot, so you can’t expect everyone’s food choices to look the same,” said registered dietitian nutritionist Su-Nui Escobar, a national spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (the Academy). “Eating is meant to be a joyful experience. As supermarkets increasingly diversify their shelves to meet the needs of their customers, it’s becoming easier to create nutritious meals that align with a variety of cultural preferences.”
Many Americans have spent a greater amount of time at home during the COVID-19 pandemic, cooking more for themselves and, for some, cooking for the first time. Some ventured into new projects like sourdough bread baking and some revisited family and childhood favorites for comfort during difficult times. This is a great starting point for a variety of possibilities and tools to use throughout the year. Including children in cooking activities while they are home is a great opportunity to start building healthy habits. They can help with simple tasks like washing produce, tearing lettuces, scooping ingredients and stirring mixes.
Some simple things to try:
- Make your own healthy snacks by buying larger containers of items like yogurt or cottage cheese to make your own parfaits, enjoy whole fresh fruits, mix up your own trail mix and air pop your own corn.
- Children can personalize their own plates when you give them the right healthy choices: an apple or an orange? Whole grain toast or crackers?
- Shop in season. This can happen at the grocery store or a farmers’ market. Buying foods in season give you the best quality and often the best prices.
- Try a game where you and your children try to find certain food items while shopping to build your My Plate meal.
- Start a garden with some of your favorite vegetables or try something new that grows where you live. Containers work for many things like tomatoes, peppers, carrots, radishes and herbs if you do not have a lot of space. The whole family can join in and enjoy the harvest.
During National Nutrition Month®, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics encourages everyone to make informed food choices and develop sound eating and physical activity habits they can follow all year long. “Variety is the spice of life and that’s how people should view their meals,” Escobar said. Spice up your menus with the foods and flavors you enjoy and add new flavors to spark excitement in your cooking. “Developing healthful eating habits does not require drastic lifestyle changes.”