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Deciding on a Balanced Diet

Eating a Balanced Diet

Focusing on a balanced diet is one of the best ways to make healthy eating a part of your life.

Dietary Guidelines for Americans

The USDA sets Dietary Guidelines for Americans regularly to help guide balanced diet choices. While these guidelines can seem complicated, there are key takeaways from them you should know.

The Importance of Healthy Eating

Healthy eating helps prevent and slow the onset of diseases, like obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease.

Include in a Balanced Diet

A healthy and balanced diet, which for most people is around 2,000 calories a day, includes a variety of:

  • Vegetables, including a variety of dark green, red, and orange veggies, legumes, which include beans and peas, and starchy veggies, like corn and potatoes.
  • Fruits, especially whole fruits, like apples and oranges, which are the perfect serving  size.
  • Grains, at least half of which are whole grain.
  • Fat-free or low-fat dairy (like milk, yogurt, and cheese) or appropriate substitutes.
  • A variety of foods high in protein, like lean meats, poultry, eggs, seafood, beans,  soy-based products (like tofu), nuts and seeds.
  • Oils (like canola, olive, peanut, and soybean) or naturally occurring oils in nuts, seeds, olives, and avocados.

Limit in a Balanced Diet

  • Added sugars should make up less than 10% of your daily calories, which can be hidden in processed and prepared foods, like soda, cereal, cookies, and more.
  • Limit saturated and trans fats, which should make up less than 10% of your daily calories. Foods high in these include butter, whole milk, and palm oil. Replace with unsaturated fats, like canola and olive oil whenever you can.
  • Limit sodium to less than 2,300 mg per day. Processed foods, like pizza, and canned soup and sauces can be high in this salt.

A Balanced Diet with MyPlate

MyPlate replaced the food pyramid as the guide to making sense of servings. It helps you look at your plate and strike a balance with each meal.

This chart can help you divide your own plates appropriately: MyPlate

Fruits and veggies should make up about half of your plate, with just over a quarter filled with whole grains, and protein should be under a quarter. (A few ounces of meat, a piece about the size of the palm of your hand, is a good serving size for most people.) Also work in a small serving of dairy through milk, cheese, or yogurt to round out your meal.

Making Smart Choices

Combine these guidelines with smart choices, and you’ll be well on your way to eating a balanced diet. And making these smart choices doesn’t have to be difficult. There are lots of tips and tricks that can help you make a balanced diet a part of your daily life.

Tracking Your Food

Then, you can target the number of servings you should be getting of the different food groups.

These can help you figure out calorie counts and limit sodium and sugar.

This can help you understand how balanced your diet and food servings are and set and reach food goals.

Making and Meeting Food Goals

  • Start small.

Making small changes in your eating habits can have long-term effects:

  • Switch to high fiber, low-sugar cereals.
  • Give up soda with flavored sparkling waters.
  • When you’re hungry, try drinking a glass of water before you eat something.
  • Plan for all of the places you go in life:
    • Instead of eating out for lunch at work, start planning and meal-prepping ahead of time, and avoid the vending machines.
    • If you know your kids aren’t making great food choices at school, get them involved in packing lunches they’ll love ahead of time.
    • When you know you’ll spend the day at the mall, carry snacks and a water bottle, eat a healthy breakfast or snack before you head out, and skip the food court. If you just can’t avoid a meal or a snack while you’re out, find the healthiest option. Load up a sandwich with veggies, get frozen yogurt without all kinds of extra sweet toppings instead of ice cream, and choose hot tea or unsweetened iced tea instead of a frappachino.
    • Check menus for calorie counts when you’re eating out. Ask for salad dressings and sauces on the side, avoid fried foods, and keep in mind that alcoholic drinks can be full of calories.
    • Many communities have community gardens. Join in and help out to get moving and to grow things your whole family can enjoy in meals.

Results and Rewards

  • Don’t beat yourself up when you have missteps.

Everyone struggles with giving up the foods full of sugar and salt that they love, so it’s important to stay positive and get back on track.

  • Plan your cheat day.

Many people have found that planning a weekly cheat day can help them stay on course knowing they can treat themselves later. And once you get used to a balanced diet, you’ll find that you’ll cheat in smaller and smaller ways, even on the day you’re allowed to.

  • Find healthy ways to treat yourself.

For example, do you love watermelon or raspberries? Splurge on the healthy treats you love. Enjoy a piece of dark chocolate each day or a glass of red wine each week. Another option, reward meeting your goals with a treat that isn’t food-related, like a new outfit, book, or manicure.

Up Next:

Now that you know the value of a balanced diet, learn to prepare before you go grocery shopping and shop smart to meet your goals.

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Relaxing Against Stress in Chicago

My Healthy Journey: Spring Cleaning Your Life

This last year has been a long and busy one, and I’m going to be pretty honest when I say I’m exhausted, filled with stress, and not feeling very healthy. The good news is that while I feel that way, it’s not entirely true.

I started working a lot of overtime last May, and it didn’t end until December. And even when I stopped working extra, I was still very busy when I was on the clock.

More than 46% of Americans’ workplace stress is caused by their workload, so I know I’m not alone in putting stress on myself to get things done. And when your levels of this kind of stress get too high, you’re more likely to develop high blood pressure, heart attacks, and other disorders, according to The American Institute of Stress.

Then, in February, I started packing to move again. I tried my best to declutter my stuff. (I donated a lot of old clothes and tossed any traces of college notebooks and many unnecessary knick-knacks. And after moving all my books, I’m once again wondering if a Kindle is the way to go, but you just can’t replace the smell of physical books!)

From there, my pup and I moved into my friend’s apartment, where we’ve gained the company of this gorgeous (and crazy) puppy.

Quinn, Our New Friend

So you could say that I’m probably suffering from one problem that’s causing that exhaustion: stress, stress, and more stress.

The good news is I’ve been taking steps to fight it.

First, my boss and I worked out an arrangement where I get to work from home on some days. Not only does this make eating healthy easier (I don’t have to be as prepared in advance) and allows me to document my food on our Instagram any day of the week, but it also lets me have a few days a week that I know will be calm(er). No matter how crazy things online get, I’m sitting in my own bed with my best stress-buster, Tootsie, by my side.

Tootsie By My Side
I mean, just look at that face.

My friend is also a certified physical trainer, so, now hold your breath on this one… I’ve also been going to the gym! *gasp*

I know, it’s been building to this for over a year, and finally, I’m a pretty regular gym-goer.

The first day, I was shocked by how weak I’d really become (doing 10 real pushups was really hard), and I’ve had a number of realizations about how pullups make me hate everything. The first few weeks, I was so sore I could barely stand.

But I’ve finally hit a groove. Some days I run, others I’ve been focusing on simple weight training, mostly using body-weight exercises. And, I’m not sore all the time anymore, so we’re making progress!

As spring has rolled in, I’ve also been getting out with those lovely dogs more often to the park across the street. And even better, I’ve been taking full advantage of all that spring produce starting to show up at the grocery store.

Rally, our online wellness tool, has a mission that has you focus on fruits and veggies, which I’ve been working toward accomplishing. Essentially, you try to cover at least half of your plate with fruits or veggies at least twice a day. (Follow me on Instagram to see how I’m trying to work in more fruits and veggies.)

And most importantly, I took a short break. The American Psychological Association has some great ideas to help you bust up your workplace stress, including taking time to recharge.

I recharged by going to Chicago, where I ate some of my favorite food, like Magnolia Bakery’s cupcakes, Eataly, and Rick Bayless’ Frontera Grill.

Chicken Tacos at Frontera Grill
Best guac ever, chicken tacos, and black beans with plantains so good they will unleash your hidden love of plantains, all at Frontera Grill.

And I visited the Van Gogh art exhibit and Dylan’s Candy Bar, did a little shopping, and saw a wonderful live concert at the Chicago Theatre.

Chicago Theatre
(Son Little opening for Leon Bridges, if you’re curious.)

And how am I maintaining my sanity the rest of the time? I’ve been:

Scarf for My Sister-in-Law

  • Trying to work more fruit into breakfast and brunch

Fruit-Filled Brunch!

  • Focusing on salads and, pretty regularly, tacos inspired by those amazing ones from Frontera Grill (Just so you know, they have great seasoning packets available at most grocery stores!)

Tacos for Everyone!

 

And find more ways to relax from Nicole’s last Chasing Health post!

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Dividing Your Plate

Dividing Your Plate Into Sections

Dividing your plate into sections to make sure you choose healthy foods and use proper portions is the key to managing your diabetes, cholesterol, high blood pressure, and your diet.

Dividing Your Plate

According to the American Diabetes Association, a good way to plan your meals is by dividing your plate into 3 sections.

Use an imaginary line and cut your plate in half. Divide one of the halves into two to create the three different zones.

For Breakfast

  • The large section is for fruit, fresh if possible.
  • Whole grain cereals or whole grain toast go into one of the smaller sections.
  •  Eggs, Greek yogurt, or lean breakfast meats go into the other small section.

For Lunch and Dinner

  • The large section is for non-starchy vegetables like carrots, spinach, broccoli, and green beans.
  • Starchy foods such as whole-grain bread, rice, or potatoes go into one of the smaller sections.
  •  Lean meat or meat substitutes go into the other small section.

Keeping portions in mind when managing your diet can have a significant effect on your health.

Healthy Weight for Kids

Help Your Kids Reach a Healthy Weight

Childhood obesity is a regular topic in the news, and with more than a third of American children above a healthy weight, there’s a real reason for concern.

While many stories talk about school lunch programs and possible laws in the food industry, it can be hard to know what to do when when it’s your child. Then, it’s not about statistics or national efforts — it’s personal.

Get the Facts

The first step is to take an honest look at your kids, even though that’s incredibly hard to do. But denying a weight problem won’t help.

If you’re worried about your kid’s weight, the first step is to talk to their doctor. Some kids develop differently, and it’s possible that yours are still shedding their baby fat. Their doctor can give you a better idea of whether or not it’s a problem.

Getting Started

If their doctor diagnoses your kids as overweight or obese, the next step is to take it in without blaming them or yourself. These days, it can be harder and harder to be healthy when everything has sugar, salt, or chemicals hidden in the ingredients. But it’s not too late to learn to change bad habits and make better ones.

The key is for you to set a goal for your family to get healthy and active, and to stick to it. By helping them make healthy habits now, you can set an example that will last them a lifetime.

Talk About Weight

Next, it is important to really talk through the reasons for the coming changes with your family. Kids usually don’t understand the link between what and how much they eat and their bodies. And if you don’t explain what’s happening, they may think that you taking away their favorite foods is a punishment.

Make sure they understand that they haven’t done anything wrong, and that this is to help you all feel and live better. Don’t put it in terms of weight or looks, instead, talk about feeling good and being healthy and strong.

Kids can be sensitive about their weight, especially if they’ve been teased or bullied about it before. Make sure you always work to build up their self-esteem, and never make them feel guilty for being overweight.

Create a Weight Plan

Now it’s time to create an action plan to make big changes doable.

Get Active

Limits on screen time, like TV, video games, and computers, can help get them moving. You can also have them earn screen time, like playing outside for an hour could earn them 15 minutes of their favorite video game.

Try turning physical activities into family time. Take a bike ride together through your neighborhood. Teach your children games you played as a kid, like freeze tag, or kickball.

Play to what they’re interested in. If they like watching sports on TV, teach them rules or plays during a pickup game. If they love science, find experiments online that will get them moving, like learning about motion, or outside, like looking at plants and animals. Ask their friends or school about groups or teams your kids might want to join, or convince them to play with their dog after school each afternoon.

Eat a Healthy Diet

Eating better also needs to be a family effort. Kids’ eating habits are often learned from their parents, so first, take a look at what you eat and what you feed them. Again, don’t blame or stress about the past, just set goals for moving forward.

The biggest change you can make is to bring fruits and veggies into every meal. They should make up half of your plate at every meal, and they make great snacks.

Also, cut back on fast food and pre-made snacks like store-bought chips and cookies.  You can’t control how these things were made, which usually means extra calories. Swap these for healthy snacks like string cheese, nuts, grapes, rice cakes, and apples with peanut butter.

Cut out soda in your home. Don’t allow it at the dinner table, and drink low-fat milk, unsweetened tea, or water instead. And if your family misses the bubbles, switch to sugar-free flavored soda water.

And the most important thing you can do is to start cooking at home. When you cook a meal, you control what goes into it, how it was made, and how big a serving is. When you eat out, you don’t always know what your family’s getting.

Make It Stick

These changes can seem huge at first, but you don’t have to make them all at once. Start small, like setting a goal of serving veggies with dinner five nights a week.

You can’t change your family’s diet and exercise routine overnight, and you wouldn’t want to. Change can be hard for kids (and adults!), so get the whole family into it:

  • Never single out one child who’s struggling with a weight issue. Even thin siblings will feel the benefits of healthy eating and exercise.
  • Make your kids a part of meal planning, shopping, and cooking. When they help pick out and prepare veggies for the stir-fry or cook ground turkey for tacos, they’re more likely to try new foods.
  • A good rule is 90% healthy food, and 10% fun food. Limit the not-so-healthy stuff, but definitely don’t ban it. Diets with strict rules are more likely to backfire, and could cause your kids to develop long-term issues with food.
  • Find great advice. With the internet, other parents’ tricks are always on hand. Many have found ways to sneak healthy ingredients into their kids’ favorite foods, like Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese, zucchini, pumpkin, or banana breads, and desserts like these protein-rich Black Bean Brownies. They’ll be healthier without even knowing it!
  • If you’re having a tough time getting your kids on board, find outside help. As parents, we all know that some kids are more likely to follow advice when the info is coming from someone else. Find a registered dietitian for kids in your area at the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Eat Right. website.

For more articles and tips on keeping your kids healthy and happy, and many more healthy recipes, visit our Pinterest.