By Laurie Goldberg
Congratulations Moms! You and your kids made it through another challenging year of homework assignments, tests, carpool, hockey practice and various after school activities, to name of few small hurdles. Now all that’s left to do is get organized and pack for camp and then you can sit back and enjoy a well-deserved break. Unless, of course, your concern for your kids’ well-being stretches to one more thing—camp food. If you are like me, you tried to plan nutritious, balanced meals for your family (most of the time anyway), but now that the kids are soon to be more footloose and independent—and subject to peer pressure, canteen and outings—how confident are you that they have the skills and determination to continue your healthful trend? Don’t despair; help just came down the pike this month, in June, in the form of My Plate, a quick and easy tool from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) to help people design the way they pick and choose various foods to eat at mealtime. Think of it as a crib sheet for healthful eating.
My Plate is not the first attempt by the USDA to guide people towards good eating habits. This government agency has been recommending food guides to the public since 1916. I’m sure your memory doesn’t go back that far, but you likely recall the iconic USDA Food Guide Pyramid that was created in 1992—a triangular shaped symbol consisting of six colored horizontal sections with pictures of one of the six food groups in each section. This image eventually fell out of favor (too much starch choice, for one thing) and was replaced, in 2005 with My Pyramid. Using the triangle shape again, the new icon added a stick figure running up the side stairs (for exercise). Vertically adjacent, colorful panels replaced the horizontal sections and, food images could be seen at the base of the panels. However, in some reproductions, they were removed, resulting in an even more abstract message that didn’t stick. Waistlines just got wider, work schedules became tighter, access to cheaper fast food eateries became greater, and physical activity plummeted, with no help from our increasing obsession with technology that keeps us in our seats for long stretches of time.
On June 3, 2011 the USDA together with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Surgeon General Dr. Regina Benjamin unveiled My Plate, an interactive tool that demonstrates how to design a healthful meal plate quickly and simply. My Plate puts into graphics the updated 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Using the familiar round mealtime plate, My Plate shows five food groups on a sectioned plate in recommended serving sizes, with a circle on the right side to stand in for a glass of milk, yogurt or dairy equivalent and a fork at the left of the place setting (Yes, I also want to know where the knife and spoon are).
The instructions are to fill the plate as follows:
1/2 the plate for Fruits and Vegetables (more vegetables than fruit to be exact)
1/4 of the plate for Whole Grains
1/4 of the plate for Protein choices
For more detail, go to http://www.choosemyplate.gov/  where you will also find 10 Nutrition Tips to build a healthy plate, and a listing of foods in each food category, among a plethora of other relevant information.
Overall, healthcare professionals weighing in on this symbol seem to agree that it is a clear, useful foundation from which individuals of all ages can get a handle on how to make better food choices. Although not a perfect solution, as certain foods (peanut butter, nuts, certain oils, pizza, other combination foods and dessert, anyone?) will require a greater depth of knowledge to incorporate (http://www.choosemyplate.gov/tipsresources/mixed_food_information.html# ). But, that’s where you might want to consider consulting a Registered Dietitian to help you with the details. The best part, however, is that it’s a simple message for parents and teachers to convey and it’s easy enough for even young, restless kids to grasp. Some helpful categories you will find include:
Kid Friendly Veggies and Fruits
2000 calorie a day sample menu with nutrients and food group breakdown
Kids section with worksheet and games to help them participate in meal planning
Ways to increase physical activity
Guide for Weight loss
So before you pack your children off to camp, get your tools out (computer, plate, glass, food, and utensils), make a place setting on your table and navigate the website with them so they can get into the practice of creating a healthful plate and making educated decisions, for the time when you are no longer in control of their lives.
Laurie Goldberg, MS, RD, CDN is a Registered Dietitian, Certified-Dietitian Nutritionist with a Masters of Science in Guidance and Counseling. She also holds a Certificate of Training in Adult Weight Management from the American Dietetic Association. Laurie has a private practice in New York City where she provides nutritional counseling in the areas of weight loss and weight management, gastro-intestinal and cardiovascular disease prevention and management and wellness She is a member of the American Dietetic Association (ADA) as well as the Nutrition Entrepreneurs, Weight Management and Sports and Cardiovascular Nutrition dietetic practice groups. Laurie is also a freelance writing contributor to Patch.com in Pelham, NY and the surrounding Westchester areas.
For appointments and more information you can contact Laurie at 917 834-7337 or firstname.lastname@example.org