Wondering how to eat healthy without driving yourself crazy? Enter the plate method. Ana Kalo, a Nutrition Coach with the goal of making healthy eating easy and realistic is sharing with us what the plate method is, how to get started with it, and of course, how to maintain and sustain the lifestyle!
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What comes to mind when you hear ‘healthy eating’?
Is it a dreaded “ugh, I know I’m not eating healthy enough!”
Or maybe it's just a slew of questions like, “what the heck counts as healthy eating?!”
I get it! There’s so much conflicting information out there and every body is different. There’s a reason it takes four years to get a degree in Nutrition and Dietetics too.
But don’t fret, I’m breaking down the easiest way to eat healthy in just a few paragraphs. It's my little guide or cheat sheet to eat healthy for fellow confused millennials! Enter…
The Plate Method
You can take the framework of The Plate Method and apply it to home-cooked meals, when you order in from your favorite (guilty pleasure) restaurant , or even when you stop at Chipotle for a quick lunch.
The Plate Method is based on hundreds of scientific studies that assessed the individual components of it, tested the long-term efficacy of them, and then put it all together in a way that is easy for people to follow. It’s basically a guidebook for confused millennials that want to eat healthier. What these studies found is that eating this way helps to reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease like heart attack, high cholesterol, and blood pressure levels, and cancers like colon and colorectal.. Damn.
What is The Plate Method?
The Plate Method is a way of setting up your plate for success. It suggests filling half your plate be non-starchy vegetables, one quarter with whole grains or starchy foods, and one quarter with a protein. Water is the recommended drink of choice following The Plate Method.
Non-starchy vegetables would be broccoli, mushrooms, and most salad veggies. Starchy foods would be whole wheat bread, brown rice, quinoa, oats, and starchy vegetables like potatoes and beetroot. Protein-based foods would be fish, lean meat, red meat, eggs, beans, nuts, seeds, yogurt, and milk.
It goes without saying that you can opt for gluten-free if you need to and adjust the protein source to match your dietary preferences.
Why should your plate look like this?
These proportions of ½, ¼, ¼ seem wildly different from what the average North American meal looks like. And that’s the point. Upon studying the average diet of North Americans, researchers found that North Americans eat more protein than they need to be eating. Likewise, they eat fewer vegetables and fiber-rich foods than they need to be eating (2)(3).
By rearranging the proportions, you’re optimizing your diet to do the absolute most for your health. Yes please!
Increasing your fruit and vegetable intake will load you up with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber.
I can’t stress enough the importance of vitamins and minerals. They are needed for every. single. thing. your body does, in one way or another. From making blood cells to keeping the water balanced in your cells, eye function, brain function, making the cells of any organ, or any process like breathing or digestion. And of course it goes without saying that more fruits and veggies help the immune system – which I think we've all been focused on lately!
Literally, anything and everything that’s going on in your body, a vitamin or mineral was used at some point of the process.
Bonus: if you eat more whole grains your bowel movements will be happy for the switch and you’ll be less likely to suffer from energy highs and lows. I don’t know about you but I get enough highs and lows from watching This Is Us, I don’t need it from my food too!
How to start The Plate Method
Changing your eating habits is no small feat, that’s why I recommend you start small and slow.
You can either choose one meal per day where you consciously choose to follow The Plate Method. Stick to it for about a month until you become more comfortable with it and it becomes second nature. Alternatively, you could choose one of the components like the ½ plate fruit or veg and choose to add that into every meal. Again, stick with it for a month before you level up.
Literally speaking, what should my plate look like?
Now, just because it’s called The Plate Method and the imagery shows everything perfectly separated, you’re not limited to perfectly dividing the food groups on your plate in that way.
You can mix things up, it's just about keeping the proportion of The Plate Method intact.
For example, if you’re making a minestrone, roughly look at the ingredients and what category they would fall into. If something is missing add it to the soup or on the side. If you’re having lasagna, you can add veggies to it or pair it with a side salad or try this recipe:
How to maintain The Plate Method long term:
Remember, anything healthy taken to the extreme can turn unhealthy.
A prime example of this is orthorexia, an eating disorder that involves an unhealthy obsession with eating healthy foods.
This is where moderation comes into play. The easiest way to apply moderation to your healthy eating habits is to use the 80/20 rule. Aim to follow The Plate Method 80% of the time and don't stress the other 20% of the time. There’s no need to get too bogged down in trying to do everything perfectly.
Enjoy those moments with friends and family where you can eat without thinking of what’s healthy and what’s unhealthy. Give yourself grace in the process and be proud of yourself for making healthy eating a priority.