MyPlate Guidelines

5 Easy Ways You Can Maximize MyPlate for YOUR Family

By Kate Geagan, MS, RD

ChooseMyPlate.gov I have a confession to make. We registered dietitians await the new USDA Dietary Guidelines with a giddiness akin to celebrity spotters during awards season. What will make it to the plate? What's fallen out of food fashion? What are the trends looking forward?


Yet unlike awards season, you might have missed the news; there's now a new USDA tool available for you, MyPlate, www.choosemyplate.gov which helps Americans make better choices and reverse the growing tide of childhood obesity and chronic disease. It's a powerful resource that can help you better navigate the many questions you have as you set about nourishing your toddler in the purest way possible.

The most immediate and sweeping change to MyPlate is just that-it's finally a plate. Hooray! After all, we do eat off of plates, not pyramids. It's simple graphics provide busy moms a clear snapshot of how plates for children over age 2 should look when they sit down to a meal or a snack in order to meet their nutritional needs. Here are five ways you can harness the value of new MyPlate to nourish your family:

  1. Fill Half Your Plate with Produce. MyPlate reminds us just how much produce children and adults need in their diets for optimal growth and health. At most meals and snacks during the week, aim to fill half of your toddler's plate with a variety of vegetables and fruits (some familiar, some that will stretch them). A 2008 study found that 25% of toddlers do not consume a single serving of fruit and 30% don't eat a single serving of vegetables on a given day! So add a handful of fresh cut seasonal fruit (like pears) to your favorite Earth's Best Organic® breakfast, or bring your toddler to the local farmer's market and invite them to taste a new fall favorite that you can cook together at home (such as butternut squash with nutmeg and sage, or cabbage sauteed with olive oil and caraway seeds). Earth's Best Organic® Sesame Street Organic Fruit Yogurt Smoothies provide a full serving of fruit for snack time in convenient resealable pouches, or try some avocado a squirt of fresh lime juice with whole grain crackers. When you approach both meals and snacks using MyPlate, you don't have to worry when your child eats less at one meal or another; you know your toddler is being exposed to a wide variety of healthy options regularly.


  2. Make seafood a food for the high chair. Did you know that your toddler's brain is 60-70% fat? Omega-3 fats in particular are one of the brain's favorite building blocks and are especially important to obtain through diet. It is for this reason that the Dietary Guidelines recommend Americans over age 2 consume fish twice a week (most families consume only half that amount), making seafood a food for the high chair and beyond. In fact, if there were a Toddler Superfood List, seafood would be on it, as omega-3 fats are a key building block of several organs and pathways in his body, especially optimal brain, eye and immune system development.


    "One of the biggest challenges is working seafood twice a week into kids plates, as some moms can worry that it's a strong taste for kids," notes Elizabeth Ward MS, RD, author of the new book MyPlate for Moms, How to Feed Yourself & Your Family Better. Choose omega-3 rich fish that are safe for children and flake easily for little mouths, like wild Alaska salmon, barramundi or chunk light tuna. Want to start with something milder? Try steamed tilapia with olive oil and lemon juice. And don't forget that the canned seafood and the freezer aisle offers some of the best bargains in the grocery store; now you can often find filets that are frozen at sea and shipped straight to you, making frozen taste just like fresh, but without the risk of costly spoilage. The more frequently you can offer fish to your toddler, the more likely it is that they'll be hooked.


  3. Get Plenty of Protein: Your toddler needs about 16 grams of protein a day; protein not only provides the building blocks for muscle growth and repair, but it is part of every cell and tissue in your toddler's growing body. While it's sometimes easy to fall into the habit of filling up on comforting carbs that your child loves, MyPlate reminds us that making 1/4 of the plate protein at meals and snacks is the right choice. And it's easier to get there than you may think; just 1 ounce of grilled fish, organic chicken or organic pork loin provides 7 grams of protein, and is also a good source of B vitamins, iron and zinc. Need something fast and portable? Try tofu-it's easy to chew, ready in seconds, and provides 7 grams of high quality protein in just 3 ounces. And whether for meals or snacks, beans and eggs are some of the most economical protein rich foods in the grocery store; 1 egg packs 6 grams of protein, while 1/2 cup beans provides 7 grams.


    Providing protein for your little one is likely to rub off on your own plate as well: "In my experience, a lot of moms aren't eating enough protein, they're so busy meeting everyone else's needs," Ward, a mother of three, notes. So multitastking moms, rejoice! Packing protein will help you taking care of your own plate, too.


  4. Stretch Into Whole Grains: For some toddlers, just paring down grains to around 1/4 of their plate might be an adjustment. The Dietary Guidelines also urge Americans to make at least half their grains whole, and now is a perfect time to introduce a variety of whole grains to your toddler's plate throughout the week: their fiber helps keep blood sugar stable, their digestive system regular, and contains antioxidants, vitamin E and minerals that they won't get in refined grains. Earth's Best® Sesame Street breakfasts are a perfect place to start, as they are USDA Certified Organic and carry the Whole Grains Council seal, indicating they are a rich source of nourishing whole grains. So whether it's Earth's Best Organic® Sesame Street Organic Mini Waffles with 100% whole wheat flour, or Organic Yummy Tummy Instant Oatmeal® cereal with 100% Organic rolled oats, you can give your toddler a breakfast to power her through her busy morning. For dinner, try serving quinoa (rich in protein and iron too) or barley for a delicious change from pasta or rice.


  5. Organic Still is the Best Choice for Your Toddler I hear from many moms who wonder "is organic still worth it?" once their toddler joins the family dinner table. In my opinion, the answer is a resounding "YES!" Choosing organic foods provides numerous benefits to you, your children, and the world around us. Toddlers' bodies are still growing rapidly, which means cells are dividing at a much faster rate than in adults, and their lower body weights all put them at a disproportionate risk of potentially harmful pesticides. So continue to insist on organic for your toddler. Even on the go, the Earth's Best Organic® line of nutritionally sound snacks will let you feed your family with confidence; made with the freshest organic ingredients from their family of farmers, you know that you're going above and beyond MyPlate to deliver the very best for your own little celebrity.


MyPlate in action:


Chocolate Chili

Kids love the name and the taste, moms will love all the good-for-you ingredients in this easy and soul-satisfying chili. Unsweetened cocoa powder pumps up the flavor and the flavonoids – plant compounds that protect your cells – in this recipe.

  • 1 pound ground sirloin or ground 100% turkey breast
  • 2 tablespoons olive or canola oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled and diced
  • 1 medium onion, peeled and chopped
  • 1 green or red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
  • 1 (16-ounce) can reduced-sodium black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 (16-ounce) can reduced-sodium red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  • 28 ounces no-salt-added diced tomatoes, undrained
  • ½ teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa (optional)

Place a 6-quart saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the meat. Brown the meat, breaking it up into very small pieces as it cooks. Drain. Remove the meat from the pan and reserve. Season with salt and ground black pepper, if desired. Return the pan to the stove. Add the oil to pan and heat over medium heat. Add the garlic, onion, and peppers and cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the meat back to the pan, and stir in the beans, tomatoes, cumin, and cocoa. Heat to boiling, then reduce heat and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes.


Per serving:
286 calories; 29 grams carbohydrate; 9 grams fiber; 2 grams fat; 2 grams saturated fat; 25 grams protein; 331 milligrams sodium; 46 milligrams cholesterol; 80 milligrams calcium.


Makes 6 servings. Recipe courtesy of Elizabeth Ward, RD, author of MyPlate for Moms, How to Feed Yourself & Your Family Better