MyPlate is a great resource for making healthful, balanced meals. You probably knew that already. But did you know that following MyPlate can make a huge difference in "adjusting" prepared meals and making them better for you? With MyPlate's portion and proportion guidelines, a huge meal that was filled with empty calories can actually become balanced...
Makeover #1: Burger and Fries
Take a look at this plate. Here’s an oversized portion if we ever saw one. Most adults need between 5 and 1/2 and 6 and 1/2 ounces of protein PER DAY. How much do you think is in that meal? Does this look like a healthful serving of lean protein to you? What about that processed bun? Where are the fruits and vegetables? Oh, and just so you know, this plate weighs in at 940 calories.
Here's the revised plate. Doesn't it look more like MyPlate? How is it different from the original plate? Well, this one has a side salad instead of those fries. Yes, potatoes are vegetables, but a side salad is way lower in empty calories and fat than French fries. Plus, a side salad is higher in nutrients. You can also order a smaller burger, substitute leaner meat, or even replace the burger patty with a vegetarian patty, though those steps aren't pictured here. It's also wise to keep only half of the bun. And guess what? This meal has only 300 calories!
Makeover #2: Pasta and Meatballs
Let's try another food makeover! This one is for pasta and meatballs. Take a look at the photo. What do you notice about the plate? What is the portion size like? Are the grain foods made with whole grains or refined grains? It looks like this pasta is made with refined grains and is loaded with tons of hefty meatballs. With 3 cups of pasta and 3 huge meatballs, the plate weighs in at 1,337 calories. What do you think? Does this match MyPlate's standards for a healthful, balanced meal? Of course not! Though frankly, if it did, we wouldn't be featuring it in this section of the post. This is clearly the "before" contender. So what should the "after" photo look like?
If you guessed that there should be more vegetables on the new plate, then you were spot on! This new plate also features excellent portion control, with a smaller serving of pasta and just one meatball. Are you beginning to sense a theme here? In both "after" pictures so far, the portions are smaller and more balanced, with veggies playing a bigger role. If you prepare this meal at home, consider using whole wheat pasta instead of white pasta and choosing lean ground beef for the meatballs. The new plate has only 300 calories.
Makeover #3: Fried Chicken
All right, our final makeover features fried chicken. You can probably already assess the issues with the original plate. What do you think -- is the serving size reasonable? Are there any fruits or vegetables? Is the protein prepared in a healthful way? Is the plate balanced? Seriously, take a moment to review the MyPlate image at the top of this post, then look at this plate. What's wrong with this picture?
Now let's look at the makeover. Often, improving meals at fast food places like this involves (1) reducing the serving size and (2) choosing side dishes that are actually healthful. This plate features a much smaller portion of fried chicken, and a much smaller portion of macaroni and cheese. This leaves room for fresh vegetables like green beans and corn on the cob. Sometimes you can still choose indulgent foods like fried chicken and macaroni and cheese, but when you do, keep portions reasonable and add some veggies on the side.
Stephanie Ronco has been editing for Food and Health Communications since 2011. She graduated from Colorado College magna cum laude with distinction in Comparative Literature. She was elected a member of Phi Beta Kappa in 2008.