As we go into the grocery store we are bombarded by thousands of wonderful, tempting sights and smells, some healthy and some more flavorful than healthy. We’ve all heard that we should use a list when shopping to keep our grocery budget in check but in our fast-paced lives today, it’s hard to take the time to make that list. So when faced with preparing meals at home we may not have the best ingredients on hand because we have been tempted by options that might not have been the healthiest. Filling your shopping cart to mimic the USDA MyPlate icon can be a quick way to insure that you have the supplies on hand for tasty, healthy meals.
MyPlate is a visual that shows proportionally how much should be eaten from each of the food groups in order to consume enough nutrients to maintain good health. Unlike the Food Guide Pyramid that Americans found confusing, this simple visual seems to click with consumers. The cart in the picture is MyPlate with real food to mimic the proportions needed. The website choosemyplate.gov is full of great information including more specifics of how much should be eaten from the different groups based on gender and age. There are also great tools, tips and recipes on that site.
Doing a little math can assure you have enough of the right foods in the house to eat according to MyPlate. If you shop once a week you can calculate the amount of food from each group needed based on how much is needed daily.
One of the most eye opening parts of MyPlate relates to the protein group. You will notice that it takes up a very small portion of the cart. When we think about what’s for dinner we always think about the main dish-hamburgers, chicken, fish and then side dishes are a second thought. Americans need much less food from the protein group than most of us consume. When the comment is made “it costs too much to eat healthy”, it’s always good to remember that we can save by spending less on the protein group. Not only buying less meat but also using non-meat sources of protein like eggs and beans can be easier on the budget. For a family of four with mom, dad and two teenage girls, a total of 7 pounds of meat products need to be purchased for a week. If non-meat sources are used like beans, peanut butter and eggs, you can find the conversions on choosemyplate.gov. Only buying 7 pounds of meat each week can be easy on the food budget.
You will notice in the grains group of the shopping cart you see plenty of whole grains. The grains group is an important source of complex carbohydrates for energy, B vitamins, minerals and fiber. By consuming half of your grains in whole grains, you will be starting to meet your fiber goals for the day. For that same family of four, 133 grain equivalents are needed at the store of which 67 should be whole grains. This may sound like a lot but ½ cup of pasta is one grain equivalent. Check choosemyplate.gov for what counts as a grain equivalent.
The largest portion of MyPlate is the vegetable group. Many Americans feel they need to eat fresh vegetables in order to get the nutrients they need from this group. That is not true as frozen and canned are nutrient packed and much more economical. Keeping the freezer and cabinets full of vegetables provides options that are ready to eat with little or no preparation. Mom, Dad and two teenage girls would need 56 cups of canned, frozen or fresh vegetables per week.
Biting into a fresh apple can help you meet the nutrient needs supplied by the fruit group but just like the vegetable group, canned and frozen fruits are great to have on hand. Select canned fruit in their own juice and fruit that is frozen without added sugar. The family of four would need 35 cups of fruit each week.
In addition, don’t forget about the dairy group. Although it is off to the side, it’s important to consume dairy products every day to meet your daily calcium and vitamin D needs. Although some foods like broccoli contain calcium, you would need to consume 4 cups of broccoli to get as much calcium in a cup of fat free milk. Purchase fat free or low fat dairy products to keep the calories and fat in check. The family that is mentioned would need 63 cups of milk each week if that were the only source of their dairy foods. In the dairy section of choosemyplate.gov you will find other products besides milk that count towards your dairy consumption.
Planning ahead and shopping like MyPlate will assure less trips to the store, which can save money, and also assure that the right amounts of healthy foods are on hand for the week. Of course, there is always room for the occasional treat that doesn’t really fall into any part of MyPlate. Everything in moderation-Happy Shopping!
Written by Kathleen Splane May, 2018