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Can You Still “Summer” with the New Food Plate?

It’s cool, it’s colorful, and it has both nutritionists and consumers saying good riddance to the pyramid.

It’s the New Food Plate, and it may be ushering in a new era of clarity in the world of nutrition, food labels, and portion sizes by helping us make choices about our health out of knowledge, not bewilderment.

The New Food Plate was released by the USDA at the beginning of this month, and it is meant to provide the U.S. Dietary Guidelines in the form of a plate, not through the former “food pyramid”. Using the plate as a visual guide, it clearly indicates how much of what food groups should be on our plate for every meal.

The New Food Plate is also interactive, making the modern makeover official. Click on any part of the Myplate.gov plate to get more information about each food group.

When you’re done clicking, you can get printable healthy plate from WebMD which includes suggestions for each group, and a reminder of what you should have more of (fruits and veggies) and less of (sugars, refined grains). It’s suitable for hanging – right on your fridge.

Fruits and veggies make a prominent appearance on the New Plate – our plate should be half full of them – and that’s for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Part of the plate also involves showing clearer portion sizes, that is, smaller ones, to help us eat less and take in fewer calories.

So, see ya later, pyramid.

But now that we’ve ushered in the New Plate, how do we deal with summer? Summer means sandwiches on the go, lots of grilling and lots of grazing at gatherings and picnics. It begs the question: Now that we’ve got the plate, can we still embrace summer?

We can.

It’s true that food doesn’t always separate itself onto sections of a plate. But as long as your dinner doesn’t come in a bucket, the plate will work for most meals, metaphorically, if not always literally.

Here’s a few ways to parse your New Summer Plate and extract some hidden advantages.

Not Eating More – Eating Further. 

First, the New Food Plate is a tip of the hat toward variety. While the old pyramid accompanied pieces of wheat and pictures of iconic apples, the new food plate doesn’t make the same clip-arty suggestions. One of the goals of the plate is to eliminate a meat-and-potatoes rut with our meal plans – there are no pictures suggesting types of food, and the idea is to open up a world of options.

It’s a perfect message to send: eating a lot of fruits and veggies doesn’t have to be dull. For instance, Fruits & Veggies More Matters suggests going exotic to fill your new plate. They have a database of 200 fruits and veggies (and growing) in hopes that there’s something there to catch your eye. Ever tried purple asparagus? How about cracking open a durian? It could be time. You’ve got a whole half of a plate to use up.

And because it’s summer, why not fill your New Plate with a wash of summer color and flavor? Consider “thinking outside the pyramid” as the first step in jazzing up that all-important half of your plate, and giving some fruits and veggies that you’ve been short-changing a chance. Let F&VMM help you figure out what’s in season, and get more ways to eat a cherry than you thought you needed. (Think cherry chutney and cherry and peanut butter sandwiches!)

You can also try these summer recipe ideas from Eating Well. They include Summer Crepes and a Tropical Cucumber Salad that you’ll want to pile high on your new plate (ok, not too high). With fresh local produce around, you’ll have your plate half full with fruits and veggies in a flash.

Sandwich & Sides

It could be a plate conundrum. It’s summer, and some staples simply aren’t plate-dependent. Summer soups, summer sandwiches, quiches, and casseroles aren’t easily separated into sections on a plate in a way that makes it clear what we’re eating and how much.

Let’s start with the biggest challenge: the sandwich. Doesn’t a sandwich defy the confines of the New Food Plate?

Sort of – but you can avoid a fate of eating your sandwich in parts by first loading up on the greens. Sandwiches are fantastic delivery systems for nutritious, plate-filling veggies. This list of summer sandwich ideas from Food52.com doesn’t stint when it comes to ingredients like spinach, avocado, and peppers, and their passion for the open-faced variety cuts refined grains in half. If it helps, picture your sandwich after a high wind hits it and it topples onto your plate – how would those portions look? If you need to add or take something away before you bite, do it.

Then, opt for wheat bread for a healthier plate.  Finally, couple those Dagwoodian delights with berries or melon rather than chips, and you’ll have your noshing licked. For instance, when it’s hot, watermelon is an easy substitute for less healthy sides, whether carved, cubed or wrapped in prosciutto, and it makes for nutritious eating. It’s provides healthy lycopene, and high levels of vitamins A and C and vitamin B6.

Two Words: Grilled Fruit

Summer means spending more time with your barbeque, and why not? Stripes of char marking up your food is a sure sign the dog days have arrived. Grilled veggies are a given – sweet corn, pepper kabobs, and eggplant are perfect summer grill buddies. But you are remiss if you go an entire summer without enjoying grilled fruit. It’s a great way to fill a healthy (paper) food plate.

Grilled pears, peaches, and pineapple make perfectly sweet companions for grilled meats or BBQ. The Stir can tell you how to grill the perfect fruit. Then turn to Chaos in the Kitchen for the steps for grilled fruit kabobs, and try out this kid-friendly idea for grilled avocado from Cook Time with Remmi. You’ll swoon in fumes of good fat.

Think wild blueberries are too small for the grill? Ok, they may not be ideal for kabobs, but residents of wild blueberry country in Down East Maine and parts of Canada tolerate no excuses. Blueberries are a crucial part of summer picnics – blueberry BBQ sauce creates a killer summer grilling taste explosion. Check out Grilling Companion for the recipe. And sure, salsa and pies rank high, but wild blues can also can be found sweetening up summer salads and zucchini breads, grill optional. Find some unique recipe ideas and start filling your plate this summer – no sweat.

How Are You Putting Your Food Plate into Action?

As part of this new initiative, USDA wants to see how consumers are putting MyPlate in to action. Here’s how you can help:

1. Take a photo of your plate

2. Share on Twitter with the hash-tag #MyPlate

You can also share MyPlate photos on the USDA Flickr Photo Group.

For information from USDA about the plate and ideas about meal plans, go to Choosemyplate.gov.

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