March Is National Nutrition Month

by Kari Hartel, RD, LD

Program Coordinator, Cooking Matters, Operation Food Search


March is National Nutrition Month, which aims to encourage people to make smart food choices and maintain a healthy exercise regimen. The theme for this year’s National Nutrition Month is “Get Your Plate in Shape.”  This theme helps people focus on not only building a healthy plate, but building a healthy body through physical activity.

It’s generally easier to build a healthy plate at home (half-full with vegetables and fruit, a quarter full with lean protein, and the last quarter full with a whole-grain) than it is when dining out. Most meals found at fast-food establishments and sit-down restaurants don’t look like the new MyPlate. In fact, usually meals consumed away from home are considerably higher in total fat, saturated fat, sugar, sodium, and total calories. What is more notable is not the foods that are on those plates, but the foods that are missing—fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Don’t be discouraged—there are ways to ensure your meal looks like MyPlate.

Let’s start with protein because most restaurant meals focus heavily on the protein portion. To cut the fat, choose lean cuts of meat or poultry. Sirloin and tenderloin are good choices of beef. Boneless skinless chicken breast is always a lean choice. Most fish is a wonderfully healthy choice. No matter what type of protein you choose, avoid those that are breaded and fried. This adds unnecessary fat and calories. Also, ask that your meat be grilled or prepared with little to no oil or butter. You could choose meat-free protein by ordering a dish that includes beans, lentils, tofu, or eggs.

To ensure that your plate is as colorful as MyPlate, you can always ask for a double serving of vegetables. Most sit-down restaurants have some sort of steamed veggie option, and ask them to hold the butter. Starting off with a salad is also a great way to meet your recommended daily vegetables servings. Be careful with all the fixins though—large amounts of cheese, croutons, bacon, and dressing can add more fat than a cheeseburger and fries! Ask for low-fat dressing or opt for dressing on the side and use just half of it. The same goes for any sauces that come with your entrée. Ask for sauces on the side because they’re likely high in fat and calories too.

Another way to adhere to MyPlate is to choose a whole-grain. Ask for brown rice instead of white rice if it’s available. If you’re ordering a sandwich, inquire about whole-wheat bread or a whole-wheat bun.

Fruit is rarely an option when dining out. However, more places are starting to offer fruit-based desserts and sides. Fruit and yogurt parfaits are becoming increasingly more popular. You can also ask if fresh fruit is a dessert option.

Other tips: split an entrée with a friend, box up half of your meal for leftovers as soon as it arrives to the table, order water as your beverage, and skip the bread basket and appetizers—the meal portions are always gigantic anyway!