A few weeks ago, we highlighted March 2012’s National Nutrition Month theme, “Get Your Plate in Shape” and offered some pointers on how to enjoy food more while eating less. Now that March has officially arrived, we’re serving up a few helpful hints on how to make each of your meals as nutritious as possible in support of the USDA’s new and imrpoved icon, MyPlate. Keeping the new icon in mind, here are five simple ways to shape up your family’s plates and get yourself and your loved ones on the fast track to healthy eating. These tips are as easy as they come, and are almost guaranteed to pack more nutrition into every bite…so eat up!

1. Make half your plate fruits and vegetables – We think your plate should be popping with color! This means it’s time to pile on the produce in the form of fruits and veggies. Try adding salads with a  variety of vegetables to lunch and dinner, and incorporating fresh fruit for a sweet finish to any meal. We love produce that is fresh and in season, but frozen or canned are great options also. Just watch out for the sodium in canned varieties and go for a low sodium or no salt added alternative.

2. Make half your grains whole – There are so many great whole grain options to choose from these days – white bread and rice seem so boring! Opt for whole grain breads, pastas, and cereals, but be sure to check the label to make sure that your grain products are indeed 100 percent whole grain. If the kids are really stuck on white bread, there are great “white whole wheat” varieties that are actually whole wheat disguised as traditional white bread. They’ll never even notice the switch!

3. Switch to fat-free or low-fat dairy – Did you know that fat-free and low-fat milk and yogurt actually have the same amount of calcium as their full-fat counterparts, with less fat and calories? We love 1% milk on top of cereal or in smoothies or low-fat Greek yogurt as a snack. The low-fat versions are just as tasty and packed with protein, calcium, and vitamin D. It’s practically a cinch to consume the recommended three servings each day!

4. Vary your protein – Americans tend to get way more protein than we actually need, but chicken can get redundant if you are eating it for dinner 3-4 nights each week. Incorporate seafood, lean beef, nuts, beans, poultry, eggs, and tofu into your family’s meals for a satisfying mix of nutrients that are sure to keep their tastebuds guessing. We’re thinking pasta with shrimp, bean and cheese burritos, or veggie-loaded omelettes are just a few great ideas that make quick and easy weeknight meals.

5. Control your portions – This is a big one! Maintaining your ideal weight has alot to do with making sure you aren’t eating too many calories, whether those calories come from healthy foods or not. Eating at home more often or limiting your meals out to once or twice each week is a great place to start as restaurant portions tend to be huge. Don’t get us wrong, we love lavish restaurant meals once in awhile, but making them a rare treat is key to keeping our waistlines (and our wallets) in check! 

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics website at www.eatright.org is buzzing with tips, ideas, and recipes to help you get your plate in shape! To calculate your own personal calorie needs, log on towww.choosemyplate.gov and create a free profile. If you’d like some help designing a nutrition plan for your family, feel free to contact Family Food, LLC by phone or e-mail or by leaving us a message on Facebook and Twitter. If your insurance qualifies, you could be entitled to SIX FREE VISITS with our expert RDs. We look forward to hearing from you!