Being “fed” simply means eating. Every day, you choose which foods that pass through your lips. These decisions are based on several factors: taste, cost, nutritional content, convenience, texture and your emotional state. Which of these is the primary reason for the foods you eat?

Moderation is key
Consider popular television series Sesame Street’s approach to eating. As part of Sesame Street’s nutritional initiative, Healthy Habits for Life, the characters teach children how to identify “always” foods (the most nutritious choices) and “sometimes” foods (the less healthy options) as a way of motivating children to make better food choices.

Healthy Habits for Life boasts a 98 percent success rate of “improving” or “greatly improving” children’s food choices as reported by caregivers participating in the program. Certainly, this approach is aimed at children, but as adults this mental distinction prior to taking a bite is one of the keys to improving our nutrition. It’s okay to have a “sometimes” food—sometimes. But how often are we eating “always” foods?

myplate_greenLook at your plate
For almost a century, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has provided the public with information to help guide our eating habits. The USDA launched MyPlate in 2011. This approach used a familiar visual cue to grab our attention—the plate in front of us. The graphic illustrates the five food groups that are the building blocks for a healthy diet and the relative amounts you should be loading on to your plate.

At your next meal, look down at your plate. Is over half made up of fruits AND vegetables? What about grains and protein? These should each take up about a quarter of your plate. How much dairy are you getting? Most adults need about three cups a day. What’s helpful about MyPlate is that it can be customized to meet your needs with regard to age, desired calorie-intake, dietary restrictions and so forth. 

In addition to MyPlate, the USDA offers a free tool, SuperTracker, that helps you plan, analyze and track your diet and physical activity. It can tell you what and how much to eat as well as track foods, physical activities and weight. 

The bottom line
Whether we’re on a date, gathering around the table at the family reunion or eating a snack at school, we’ve chosen the food we’re eating for a reason. Think about why you eat certain foods. Try to choose mostly “always” foods with the occasional “sometimes” food thrown in. Fill your plate with foods representing the food groups, and remember that half of it should consist of fruits and veggies.

What about “diets”? Although studies continue to find that eating a temporary “diet” usually only helps people control their weight temporarily, people continue to be persuaded by the “science” behind them. Then, they become frustrated when their weight returns (or eventually exceeds) what they weighed prior to dieting. Don’t allow clever marketing to mislead you. The secret is to make changes that you will continue throughout your life.