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Eat. Pray. Learn.

Childhood Nutrition - How Can We Get Our Children Eating Better?

Obesity is rising at a rapid rate in children, mainly due to their poor diets and lack of physical activity. There are governmental policies that have been created to address this growing issue, especially for those in low-income families. MyPlate, formerly known as MyPyramid was created by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) under the Food and Nutrition Service. Team Nutrition provides MyPlate as a tool to educate children, their parents, and other caregivers they may have. It is often found in schools, summer camps, and at child care facilities, both in the cafeteria and in the classroom. MyPlate makes it easy for children to visualize and understand which foods are healthy for them, and how they can obtain nutritious and balanced meals. MyPlate is a colorful plate divided into the following sections: fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy, and protein. By looking at the plate, you see the half your plate should consist of fruits and vegetables (vegetables being a bit larger), with grains and protein being the other half of the plate (grains being a bit larger). Lastly, you see that a diary product should be incorporated as well.

MyPlate allows lower-income children and families to understand what a nutritious plate looks like, regardless of their education or the language they speak (MyPlate has a Spanish version as well!)

The goals and objectives of MyPlate include: making half your plate filled with fruits and vegetables, making at least half of your grains whole grain, switching to skim or 1% milk and yogurt instead of 2% or whole milk, and varying your protein choices by incorporating beans, nuts, soy, lean meat, poultry, and eggs. MyPlate also stresses the importance of physical activity, by recommending that children have 60 minutes of physical activity per day and adults obtain 30 minutes of activity on most days of the week. Lastly, MyPlate recommends decreasing sodium intake, solid fats, and added sugars. Overall, MyPlate strives to have children and their caregivers understand what a healthy plate looks like, and have them incorporate these healthy behaviors into their daily routine.

Unfortunately, there are some criticisms of MyPlate. For example, people are often confused about the difference between starchy and non-starchy vegetables. Therefore, someone may incorporate corn and rice as half of their child's plate, without realizing that their child's plate is filled with carbohydrates. Also, how large is this plate? Is it large, or is it small? Portion control is a huge issue for our country, so it is important to specify the size of the plate. It is hard to say how effective MyPlate is, but I definitely feel the benefits outweigh the costs, which is why I am in favor of it. I think it is important for children to see MyPlate in their cafeteria and in the classroom as a reminder that their plate should be colorful, and filled with a variety of nutrients and food groups.

It is for this reason that I often show children MyPlate during nutrition consultations. I feel that it is important for children to visualize what a healthy plate should look like, and follow-up consultations have shown me that this tool is helpful. Along with showing them MyPlate, I provide children with various explanations as to why their plate should look like this way. We discuss their likes and dislikes, and how certain healthy behaviors can lead a long and healthy life. Interested in a nutrition consultation for your child? Contact me for your Initial Nutrition Consultation!

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