Eat Food. Not Too Much. Translated.

plate2.jpgSo, when Michael Pollan set forth his short mantra on food, what did it all actually mean when you go to fill your dinner plate? For starters, we eat too much in general, and too much of the wrong things. Following are some very specific guidelines on actual portion sizes, and tips on eating right without dieting. I hate dieting.

First, some general “gut checks” you should keep in mind daily:

  • How many servings of each type of food we should eat each day
  • All the different colors and kinds of veggies, and if you are eating a variety
  • Small meals and healthy snacks work best for moderating blood glucose levels
  • When is best to eat, and what combinations of foods are best for you (eating proteins with carbs to balance sugars for diabetics, for example)
  • The true size of a portion, and sticking to it
  • The tremendous amount of healthy food you can eat for the same amount of calories as a small bit of unhealthy food

These are good considerations. The trouble is, it is hard to do all that portion size measuring and planning when you are a busy mom. I mean, if I had that much time, I’d just work out more and keep eating ice cream. That’s what always worked for me when I had time to work out and before I found out I have high cholesterol.

So, based on this here’s my easy plan, my visual food mantra. See the plate photo at the top of the post? It’s a normal size plate. I will not overload it or mound the servings to the rim. I will have three of these a day with half the plate holding fruit and veggies, one-fourth the plate holding a lean meat or vegetable protein, and the other fourth holding a whole grain.

Note that the meat/protein is NOT the main course, and not the largest section of the plate. We eat too much meat for health reasons and environmental reasons, and it’s time to change that focus of the American plate.

I have to make adjustments for things like pasta dishes and other combination dishes. If I get hungry, I’ll try to have a healthy snack. I will aim for 5-9 servings of vegetables and fruits per day, more veggies than fruit. I will try to make sure most, if not all, of my fats are healthy fats.

It won’t work every day. I know this because I am a realist. But, I will aim to make it happen most of the time. And I will try to remember my portion sizes.

Some examples:

  • One serving of meat/protein = 3 oz.
  • One serving of vegetable = 1/2 cup cooked or 1 cup raw
  • One serving of fruit = examples are 1 small apple, or 1 cup berries, or 1/4 cup dried fruit
  • Grains/Legumes/Starches = 1/3 cup cooked pasta, or 1/2 cup mashed potato, 1 slice whole grain bread (note that potatoes are not in the vegetable category).
  • Milk/Dairy = 1 cup skim, or 3-4 oz. yogurt, 1 oz. cheese

Surprised? Portions really aren’t as big as what we think. Certainly not what’s packaged or served to us in a restaurant.

Oh yeah, ketchup? Does not count as a vegetable. Sorry, but no way, unless you eat half a cup of ketchup. Fries count as a starchy vegetable, not a vegetable. Ready for this? You only get 10-15 fries per serving. That’s like the corner of the supersize box, you know? Or maybe just licking the grease off the bottom of the carton even. Which is just plain disgusting. Fast food in general is pretty disgusting. I make my own baked sweet potato fries instead.

That serving of protein? It’s less than the size of a “quarter-pounder.” Child-size servings are even smaller. Around our house, as a family of three, we eat about 3 lbs. or less of meats per week. This means we eat at least two meals per week with a non-meat protein. I’ve also made it a habit to source those meats (and eggs and milk) we do eat direct from farmers that I know personally. It’s reassuring to know the meat is safe and healthier for us and for the environment.

I pack our lunches every day to save money and to make sure we are all eating healthy foods. It takes effort to do all your own cooking, but after all the meat recalls and issues, I would not have it any other way.

As far as number of servings of each food type to eat daily, the food guide pyramid is a good resource β€” if you can decipher the new food pyramid diagram, that is. Luckily, they have a handy calculator on the site. It also has tracking tools and a worksheet if you are more interested.

It’s not a bad idea to check these guidelines out since this is the kind of plan that school lunches will be based on if they ever update the guidelines from the 70s. These are basic, healthy eating guidelines. It is not a diet. I hate diets. Almost as much as I hate sit ups.

Because I also hate to count servings (and don’t have time), I will just stick to my plate, eat a lot of different colors of fruits and veggies, and take the stairs. And, yeah, once in a while, I’m still going to eat ice cream and chocolate. Because I am a realist, and I really love ice cream almost as much as I hate sit ups.

4 thoughts on “Eat Food. Not Too Much. Translated.”

  1. Great way to go about it! I remember Barry Sears having a scheme like this in The Zone. Interestingly, your recommendations don’t differ much from his.

    My own approach is more calorie-based. I spend some time learning what the roundabout calorie contents of my foods are, and then proceed to eat, limiting myself by feelings of fullness. I have categories of foods I won’t touch – basically meat (vegetarian in the house), and anything processed. Fruits, vegetables, legumes, paired starches (e.g., potatoes with a veg protein serving to help slow the absorption of the starch), and whole grains are all fair game.

    Seems to have worked well so far; I’m off of my recent high of 212 lbs. and down to 185, thanks to both better eating and biking to work. And no, I don’t miss the meat one bit. :)

    Oh, and ketchup? I just checked the label (Hunt’s brand) to see if I could use them to complement my lunch of potato skins and black beans. The second ingredient on the list after tomatoes was High Fructose Corn Syrup. Not a vegetable, indeed.

  2. I’ve never read The Zone. I have always avoided diet books, though my husband is a fan of the Mediterranean Diet one. I’ve always gone with common sense, and some reading on healthy fats after finding out my cholesterol is genetically high (I keep off medication by watching what I eat and exercising).

    Ketchup is pretty nasty! I like your approach as well. It synchs with what I learned from dieticians when talking about diabetic needs. Congrats on the weight loss!

  3. Great site and well-written, insightful piece. Many people need short cuts for eating healthfully, whether a plate divided like yours, food groups and numbers of servings, or eating plans. And certainly listening to one’s stomach is vital, as is physical activity. The key is to convert the short cuts into lifelong habits. Without good habits, it’s all too easy to overeat in a land with so much tasty, affordable, and abundant food.

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