USDA’s new healthy plate overrides old pyramid

22 Jun USDA’s new healthy plate overrides old pyramid

 Put a fork in that old food pyramid and make room for a fresh take on what’s good and good for you, brought to you by the United States Depart­ment of Agriculture and its recently released My Plate food icon.

With the USDA’s recent unveiling of its revised nutri­tional guidelines comes a recommenda­tion to choose a healthy plate and bal­ance it with exercise. Controlling calo­rie intake means enjoying your food, but eating less and avoiding oversized portions.

Other guidelines laid out by the USDA advise making at least half your grains whole grains, switching to fat-free or low-fat milk, reducing sodium in your diet and drinking water as your beverage of choice.

If you’re hungry for even more updated nutrition information, check out the USDA’s website at

While you’re there, a quick glance at the multicolored pie-shaped graphic will show half a plate filled with fruits and vegetables, while grains and pro­tein fill out the other two divided sec­tions, all rounded out by a serving of low-fat dairy, as represented by the smaller round circle in the upper-right­hand corner.

Seeing the separated sections of the plate reminded me of the All-American “Blue Plate Special.” Popular from the 1920s to the 1950s, this mid­day meal served on divided blue plates included a meat and two vegetables, most commonly meatloaf with mashed potatoes and green beans, on diner menus across the land.

Offered as a daily special, there were typically no sub­stitutions, and portion sizes were smaller. Offering every­thing on one plate cut down on serving and dishwashing time, resulting in a low cost, usually about 50 cents in post-WWI days. “A square meal for two bits,” some called it.

And the diner tradition lives on, even today where you occasionally run into the “Blue Plate Special.”

It seems to me these early diner owners were on to something. I do like the no­substitution rule, and offer­ing a smaller serving of meat or protein sounds like a sensi­ble plan to me, especially when you surround it with fresh, flavorful fruits and vegetables, building a nutri­tious, delicious plate in accor­dance with the Choose My Plate suggestions.

An emphasis on choice is important, I think because eating should be a pleasura­ble experience — eat what you love, love what you eat, as long as you’re mindful of what efficiently fuels your body. Finding fresh fruits and vegetables and learning sim­ple, straight-forward ways to prepare them helps, too.

Making over the meal plan­ning at your house can be as easy as adding a few Choose Your Plate Specials to your recipe repertoire. For break­fast, a vegetable frittata and fruit cup plate satisfies the fruits, vegetables and protein sections, easily completed by adding a slice of whole grain toast. Use the frittata recipe as a guideline and substitute whatever fresh vegetables or cheeses you happen to love.

Fajitas and fresh fruit salad can be a healthful com­bination for lunch (or dinner), especially when the meat is grilled and the tortillas are whole grain.

Switching out the chicken for shrimp or beef works, and possibilities for fresh fruit salad are endless in the summer months.

Pasta primavera is a fast all-in-one entree. Simply saute the garlic and tomatoes until the tomatoes begin to break down.

Then add your favorite fresh vegetables, covering the pan if the vegetables need to steam, before finish­ing the sauce with white wine, herbs and a splash of cream. Dressing up sliced fruit with candied nuts makes them irresistible. And sud­denly, dinner is served.

In celebration of healthy eating and efforts to combat obesity in America, I give you my Special of the Day: Choose Your Plate Specials with recipes for Frittata and Fruit Cup Plate, Fajitas and Fresh Fruit Salad Plate and Pasta Primavera Paired with Sliced Fruit with Candied Almonds. Enjoy!

Frittata and Fruit Cup Plate

 » 1 bunch asparagus, woody stems removed and cut into 2-inch pieces
» 1 tbsp. olive oil
» 1 tbsp. butter
» ½ red onion, sliced in thin rings
» 6 eggs
» ½ cup Dill Havarti cheese, grated
» ¼ tsp. salt
» 1/8  tsp. freshly ground pepper
Preheat oven to 350°.
Blanch asparagus in a pot of simmering water for five minutes. Remove to an ice­filled colander and let cool.
Heat olive oil and butter in medium flat-bottomed frying pan over medium heat.
Saute red onion until soft.
Pat asparagus dry with paper towels and sprinkle over red onion in the pan.
In medium mixing bowl, beat eggs with whisk. Add salt and pepper and stir to combine.
Sprinkle cheese over asparagus. Pour beaten eggs over the top.
Cook over medium heat until eggs are set.
Finish in preheated oven until top of frittata is cooked, about three minutes. Remove from oven. Run a table knife around edges and invert onto cutting board.
Slice in wedges and gar­nish with chive blossoms, if desired.
Serves four.



» 2 cups fresh strawberries, washed, dried and sliced
» 2 fresh peaches, cut into bite in ­sized pieces
» Fresh mint sprigs for garnish
Mix fruit in medium bowl to combine. Serve in individ­ual dishes and garnish with mint sprigs.
Serves four.

Fajita and Fresh Fruit Salad Plate


» 3 boneless, skinless, chicken breasts
» Chili powder
» Salt
» 3 tbsp. oil
» 1 sweet onion, sliced in thin rings
» 1 yellow pepper, seeded and sliced thinly
» 1 orange pepper, seeded and sliced in thin rings
» 1 red pepper, seeded and sliced in thin rings
» 2 cloves garlic, minced
 » ½ cup sour cream
» 3 tbsp. salsa
 » 2 limes, cut in wedges
 » 6 whole grain tortillas
Preheat barbecue grill to medium high heat (about 350°).
Lay chicken breasts on pre­heated grill and sprinkle with chili powder to cover, then sprinkle with salt.
Close lid of barbecue and let chicken cook for 6 min­utes. Turn chicken and sprin­kle other side with chili pow­der and salt.
Close lid and cook for an additional 6 to 8 minutes, until chicken is cooked through. Let chicken rest on cutting board before slicing into thin slices.
In a medium saute pan, saute onions and peppers in hot oil until tender crisp.
Mix sour cream and salsa together thoroughly.
Assemble fajitas: Whole wheat tortilla topped with grilled chicken slices then sauteed peppers and onions.
Squeeze lime juice over top and serve with salsa sour cream. Serves four.




» Juice of one lime
» 2 tbsp. olive oil
» 1 tbsp. shallots, finely minced
» 1/8 tsp. red pepper flakes
» ¼ tsp. salt
» 1 tbsp. honey
» 2 mangos, peeled and dicedIn a medium bowl, whisk together all ingredients except mangos.
Add minced mangos, cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.
Serves four.


» 2 cups cooked whole wheat penne pasta
» 2 tbsp. olive oil
» 3 cloves garlic, minced

» 2 fresh tomatoes, chopped

» 2 cups broccoli tops
» 1 cup fresh baby peas
» 2 tbsp. freshly snipped pars­ley
» ½ cup dry white wine
» ¼ cup heavy whipping cream
» ¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese

» Salt and freshly ground pep­per, to tasteIn a medium saute pan over medium high heat, heat oil and saute garlic.
Add tomatoes and broccoli and cook until tender crisp.
Add peas, parsley, wine, cream and cheese and stir to blend.
Season with salt and fresh­ly ground pepper to taste.
Serve over hot cooked penne pasta.
Garnish with fresh basil leaves and grated Parmesan, if desired.
Serves four.

» 2 oranges, peeled and sliced in rounds
» ¼ cup sugar

Heat sugar in a small saute pan over medium high heat, without stirring, until it melts.
Reduce heat if sugar starts to brown.
Add almonds and stir to coat and toast.
When sugar has melted completely and almonds are thoroughly coated, remove to waxed paper and let cool.
Arrange sliced oranges on individual salad plates.
Top with candied almonds.

Sydne George is a food jour­nalist specializing in recipe development, food writing and food photography. She can be reached at sydnegeorge@hot­
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