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Personalize Your Plate: How To Live Your Healthiest Life at Every Stage of Life

Published: March 12, 2021

Maintaining a healthy diet is one of the most important things you can do for your health, but most Americans don’t follow one. Every five years, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans are updated to provide evidence-based recommendations on what to eat and drink to meet nutrient needs, promote health and prevent disease. 

While the general messages of those guidelines have remained relatively consistent, the latest guidelines reflect evolving science by recognizing that diet-related chronic diseases are prevalent among Americans. The guidelines focus on dietary patterns and a lifespan approach while providing four key recommendations that can help you personalize your or your family’s plate:

1. Follow a healthy dietary pattern at every life stage. Nutritional needs will change from infancy to older adulthood. Here are ways to personalize your plate at every life stage:

  • Pregnant and lactating women are encouraged to eat fruits, vegetables, whole grains, a variety of protein-rich foods and fat-free or low-fat dairy products. They should also have discussions with their provider about increased energy needs, recommended supplements and foods to avoid. 
  • Infants need breastmilk and/or iron-fortified infant formula during the first year of life; that can supplemented with solid foods starting around 6 months of age. Infants consume small quantities of food, so it’s important to provide very high-quality foods. 
  • Toddlers and preschoolers benefit from learning to feed themselves while trying a variety of new flavors, colors and textures. Be sure to offer foods that are served and prepared in age-appropriate ways, avoid foods and beverages with added sugars, and choose low-sodium options.
  • Kids and teens benefit from increased independence in making their own food choices, so teaching them about MyPlate may encourage them to eat more fruits and veggies, try whole grains, drink more water or low-fat or fat-free milk, focus on lean proteins, and enjoy sweets in limited amounts. 
  • Adults benefit from developing and practicing their cooking skills and preparing snacks and meals at home. Be sure to cook and prepare snacks and meals with fruits, vegetables, whole grains, protein and fat-free or low-fat dairy products while limiting added sugars, saturated fat and sodium.
  • Older adults benefit from focusing on nutrients such as potassium, calcium, vitamin D, vitamin B12 and dietary fiber. These can come from fruits, veggies, fat-free or low-fat milk and fortified cereals.

2. Customize and enjoy your meals. Personalize your plate with nutrient-dense food and beverages to honor your personal preferences, cultural traditions and budgetary considerations in a healthy way by focusing on variety. Include water or unsweetened beverages and physical activity with your celebrations or gatherings. Consider infusing your desserts with fresh fruit, reducing food waste and making healthy substitutions in some of your favorite dishes. Personalize your plate in a budget-friendly way by planning meals ahead of time, comparing prices, incorporating leftovers into soups and casseroles, growing your own foods, buying in bulk, and looking for sale items. 

3. Focus on meeting food group needs with nutrient-dense choices while staying within caloric limits. Foods and beverages are nutrient-dense if they provide vitamins, minerals and other health-promoting components with little added sugars, saturated fat or sodium. Personalize your plate by making half of it fruits and vegetables. Vary your proteins, choose low-fat or fat-free milk or yogurt and strive to make half your grains whole. Get a personalized MyPlate plan that's right for you by clicking here.

4. Limit foods and beverages higher in added sugars, saturated fat and sodium. And limit alcoholic beverages. Most of your calories (around 85%) are needed to meet food group recommendations with nutrient-dense foods. The remaining calories (around 15%) are available for added sugars, saturated fat or alcoholic beverages. This would equate to about 250 to 350 calories for most American adults.

You can find more ideas to personalize your or your family’s plate by visiting MyPlate.gov.  

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About the Author

Teresa Garvin, PhD, MS, RDN, LMNT, LD, is the chief clinical dietitian at Methodist Jennie Edmundson Hospital.

“I’m inspired each day by my patients,” she said. “Their choices to improve their diets and eating habits have a direct impact on their health.”

See more articles from Teresa Garvin, PhD, MS, RDN, LMNT, LD
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