Go Red and Get Your Plate in Shape for National Nutrition Month

by Sharon Palmer, RD

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics declares March as National Nutrition Month—a time to raise awareness and promote nutrition to the public.  This year’s campaign message is directed towards the transition from MyPyramid to MyPlate.  After decades of promotion and countless modifications to the Food Guide Pyramid, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) introduced a new healthy eating concept to Americans called MyPlate.  By simplifying the image and general message, the USDA  hopes that MyPlate will be a helpful and simple method to help Americans build a healthy meal to promote optimal health and well being.

“Get Your Plate In Shape”

The layout of MyPlate is very straightforward and easy to comprehend.  The simple place setting image consists of a dinner plate, drinking glass, and utensil.  The plate is broken into four basic food groups: fruits, vegetables, grains and proteins.  The drinking glass fulfills the dairy food group.  Not only does the MyPlate image provide the ideal meal layout, it also provides visual rations of foods.

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics developed a set of simple guidelines that can help you “Get Your Plate in Shape.” Foods like vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low-fat dairy products and lean protein foods contain the nutrients you need without too many calories.  By using the tips below, you can get your plate in better shape.

  • Make half your plate fruits and vegetables
  • Make at least half your grains whole
  • Switch to fat-free or low-fat milk
  • Vary your protein sources
  • Cut back on sodium and empty calories from solid fats and added sugars
  • Enjoy your food but eat less
  • Be physically active your way

Paint Your Plate Red   

When following the new MyPlate guidelines to fill half of your plate with fruits and vegetables, don’t forget to include tomato products.  The “red” vegetable category was highlighted by the government throughout the development of the Dietary Guidelines and MyPlate.  The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC), a panel of nutrition scientists and experts, were tasked at reviewing the body of evidence on nutrition science in order to create their comprehensive DGAC report on optimal eating.  One of the nine key foods/food groups that Americans should encourage, according to the Dietary Guidelines, include vegetables, in particular “red” vegetables.  The DGAC report emphasized the importance of eating a disease-preventative dietary pattern rich in colorful, nutrient-rich plant foods, singling out “red-orange” vegetables in particular, due to the body of science pointing out these vegetables have superior disease-fighting potential, such as prevention of prostate cancer and promoting heart health.

March is time to Make MyPlate ‘YourPlate’.

Whether you’re an active baby boomer, a soon-to-be mom, or a teenager, MyPlate offers non-sense, practical tips for optimal health.  Check out http://www.choosemyplate.gov and http://www.eatright.org/nnm for more information about these programs.  And try one of the National Nutrition Recipes featuring tomato products, such as Baked Quinoa Ratatouille.

By Sharon Palmer, RD


National Nutrition Month® 2012 Recipes

Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics

This is ratatouille with a twist: quinoa. If you love ratatouille but have never tried quinoa, this is an appetizing way to do so. If you don’t have quinoa on hand, this dish is still good without it.

Baked Quinoa Ratatouille

4 servings

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 red onion, thinly sliced

14 1⁄2 – ounce can diced tomatoes with liquid (low-sodium may be used)

2 tablespoons tomato paste

1 teaspoon dried basil

1⁄2 teaspoon dried oregano

1⁄2 teaspoon dried thyme

1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley

1 large eggplant (about 1 pound) cubed

1 green pepper, thinly sliced

2 zucchini squash, sliced

1 yellow summer squash, sliced

1 cup cooked quinoa (cooked according to package instructions and rinsed, if necessary)

3⁄4 cup shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese (or Italian cheese blend, if desired)


1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

2. Heat the olive oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the minced garlic and onion slices, and sauté for 5 minutes until softened.

3. Stir in the diced tomatoes, tomato paste, basil, oregano, thyme and parsley. Continue to cook for 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from heat.

4. Layer half of the tomato and onion mixture in the bottom of a 9×13-inch baking dish. Top with all of the uncooked sliced and cubed vegetables, then add the remaining tomato and onion mixture. Spread the cooked quinoa on top and sprinkle with the shredded cheese.

5. Cover with foil and bake for 40 to 45 minutes. Remove the foil for the last 5 minutes of cooking.

Tips: It’s helpful to buy pre-rinsed quinoa for convenience. If you don’t, you must rinse the quinoa several times before using it. Quinoa contains an outer coating of saponin that is very bitter. Use a fine colander and rinse the quinoa under cold water.

Serving size: Approximately 1 1⁄4 cups

Nutrition Facts per Serving:

Calories: 234 Fat: 8 g Cholesterol: 13.4 mg

Sodium: 380 mg Carbohydrates: 31.4 g Fiber: 8.3 g Protein: 11 g


Recipe provided courtesy of John Wiley & Sons, from Easy Gluten-Free: Expert Nutrition Advice with More than 100 Recipes by Tricia Thompson, MS, RD, and Marlisa Brown, MS, RD, CDE, CDN and American Dietetic Association. ©2010, John Wiley & Sons.