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Tips on how to balance your meals and a nutritional tune-up!

Happy St. Nutrition Madness Patrick’s Month?!

Ah, March the month where the weather is notoriously known for coming “in like a lion, out like a lamb”. Basketball enthusiasts delight when March hits for the Madness of the college playoffs. Those of you who are a wee or a lot Irish are likely to enjoy corned beef and a Guinness on March 17th. However, I bet your calendars may not be marked with yet another very exciting thing that happens annually during the month of March. I know your stewing over what it could possibly be. Times up– It is National Nutrition Month! Yes, a whole month dedicated to bringing you nutrition goodness. National Nutrition Month also includes a specific day, the second Wednesday in March, called Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) Day. I know, I know– before you start looking around for what to get for your favorite Registered Dietitian Nutritionist- the love Jenny, Dana, and I feel from you all regularly is more than enough (fine, chocolate, we like chocolate ?).

So, what exactly is National Nutrition Month?

Per their website, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics states, “National Nutrition Month® is an annual nutrition education and information campaign created by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. The campaign, celebrated each year during the month of March, focuses on the importance of making informed food choices and developing sound eating and physical activity habits.” Each year there is a theme and in 2021 the theme is ‘Personalize Your Plate’. One of the hardest parts about nutrition education is that no matter how much information is shared or discussed, at the end of the day we are all unique. We are all different shapes and sizes, we have different goals, and we all come from different backgrounds which have molded us into who we are and what we eat. Therefore, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to nutrition and health.

As a Registered Dietitian, I feel it is part of my job to make each person understand that there is, unfortunately, no quick fix to make our meals and overall nutrition perfect and easy. It takes time, education, and a whole heck of a lot of patience. I believe it is getting harder and harder to fully grasp that concept since we live in a time when so much is at our fingertips.

So, how do I personalize my plate? Where do I start?

Answer: the basics. So many influences have brought us to what we at on a regular basis—our upbringing, our friends, our job, our stress level, our medical history, our likes and dislikes to name a few. If you are feeling like your nutrition needs a tune-up, let’s focus on some simple ways to personalize our plates and get back to the basics. Setting the foundation is the key. It is hard to get good at meal prep, trying to cook new meals, and to get fancy with foods when our “nutrition confidence” needs a boost.

Below are some tips to help you “Personalize Your Plate”

  1. Breakfast- you know the saying. I’ll save you the cliché. But, we know that starting the day off on the right foot sets the tone for the whole day. Instead of stopping for something quick at a drive-thru that will likely include a heaping dose of sodium, fat, and refined carbs, consider planning out two-three easy breakfast options that you can fall back on during the week. Think about a super quick one for days when you’re running out the door (ie a couple of hard boiled eggs- cooked beforehand- and a piece of fruit), a 5-minute prep option (ie oatmeal and Greek yogurt), and one for when time is not an issue (ie a breakfast burrito with all the fixings). A tad bit of planning and simple choices can help your daily decision-making to align with your nutrition goals.
  2.  Fruits & Veggies– Since we were little we have been told to each both of those things often. Nothing has changed. We still need to find ways to get more fruits and veggies. My easiest advice is to buy your normal fresh produce for the week, now, add one frozen veggie to your cart and one fresh veggie that you will keep raw. Pick one night of the week to ADD your frozen veggie to your dinner, along with the fresh veggie you had already planned for. Why? It is a simple way to start visualizing (and eating) two veggies at a meal in an effort to make half your plate covered with vegetables. More veggies = more full = less extra servings of other stuff. What about that raw veggie? Cut it as soon as you bring it home and put it in a clear container at eye-ball height in your fridge. Get used to going to your fridge first before your cabinets for a snack. Dip it in hummus, lite dressing, guacamole, plain greek yogurt mixed with dry ranch seasoning, powdered peanut butter (mixed with water per container directions). Bottom line- the quality of nutrition we receive from these foods is infinite. Make it high priority to include more on the day-to-day.
  3. Portions- when it comes to portions of snacks, carbs, meals, there is a saying I use in class, “Check Yourself”. I didn’t claim it was a good saying, but what it means is that every so often each of us needs to take an extra minute to whip out the measuring cup or food scale to CHECK our portions. We tend to tell ourselves that our portions align with what the label says, but even dietitians can be off in our guesstimates. Portions are the amount of food WE are choosing to have versus a serving size which is the amount used by the manufacturer to determine the nutrition facts. It happens to all of us, we grab a little here grab a little there, scoop scoop scoop on our dinner plates without batting an eye. When we take some time (not every meal or every day) every now and then to check our portions it will help us with our endeavor to setting a good foundation.
  4. Hydration- Drink more water! Consider buying investing in a good water bottle. Ideally, that water bottle should become another appendage. It should go with you everywhere so you are never thirsty and you don’t have to rely on purchasing a drink less nutritious. Hydration is commonly overlooked in being a key foundational nutrition component, but I promise it is a biggie. Start with the old standby rule of thumb- eight 8-ounce glasses a day. Get your glass ready and keep a tally of how many you drink through the day. Have a 32-ounce bottle? Great, you only need to fill it twice. This step needs planning. You likely won’t drink enough if there isn’t some planning involved. Start now!
  5. Snacks- who doesn’t love a good snack? I know I do. However, snacks can really trip up our nutrition goals. Think about the foods that are on your kitchen counter—whatever they are you’re likely eating them a lot because of the amount of times you pass them on a regular basis. Make sure whatever is there is supporting your goals. What about your pantry or cabinets? Good ole salty and sweet live there. I know they are old good buddies, so we don’t have to say goodbye. Instead, consider portioning out the large container the snack came in, into little baggies for individual servings. Sorry- hate to be annoying at this point but Oreo sleeves are not already portioned single servings ? Do what it takes to support your goals. Keeping those old friends around is just delaying your nutrition success. You’re stronger than you realize.

Over time, our taste buds get tricked by all the yummy flavors from our processed snacks, that all the wholesome foods may seem boring and bland. In an effort to get back to the basics, decrease the amount of processed snacks that end up in the grocery cart and work to get creative with the foods that you can find on the perimeter of the grocery store- which tend to be less processed.

There are no quick fixes. It’s small moments, small building blocks that over time get easier. There’s a fantastic quote in a book I recently read, Fit for Success- Lessons on Achievement and Leading Your Best Life by Nick Shaw. Nick wrote, “Perfection may be the goal, but it shouldn’t be your expectation. Dieting provides an ideal example. Someone who follows a three-month diet plan, which allows them to have five smaller meals per day, will be faced with 450 opportunities to mess up. The people who achieve the best results when dieting, based on my observations (and also data from the RP Diet App), typically adhere to their macro[nutrient] or caloric counts 85 to 90 percent of the time. That means you can be less-than-perfect on 50 of those 450 total meals and the odds will still be in your favor to achieve great results.” Start somewhere. Start where you are. But, most importantly start. Nutrition doesn’t have to be complicated. It can also be simple when you take it slow and have extreme patience.

If you’re looking for more information and access to many wonderful resources, visit the National Nutrition Month website. Check out some more great ways to “Personalize Your Plate’ and help you meet your nutrition goals. And, as always, our staff, including our amazing RDNs, are here for all your diabetes and nutrition needs and goals. Stayed tuned for my next article on my conclusion/final thoughts on my 75 Hard Challenge (at the time of writing this I am on Day #66 and wanted to wait to give a true completion testimony).

Cheers and Happy St. Nutrition Madness Patrick’s Month!

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