Focus on Foods You Need
Building a healthier plate can help you meet your nutrient needs and maintain your weight. Foods like vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, and lean protein foods contain the nutrients you need without too many calories.
When making food choices, use your Daily Food Plan. Focus on the 5 food groups. Most of what you eat and drink each day should fit within one or more of the 5 food groups. To move to a healthier weight, you need to make smart choices from every food group. Smart choices are the foods with low amounts of solid fats or added sugars: such as, fat-free (skim) milk instead of whole milk, unsweetened applesauce instead of sweetened applesauce, and 95% lean ground beef instead of regular (75% lean) ground beef.
Also think about how the food was prepared. For example, choose skinless baked chicken instead of fried chicken and choose fresh fruit instead of a fruit pastry. You can learn more about making smart choices within the food groups by going to the Food Groups section. Focusing on the foods you need can help you eat a healthy diet and manage weight.
Does it matter how much carbohydrate, protein, and fat you eat? Carbohydrate, protein, and fat are components of foods and drinks that provide calories. "Calories" matter when it comes to body weight, not the calorie source. You should not select a diet that avoids or severely limits carbohydrates, protein, or fat. Similarly, you should not select a diet that avoids any of the 5 food groups. There are choices within each food group that provide the nutrients you need, without too many calories.
- Start with breakfast. Eat a breakfast that helps you meet your food group needs. People who skip breakfast often weigh more. Eating a nutrient-dense breakfast may help you lose weight and keep it off.
- Have healthy snacks available at home and bring healthy snacks to eat when on-the-go, such as carrot and celery sticks with peanut butter or whole grain crackers and low-fat cheese.
- When preparing meals, include vegetables, fruits, whole grains, fat-free or low-fat dairy products, and lean protein foods. These foods provide nutrients with fewer calories. Check the sample meal patterns on SuperTracker for ideas about how to include all food groups throughout the day.
- To feel satisfied with fewer calories, replace high-calorie foods with lower calorie foods. You can eat larger portions of these foods for fewer calories. For example, follow the advice to "make half your plate fruits and vegetables."
Concerned about focusing on the foods you need? Here are some common "stumbling blocks" and ideas to help you overcome these barriers:
"I don't like many vegetables." or "I don't eat fruit."
Explore the wide range of different vegetables that are available and choose some you're willing to try. If you're not fond of cooked vegetables, experiment with salads and raw vegetables. Or, try mixed dishes that include vegetables, like stir-fries, chili con carne, vegetable soups, or pasta with marinara sauce. When eating out, choose a vegetable (other than french fries) as a side dish. For fruits, try adding fruit to salads, making fruit smoothies, or snacking on dried fruit.
Check out the 10 Tips series for more ideas on how to incorporate these foods into your diet.
"I don't/can't drink milk".
You don't need to drink milk, but you do need the nutrients it provides. You can get these nutrients from yogurt, from fortified soymilk (soy beverage), or from low-fat cheese. Milk or other foods from the Dairy Group can also be incorporated into lots of foods and drinks including lattes, puddings, and soups. Try some new ways to include milk or other foods from the Dairy Group in your meals and snacks.
"My family members don't like these foods. I'm worried about spending the time and money preparing them if they don't get eaten."
Be patient when introducing new foods to your family. It may take more than a few tries before the new food is accepted. Also, be a good role model. If you like the food and you show that you like it, your family is more likely to like it too. Also, encourage family members to pick out a new food to try. If you have leftovers, portion them out and freeze them for another day.
"Fruits and vegetables are too expensive."
It is possible to fit vegetables and fruits into any budget. Buy fresh fruits and vegetables that are in season; they are easy to get, have more flavor, and are usually less expensive. You can also try canned or frozen. For canned items, choose fruit canned in 100% fruit juice and vegetables with "low sodium" or "no salt added" on the label. And don't forget to check the local newspaper, online, and at the store for sales, coupons, and specials that will cut food costs. Check out these 10 Tips for more ideas on smart shopping for vegetables and fruits.