Planning Your Plate | National Nutrition Month

Balanced, heart-healthy ingredients of unsaturated fats.

Written by: Priscilla Drury, RD

As National Nutrition Month continues, we’re sharing more tips to improve your eating habits and overall health. In the last post, we talked about the different parts of a nutritious diet. Next, we’re sharing tips about how to “Personalize Your Plate” when planning meals for the week — whether you’re shopping for groceries or occasionally dining out.

Plan to Eat Healthy

Having access to nutritious and delicious ingredients all week long is an excellent way to maintain a healthy diet. Studies suggest that people who plan their meals in advance have a healthier overall diet and body weight compared to those who don’t plan their meals. It’s true that eating healthy takes a little planning, but it doesn’t have to be difficult!

If you consider cooking a chore, try turning it into a social activity. Cooking at home can be a wonderful activity to share with family and friends. You can even invite those to cook with you via video chat if you’re unable to gather in the same kitchen.

Want to get started with planning your own meals? Start by collecting recipes for well-balanced and delicious meals, then organize them into breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks. These recipes can be as simple or complex as you like. If you’re lacking inspiration, try searching for free recipes online, asking friends and family for suggestions, or purchasing a food magazine or cookbook for ideas. Be sure to adjust the recipe as needed to accommodate everyone that you’re cooking for.

After finalizing your recipes for the week, create a grocery list. When it comes to shopping for groceries, it helps to get to know how your local grocery store is organized. Organizing your grocery list into categories that generally follow the layout of the store will help you save time while you’re shopping, preventing you from missing an ingredient. Sticking to a planned grocery list will also help you make healthier choices as you walk down the aisles, helping you to fill your cart with only what you know you need.

Avoid Relying on Fast Food

If you don’t plan ahead, you might find that you’re missing inspiration or key ingredients to cook something delicious. This can cause you to rely heavily on fast food or takeout for its convenience. Not only is fast food usually less nutritious than home-cooked meals, dining out excessively can also be more expensive.

Tips for Healthy Dining Out

Dining out occasionally is a wonderful opportunity to spend mealtimes with friends and family, celebrate a milestone, or support your favorite local restaurant. When you choose to dine out, you can still find ways to make healthier choices and stay on track with your nutrition.

Balance your meal when ordering. Like we shared in our last post, be sure to include nutritious foods from multiple food groups, as each provides a differing variety of vitamins and minerals. The five food groups are fruits, vegetables, whole grains, protein foods, and dairy.

When looking through the menu, search for freshly made entrées and healthier side selections like a side salad, baked potato, or fruit. It’s possible to boost the nutritional value of the baked potato by topping it with vegetables, salsa, or chili. If you choose a salad, be sure they include things like lean meats, beans, or fresh seafood to provide protein, fiber, and other nutrients. Ask for toppings to be cooked by grilling or baking rather than frying. Try also asking for your dressing on the side — if you save some salad for later, it will keep much better without the dressing.

Eat intuitively. Some restaurants will serve portion sizes that are much larger than what you actually need to feel satisfied. Don’t be afraid to bring the leftovers home.

The way a dish is described on the menu can give you clues about how something is prepared, but they can vary from restaurant to restaurant. Look for words like grilled, broiled, steamed, blackened, sautéed, or roasted, hinting the food is most likely cooked with less fat. Avoid dishes with descriptions like fried, breaded, smothered, rich, and creamy.

If you don’t see anything you like on the menu, consider ordering “off menu.” For example, ask if the kitchen could slightly alter the way a dish is cooked, or simply ask them to grill up some chicken and steam some vegetables. While fast-food restaurants may not always have this sort of flexibility, many local restaurants are happy to help.

Lastly, focus on the foods you’re looking for versus what you’re avoiding. This more positive outlook will help you feel great about what you’re ordering. You’ll feel even better about choosing healthy fats such as olive oil, avocadoes, nuts, and seeds, or lean meats like turkey, chicken, or fish.

Enjoy Yourself

Eating healthy doesn’t have to be complicated or boring. A healthy eating style can be as unique as you! Personalize your plate each and every day for good health.

Priscilla Drury is a Registered Dietitian (RD) at UP Health System – Marquette. For more information on Nutrition and Wellness services at UP Health System – Marquette, visit

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