Build a Healthy Plate Back »

Written by Robin Keyser under the direction and review of Ann Schwader.

Making your plate a healthy plate does not have to be difficult! We’ve all been told to eat less sugar, fat and salt in our daily meals. We should focus on the foods that we need at every meal. Each meal we eat adds to the importance of living a healthy lifestyle. Every food and drink choice we make has an impact on our overall health. While building your healthy plate, remember to focus on variety, portion sizes and healthy nutrients.

  • Make half of your plate fruits and vegetables.
    Fruits and vegetables are packed full of great nutrients for your body. Choose colorful foods like tomatoes, peppers, sweet potatoes, and watermelon.
  • Add some lean protein.
    Including protein in your meals is great, but switching to lean meats can decrease your fat intake. Lean beef, chicken, turkey, eggs, seafood or pork are all great choices. Other sources of protein include nuts and beans.
  • Include whole grains.
    Try switching some of your normal options to whole grains. For example, try using brown rice or whole wheat pasta in your favorite family dishes. Try whole wheat bread instead of white bread.
  • Complete your meal with some dairy.
    Calcium is found in food choices such as fat-free or low-fat milk, yogurt and cheese. Usually, 1 cup of milk or yogurt and 2 ounces of cheese will count towards your daily needed amount of dairy. Drinking milk as your beverage with any meal is a great way to get some calcium in your body.
  • Switch to “healthier” fats.
    Cut back on foods such as desserts or baked goods. Use oil-based dressings instead of butter or cream cheese. Drink fat free or low-fat (1%) milk as an alternative to reduced fat (2%) or whole milk options. Use low-fat yogurt instead of sour cream.
  • Eat a sweet treat for dessert.
    Soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages are high in calories and have lot of sugar. Try water or unsweetened iced tea instead. Make fruits your favorite dessert options. Fruit salad or baked apples can satisfy that sweet tooth without those high calorie desserts.
  • Read food labels.
    Check serving sizes to know what you are actually eating. Choose foods with lower salt, fats, and calories. Read the ingredients list.
  • Eat the right amount of food for you.
    Use smaller plates or bowls to eat smaller portions. Take your time, eat slowly and enjoy what you eat. Choose lower calorie options if eating out with friends.

Try the following quick and healthy recipes. They are easy to serve anytime.

Hurry Up Baked Apples
Courtesy: Iowa State University Extension and Outreach


  • 2 medium size tart apples (Granny Smith, Braeburn, Cortland, Jonathan, or Fuji)
  • 1 teaspoon white or brown sugar, packed
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 tablespoons oatmeal
  • 2 tablespoons (total) raisins, sweetened dried cranberries, chopped walnuts or other nuts
  • 1 container (6 ounces) low fat vanilla yogurt


  1. Cut apples in half lengthwise. Use spoon to remove cores and hollow out a space 1" or more deep.
  2. Arrange apple halves, cut sides up, in microwavable dish. Cut thin slices off bottoms to keep from tipping.
  3. Combine sugar, cinnamon, oatmeal, raisins, cranberries, and nuts. Fill each apple half with sugar mixture.
  4. Cover with plastic wrap. Fold back one edge 1/4" to vent steam.
  5. Microwave 3 to 3-1/2 minutes or until apples can be cut easily. Remove from microwave. Let sit a few minutes.
  6. Spoon yogurt over the top.

Whole Meal Salad
Courtesy: Iowa State University Extension and Outreach


  • 2 cups salad greens (romaine, spinach, or mixture)
  • 1 cup chopped vegetables (cucumber, frozen peas-thawed, onion, tomatoes, carrots, fresh mushrooms or bell peppers)
  • 1 egg (cooked and sliced)
  • I ounce chicken, beef, or pork (cooked and chopped) or 1/4 cup canned beans, dried
  • 1 tablespoon shredded cheese, chopped dried fruit, or chopped nuts
  • 2 tablespoons low fat salad dressing


  1. Arrange greens on large plate or bowl.
  2. Add vegetables.
  3. Add egg, meat, or beans.
  4. Sprinkle with cheese, dried fruit, or nuts.
  5. Drizzle dressing over top.

More Ideas

For additional information on building your healthy plate, visit the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s ChooseMyPlate. For other great tips on building a healthy plate, see the University of Missouri Extension’s Build a healthy plate poster.


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