The USDA’s MyPlate program is a wonderful tool for helping your family design healthy, interesting meals together. When you’re unsure about what to make, or are tired of having your home-cooked food pushed aside, have your family members select foods from these lists. Similar foods are grouped together, so you’ll have several substitute ideas the next time someone says, “I don’t like carrots, can I have something else?”
I keep my MyPlate lists on the refrigerator for easy reference. This way, I can quickly scan the list for ideas, and check with the kids before making something to make sure they’ll like it.
Here are four easy steps for introducing your kids to MyPlate, and creating “go to” meals with them.
Explain how MyPlate works to your children: There are five categories of food to choose from (dairy, protein, grain, fruits and vegetables). Picking foods from each of these groups is about creating a healthy balance and getting the energy you need for a day.
In order to create some “go to” meals, let your kids choose things they like from the lists, and write them down on a picture of a plate (download ours, or make you own!). You may need to help your kids understand that they cannot have a whole plate of starch, but must also choose fruits and veggies.
Once the plates are all filled, post them in the kitchen for reference.
Check in regularly with your kids to make sure the list still holds. Young children’s tastes can change, and that can be frustrating. It’s better to know before you start cooking rather than after.
Optional: Start looking for new yummy recipes with your kids, either in a cookbook or online. If you find a new dish that you like, brainstorm with your kids on how to turn it into a complete meal, using MyPlate. If the dish is veggie or starch-based, remind them that they need to think of fruit, protein, or dairy side dishes to complement it.
This is a tool to help you, so it shouldn’t feel like yet one more thing you need to do “perfectly.” If you get most of the food groups on your child’s plate, but not all, that’s fine! MyPlate is meant to make cooking diverse meals easier, and its example plates give you something to shoot for.
On busy days, it’s also helpful to think of all the day’s meals together. For example, perhaps you weren’t able to serve mixed greens at dinner, but if your kids ate a cucumber and feta salad at lunch, they’re probably “okay” for greens that day. Certainly, you should try to serve a veggie at every meal, but thinking of the broader picture helps keep things in perspective.