Food experts say it’s time to trade your pyramid for a plate | WHIDBEY RECIPES

Michelle Obama made the big announcement last week, but chances are you paid little attention to what is actually a major change in the world of food and nutrition.

Virtually overnight, we’re going from a complex, often confusing pyramid to a simple dinner plate to help us see and understand how to eat healthier.

We’ve been dealing with the “food pyramid” since it came on the scene in 1992, and I suspect that most of us haven’t looked at one for years, let alone kept it nearby to consult if we felt we needed a refresher course on eating wisely. It was difficult to use, almost useless if you were dealing with kids and time consuming for meal planning.

Well, the old food pyramid is now history.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, after input from many sources, including First Lady Obama, finally settled on the concept of a simple dinner plate, officially named “My Plate,” divided into four sections. Half of the plate is devoted to fruits and vegetables, approximately a quarter each, and the other half to protein and grains, also a quarter each.

From the pictures I saw, the vegetables “quarter” appeared a bit larger than the fruit “quarter,” but as I’ve not yet seen an actual plate I can measure, they may be equal. To the side of the plate is a circle, representing dairy products.

The idea behind the plate is simple; it’s an image everyone can relate to and, when you sit down to the dinner table, your plate should be half fruit and/or vegetables, and the other half should contain some protein, whether it’s meat, fish, cheese, eggs, soy product or whatever protein replacement product you use if you’re vegan/vegetarian.

Finally, the remaining “quarter” of your plate should contain grains of some sort, rice (preferably brown) or quinoa, or a slice of whole grain bread, perhaps.

As an ex-teacher, I applaud the change; it really will make it much easier for teachers to visually demonstrate basic nutrition lessons and, hopefully, turn around the alarming obesity rate among today’s kids.

And the plate should also be a good way for parents to get very young kids started on the right track because they sit down to the table with their very own plate, which looks exactly like the poster plate, and figure out for themselves if their plate is on target. I’m sure it will come as no surprise that you can already order colorful replicas with the recommended divisions clearly indicated.

But, as an adult very familiar with what I should or should not be eating, the plate is far too simplistic. And, since many dairy products, as well as vegetables such as beans, are also protein, there will still be some confusion as to whether the allotted portions are what the USDA intended.

As for me, when I saw the circle labeled “dairy,” I mentally saw a dish of vanilla ice cream bathed in warm butterscotch sauce, not a glass of low-fat milk.

Whatever you may think of the new My Plate, and it already has many critics, you can be sure it will be popping up on place mats in school cafeterias, as well as in restaurants and on fast food trays.

As the spokesperson for the USDA pointed out, “it’s a step in the right direction and if we can get more people thinking about what’s on their plate, that’s good.”

I agree; after all, it can’t hurt, might help, and I, for one, will not miss the old food pyramid.


If you want to see the new plate for yourself, or get more information, go to, or just type “new nutrition plate” into your search engine and you’ll find not only pros and cons, but dozens of places to order your very own My Plate, should you feel you just have to have one.

Meanwhile, here are some veggie/fruit/protein/grain recipes, not necessarily including all in each dish, but nevertheless healthy eating.

I have, in previous columns, extolled the virtues of quinoa for breakfast, lunch or dinner. This pilaf recipe is excellent either as a side dish or the main entrée, and you might even find that the kids like it. It surely takes care of that “whole grains” portion of the plate, as well as the vegetable portion.


2 t. vegetable oil

½ cup chopped onion

½ cup thinly sliced carrot

½ cup chopped red bell pepper

2 garlic cloves, minced

2 t. curry powder

1 t. chili paste with garlic

½ t. grated fresh ginger

6 cups torn kale

2 cups cooked brown rice

1 cup cooked quinoa

2 T. minced fresh cilantro

1 T. soy sauce

1 can (15 oz.) garbanzo beans, drained

Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over med. heat. Add onion, carrot, bell pepper and garlic; sauté 2 min. Add curry, chili paste, ginger; sauté 1 min. Add remaining ingredients; cook 3 min. or until thoroughly heated, stirring occasionally. Serve at room temp. Serves 6.

Note: I also like to use torn mustard greens instead of kale; spicier, and one of my favorite greens.

About those grains? Think of brown rice as a base to which you can add almost anything else, such as sliced mushrooms, diced peppers, roasted vegetables, and serve as a side dish for any protein (meat, fowl, fish). This recipe for a garlicky brown rice could be just the starting point, and don’t forget the health benefits of the garlic, either.


2 T. olive oil

2 cups uncooked short-grain brown rice

6 garlic cloves, minced (use more if you wish; I do)

1½ cups water

2 cans (13 oz.) no/low salt chicken broth

½ t. salt

4 T. thinly sliced green onions

Heat oil in a large skillet over med.-high heat. Add rice; sauté for 1 min. Add garlic; sauté for 2 min. (be careful not to burn the garlic). Stir in water, broth and salt. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat and cook over med.-low heat 45 min., or until liquid is absorbed. Spoon into a bowl and fluff with a fork. Top with green onions. Serves 6.

Now, let’s talk about vegetables, protein and dairy in one fantastic dish. While it may not fit into the divisions of the My Plate as shown on their poster, this is one of the reasons I feel the “plate” is under-qualified to deal with sophisticated eaters. This is a healthy but special seafood dinner for two adults, definitely not a kids’ My Plate meal.


For the seafood: 1 t. olive oil

4 jumbo shrimp, peeled (leave tails on), de-veined if necessary

4 sea scallops, patted dry

Minced zest of ½ lemon

Salt and pepper

For the Pasta: 1 T. olive oil

½ cup broccoli florets

½ cup asparagus tips and stems, chopped

1/3 cup onion, diced

1/3 cup yellow bell pepper, diced

1-3 t. minced garlic (to your preference)

Pinch of red pepper flakes

3 oz. dry tagliatelle or linguine

For final mixture: ½ cup pasta water

Goat cheese, 3/5 oz. pkg., crumbled

¾ cup cherry tomatoes, halved

¼ cup frozen peas

1 T. chopped fresh parsley

Salt and pepper to taste

Lemon wedges

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, for the pasta. Toss the seafood, zest and seasonings in the 1 T. of olive oil and set aside.

Sweat the broccoli, asparagus, onion, and bell pepper in 1 T. of oil in a large nonstick skillet over med. heat. Cook until onion becomes translucent, about 5 min., then add garlic and pepper flakes. Saute 1 min. more.

Cook the pasta in the boiling water according to package directions. Pour off the ½ cup of pasta water and add to the skillet; simmer until vegetables are crisp tender, 2-3 min. Stir in the goat cheese until melted, then add the tomatoes, peas, parsley and seasonings.

Transfer the cooked pasta from the water to the skillet, using tongs. Toss to coat with the sauce. Keep pasta warm over very low heat.

Heat a nonstick skillet over med.-high heat. Sear the scallops until browned on one side, turn over. Add the shrimp and cook the seafood an additional 4-5 min., or just until scallops and shrimp are firm. To serve, divide pasta between 2 plates, top each with seafood and garnish with lemons.

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