How Harvard's Healthy Eating Plate Can Help Your Children
Have you heard of the Healthy Eating Plate? We’ll tell you what it’s based on and how it can help you improve your diet and that of your children. Read on to find out more!
Food and childhood
Over the years, health and nutrition experts have established and studied the close relationship between food and health. Whether it’s in childhood, adulthood, or any other stage of life, food must provide the nutrients, energy, and bioactive components needed to keep us in good physical and psychological condition.
Lifestyles, including eating habits and physical activity, determine our health. These have the capacity to prevent or trigger the appearance of certain chronic diseases. Diseases that, although they usually manifest themselves in adulthood, often begin to develop in childhood.
That’s why it’s important to put into practice healthy lifestyle habits from the earliest stages of life. But, as many parents will already know, this task isn’t an easy one.
For this reason, different societies and organizations have established guidelines for those responsible for feeding young children. In this way, it’s easier to understand and put theory into practice in the field of nutrition.
One of the most popular guides and, in my view, one that best reflects what healthy eating should look like in general terms, is The Healthy Eating Plate and its version for children.
The Healthy Eating Plate
The Healthy Eating Plate was created by nutrition experts from Harvard University’s School of Public Health. It’s a guide that helps us to create healthy and balanced dishes in a very visual and simple way.
What is the Healthy Eating Plate?
This guide uses the drawing of a plate as a basis for guidelines on the best portion sizes for vegetables, grains, and protein foods. So, just by looking at our plate, we can tell if it’s balanced in nutrients.
The Healthy Eating Plate doesn’t only help us calculate the right portion size, it also emphasizes the need for healthy, quality food.
To better understand how to use this guide, we’ll explain point by point below how each section of our plate should be composed.
The division of the plate
On the one hand, it establishes that half of the plate must be made up of vegetables and fruit. These, in addition, should be varied in type and in color, so that we can benefit from the different range of vitamins and minerals they provide.
The next part is protein, and the guide tells us that a quarter of our dish should be taken up with protein. This category not only includes foods of animal origin (meat, fish and eggs), but also different vegetable protein sources such as legumes and their derivatives, nuts and seeds.
It also reminds us of what the WHO announced some time ago: if we want to look after our health, then we must limit the consumption of red meat and processed meats, such as sausages.
To complete the healthy dish, the remaining quarter should include whole grains (brown rice, wholemeal pasta, oats, etc.). Compared to their refined versions, these have less impact on blood sugar. As a result the impact on insulin response is lower, with the added benefit that they’re richer in nutrients.
Other factors to consider in the Healthy Eating Plate
An important part of preparing a dish is what we cook or dress it with. This is where quality oils or fats come into play. For example, extra virgin olive oil offers us intensity and flavor, and is also nutritious and healthy. However, we mustn’t use too much of it.
Likewise, we mustn’t forget to keep hydrated. Children spend many hours playing and lose water through sweat. For that reason, it’s important to replenish it in order to avoid negative consequences.
It’s important to control our intake of juices, even if they’re homemade, as well as other types of drinks such as drinkable yogurts or shakes. All of them contain a large amount of free sugars, and so their consumption should be limited.
Finally, another aspect that Harvard’s Healthy Eating Plate emphasizes is the practice of physical exercise. We know that avoiding a sedentary lifestyle and leading an active life is essential to maintaining optimal health. Therefore, we encourage you to do sports activities with your children, such as walking, swimming in the sea or pool, or simply playing in the park.