Pack the right travel foods for a healthy journey

Healthy Eating Tips for the Holiday Travel Season

This blog was originally posted on Aspartame.org.

One of the best things about the holidays is the chance to spend time with the people we don’t get to see as often as we’d like throughout the year. But getting together with far-flung family and friends means we have to spend some time traveling. Packing the right clothes for your final destination may be top of mind, but it’s important to consider the foods you’re going to pack for the trip so you can have a healthy journey.

Traveling by Plane

Anything you bring to the airport to eat or drink on the plane must pass through the X-ray machine at the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) checkpoint. Liquid and gel foods larger than 3.4 ounces are not allowed in carry-on luggage, just like the restriction on other liquids. Hummus and yogurt fall into this category so consider packing them in smaller portions or substituting with solid foods if you are hoping to eat them on board.

The TSA Liquid Rule also applies to any food gifts you may have packed in your carry-on bag, even if wrapped. Keep that in mind and pack these products in checked luggage or mail them in advance so precious gifts are not thrown away.

Food items taken through security must be either whole, natural foods, like a piece of fruit, or foods in a container (salad) or wrapped (sandwich). No open food is allowed, such as an unwrapped donut or slice of pizza, since they can contaminate the security equipment.

Consider purchasing additional foods and beverages after you have cleared security checkpoints. There are no restrictions on foods and beverages purchased in the terminal or Duty-Free stores after you have passed through security.  Given the close quarters in airplanes, however, it does make sense to select items that are easy to eat and without strong odors. Individually wrapped granola bars are a good choice. A tray of sushi is not. Additionally, be sure to bring and refill your own water bottle and take advantage of any free in flight beverage service to stay properly hydrated in the air.

Even on flights under two hours, you will probably get hungry before reaching your destination if you consider your travel time to the airport and waiting at the gate. I count on a small bag of mixed nuts to hold me over since I can pack them or buy them at kiosks at most airports.  Eating my snack with a complementary can of diet soda on the plane means I am less tempted to order something from the in-flight menu.

Traveling by Car

Whether traveling by plane or automobile, you’re going to spend a lot of time sitting so you won’t be expending much energy in transit. This means you won’t need high caloric foods to sustain you along the way. While there are more places to buy food on the road than in the air, you’ll have to resist all the tempting fare lining the shelves and select the healthy, low-calorie options. One way around that is to plan your pit stops so you know where the better roadside eateries are on your route and what’s on the menu.

Another option is to BYOCF (bring your own car food).  I recommend eating a meal before you leave and packing a small cooler with individual “road food” bags for each person, similar to packing lunches for school or work. Sandwiches can be made to order, choice of fruit can be packed whole or peeled and sectioned, and preferred vegetables can be combined with a favorite dip in containers. Pre-frozen non-carbonated diet drinks and single pack light yogurts can be used to help keep things cool. And if you want to include chips and other snacks, it’s best to get the small individual bags or pre-portion them at home to help with portion control.

Don’t forget to include plenty of ways to keep little ones entertained so they don’t resort to mindless eating just to pass the time.

By starting out with the appropriate foods and beverages needed by each person in the car for the duration of your trip, you can avoid the temptation of buying something every time you stop to stretch your legs and use the restroom. You’ll save money this way, too. I do suggest reserving the option to buy one “treat” on the road to make the journey more fun, especially for children. Everything from sugarless gum to beef jerky is available, plus, this allows the driver to get a cup of coffee without denying the kids a little something extra.

For most of us, the best part of our holiday celebrations is the special meals we get to share with the people we love. Don’t spoil it by overeating while traveling.  With a little planning, you can arrive with an appetite, enjoy the celebration, and maybe even play together to release some of the energy you had to contain during your travels!

Robyn Flipse, MS, MA, RDN is a registered dietitian, cultural anthropologist and scientific advisor to the Calorie Control Council, whose 30+ year career includes maintaining a busy nutrition counseling practice, teaching food and nutrition courses at the university level, and authoring 2 popular diet books and numerous articles and blogs on health and fitness. Her ability to make sense out of confusing and sometimes controversial nutrition news has made her a frequent guest on major media outlets, including CNBC, FOX News and USA Today. Her passion is communicating practical nutrition information that empowers people to make the best food decisions they can in their everyday diets. Reach her on Twitter @EverydayRD and check out her blog The Everyday RD.

 

Eating healthy meals takes planning

Healthy Meal Planning Made Easy

This post was written as a guest blog for SplendaLiving.com. You can read the original post here.

I have been compensated for my time by McNeil Nutritionals, LLC, the maker of SPLENDA® Sweetener Products. All statements and opinions are my own. I have pledged to Blog With Integrity, asserting that the trust of my readers and the blogging community is vitally important to me.

Benjamin Franklin once wrote, “…in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” Obviously he wasn’t running a household because if he were, he would have included meal planning, or more appropriately, healthy meal planning, on that list!

In one form or another, meal planning has always been a part of human life. Picking up a week’s worth of groceries from a well-stocked supermarket has only been an option for the past 100 years. Before then, obtaining food and preparing meals for a single day took most of the day for someone in each household. Now whether popping a breakfast sandwich into the microwave, choosing lunch from a take-out menu or placing a grocery order online, meal planning is still an essential everyday activity.

How well you plan for your daily meals can have a big impact on how healthy they will be.

What’s Your Healthy Meal Planning Strategy?

The process of creating a healthy weekly meal plan can take many forms. It’s not just about writing out all your menus for the week and writing a shopping list to match, although that’s certainly a great way to get organized! If you’d like to try that, take a look at this blog by fellow dietitian Hope Warshaw to get more tips on how to create a meal plan.

If you’re one of those people who can’t think about what you’ll be eating for more than one day at a time, you are still planning ahead for meals if you:

  • know how many days before you’ll have to buy more milk, eggs or bread for your household
  • have a stack of menus in a desk drawer at work of restaurants that can deliver to your office
  • prepare an extra piece of chicken the night before to put on your salad for lunch the next day
  • made two pans of eggplant parmesan over the weekend so you could freeze one for a quick dinner later in the week
  • update your shopping list (or app) whenever you use up an ingredient or need one for a recipe
  • keep your grocery coupons handy so you can pick up things you need when they are on sale

The common theme here is the more you think ahead about your next meal, the more time you give yourself to make it a good one. You can also use the Easy Healthy Meal Planning Ideas below to make the best choices from one meal to the next.

Easy Healthy Meal Plan Ideas 

Use these ideas to help you create your own healthy weekly meal plan:

  • Include fruits and/or vegetables in every meal and snack
  • Choose whole grains over refined whenever available (even whole wheat crust pizza)
  • Make lean and low fat choices in the meat and dairy case
  • Pick beans, nuts and soyfoods in place of meat for a couple of meals per week
  • Enjoy dessert occasionally, not daily, with meals
  • Use a sugar substitute, like SPLENDA®No Calorie Sweetener, to replace some or all of the added sugars in your foods and beverages

Robyn Flipse, MS, MA, RDN, “The Everyday RD,” is an author and nutrition consultant who has headed the nutrition services department in a large teaching hospital and maintained a private practice where she provided diet therapy to individuals and families. With more than 30 years of experience, Robyn is motivated by the opportunity to help people make the best eating decisions for their everyday diet. She believes that choosing what to eat should not be a daily battle and aims to separate the facts from the fiction so you can enjoy eating well. 

Start the holiday party season with a plan to control excess calories

Simple Solutions to Avoid Holiday Weight Gain

This post was originally written as a guest blog for TheSkinnyOnLowCal.org. You can read the original post here.

I know it can seem impossible to control what you eat during the holidays due to all of the parties and special occasions that occur, but weight gain is not inevitable! Instead of worrying about weight loss during such an overwhelming time, focus on maintaining your current weight and adding in exercise when possible- a game of touch football while Christmas dinner is in the oven or a walk with family before dessert. Below I’ve put together five simple substitutions for a happy and healthy holiday season.

BE SELECTIVE

Whether you have 3 social engagements in the same day or 3 in the same week, you can’t walk into each one and eat and drink as if it’s the only party of the year. Instead, you need to be selective about where your calories are going to come from so you can stay within your personal calorie “budget.” A good place to start is with the beverages. A no calorie diet soda or glass of seltzer with a twist of lime can save 150 to 300 calories compared to a glass of wine or fancy mixed drink. And choosing a non-alcoholic drink will also help you make the rest of your food decisions with a clear head.

MAKE TRADE-OFFS

When it comes to weight control, every calorie counts! That means you need ways to offset the added calories you’re likely to eat when the tins of homemade cookies and boxes of assorted chocolates are passed around. It’s possible by making lower calorie substitutions throughout the day. For example, order a Skinny Latte made with a low-calorie sweetener, like aspartame, and nonfat milk instead of your usual mocha coffee drink. Or you can swap out your mid-morning muffin for a reduced-calorie, high fiber granola bar. How about passing on the croutons at the salad bar and taking an extra scoop of crunchy cauliflower for another calorie-saving trade-off? By saving calories throughout the day, you can enjoy a few more later on.

BE PREPARED

We can’t add more hours to the day to get all those extra errands done we have this time of year, but keeping plenty of better-for-you foods on hand can help fuel us while doing them. The best choices provide protein and fiber so we’ll feel satisfied longer. Try a container of light yogurt with chopped walnuts sprinkled on top, a cheese round or wedge with a few whole wheat crackers, or a small container of hummus with some baked soy chips for great grab-and-go snacks that can curb your hunger until your next meal.

PLAN TO EAT

Even if it feels like your “to-do” list gets longer every day, skipping meals is not a good way to catch up. Eating on a regular schedule keeps your energy levels on track so you can get to the bottom of that list! It will also help prevent the impulsive eating that can occur when you get too hungry and face a food court full of temptation. You can make your meals as simple as a healthy frozen dinner heated up in the microwave or a soup and sandwich combo from the nearest deli. The key is to take the time to stop and eat a planned meal instead of over eating an unplanned one.

DON’T LET STRESS GET THE BEST OF YOU

The holidays are meant to be enjoyed, so make sure you keep your sights focused on the fun, not just the work. Delegate, improvise and take shortcuts to reduce some of the demands on your time and the stress eating that can go with it. Wouldn’t a massage, a facial or long soak in the tub make you feel more relaxed? Making time to pamper yourself is often all it takes to put things back into perspective.

WISHING YOU ALL A HAPPY, HEALTHY HOLIDAY SEASON!

Older man in a kitchen wearing an apron and cooking at stove

Father’s Day Gift Idea: Help Him Learn to Cook

This post was originally written during my 2 1/2 year tenure as a blogger for Family Goes Strong. This site was deactivated on July 1, 2013, but you can read the post here.

ANYONE CAN LEARN TO COOK WITH SOME BASIC COOKING LESSONS AND SIMPLE COOKING TIPS

I grew up in a household with very a clear division of labor when it came to the household chores done by my parents. My mother did everything inside of the house and my father did everything outside.

The kitchen and all of the food that passed through it was my mother’s domain.

If my dad was home when my mom returned from the grocery store he would help carry the bags from the trunk of the car into the kitchen, but that’s as close as he ever came to putting a meal on the table.

I never saw him cook anything. On a few occasions I believe he made himself a sandwich.

Then after 52 years of marriage and eating the three meals a day my mother prepared for him, she died suddenly. How was my dad ever going to able to fend for himself in the kitchen?

If this sounds familiar, or possible, in your world, I’ve got a great Father’s Day gift idea for you. Teach your dad (husband, boyfriend, son) to cook. In fact, everyone you care about should learn to cook.

Here’s how I taught my dad to cook.

Cooking Tips For All First-Time Cooks

My dad’s cooking lessons did not begin with a cutting board and knife. They began with a pad and pencil.

Cooking requires planning.

Even though there was plenty of food in the house when my mother died, my father had no idea what was on hand or what to do with all those random ingredients in the pantry, refrigerator and freezer. To figure it out and provide a template for his future food shopping trips, I divided a piece of paper into six sections and headed them according to the basic food groups:

  • Meats/Poultry/Fish
  • Milk/Dairy
  • Fruits/Vegetables
  • Breads/Cereals/Pasta/Rice
  • Oils/Spreads
  • Seasoning/Sauces/Condiments

Once we completed the inventory, we were able to plan a menu for the coming week using simple recipes I found online. (My mother’s cookbooks and recipe card index were no help.) As we reviewed each recipe I showed him what pot or pan they called for and any small appliances mentioned. We then made a shopping list of what was needed to execute the week’s menu.

Navigating the grocery store was the next lesson in my dad’s training program. Unlike the chefs in those well-stocked kitchens on the cooking shows he loved to watch, if he wanted to learn to cook he had to buy the food. It definitely helped to have the shopping list arranged according to the store layout and cross off things as they went into the cart.

Learning how to properly store all the groceries when we got them home was an equally important lesson. All this happened before he actually prepared anything he could eat.

Cooking 101: Skills for a Lifetime

One of the skills my dad had going for him when his cooking lessons began was that he could carve a roasted turkey. I decided to build on his knife skills and teach him to cut, chop, slice and dice a variety of vegetables. Once he could do that, it was a natural progression for him to learn how to sauté those vegetables.

Sautéing vegetables led to sautéing meats, which led to making finishing sauces in the pan. He could now make pork chops smothered in onions, skillet chili and a chicken and broccoli stir-fry.

The skills we focused on after that were ones that allowed him to make the foods he liked best. Since he enjoyed stews, he learned to use the slow-cooker. He also liked pancakes, so learned to measure and mix the batter (but not over mix) and use the electric griddle. And since he didn’t like pasta, he didn’t need instructions for the colander.

Assorted dried fruit, nuts and seeds for a gluten free snack

Great Gluten Free Snacks in a Hurry

This post was originally written during my 2 1/2 year tenure as a blogger for Family Goes Strong. The site was deactivated on July 1, 2013, so the post has been reproduced here.

CONVENIENCE STORES OFFER MANY GLUTEN FREE SNACK ITEMS TO ENJOY ON THE GO

If you or someone in your family is on a gluten free diet, then you know how hard it is to find something to eat when you’re in a hurry and hungry. Even though there are more gluten free items in stores and on menus than ever before, they’re hard to spot when you really them.

At least that’s what I’m told by people who are trying to avoid gluten.

They say eating healthy meals and snacks is easy when they plan ahead, shop regularly and prepare or pack their food for the day, but that doesn’t always happen.

Sound familiar?

Of course, the rest of us can always grab something to eat on the go from a vending machine, at any checkout counter or the drive-up window of a quick service restaurant. But if you must steer clear of all wheat, barley, rye and oats, it’s another story.

The best way around this dilemma is to keep a supply of portable, non-perishable, single-serving gluten free snacks on hand wherever you spend a lot of time, like your job or the car. A trip to your local supermarket or specialty food store is the best way to stock up on your favorite gluten free products or by placing an order online.

It also helps to know what you can buy when you’re out and about and forgot to tote your own.

Fortunately, there are many gluten free foods as close as the neighborhood convenience store, chain drug store, or even the corner Starbucks – a great place to find KIND bars. Just reach for a piece of fresh fruit or single-serve fruit cup, some sliced or string cheese, or a raw vegetable and dip combo for gluten free munching.

There are also some national brands you can count on for gluten free options right alongside the other crunchy, crispy and chewy snacks on the shelves.

In honor of Celiac Awareness Month, I have 10 recommendations to help you with your search for gluten free snacks. Just be sure to check the ingredient list on all packaged foods before making your purchase since manufacturers can change their formulations at any time.

10 Grab & Go Gluten Free Snack Foods

KIND all natural whole nut and fruit bars that deliver the perfect combination of protein, carbs and heart healthy fats to keep you feeling fuller longer.

Blue Diamond single or mixed nuts sold raw, dry roasted, or seasoned for naturally gluten and wheat free munching.

Quaker rice cakes made from white or brown rice for a snack that can be sweet, salty or savory.

Indiana Popcorn FIT bagged popcorn for a whole grain snack from non-GMO corn.

Frito Lay white, yellow and blue tortilla chips in different shapes suitable for dipping.

Kettle brand potato chips that are baked, reduced fat or fried in more than 15 flavors.

General Mills Rice and Corn Chex cereal you can eat right from the box or add to a custom trail mix.

Sun Maid raisins and other dried fruit that deliver natural sweetness with no added sugar.

Welch’s chewy fruit snacks and fruit ‘n yogurt snacks for a fat free fortified snack.

Dove chocolate bars and novelties (just don’t leave them in the car in hot weather!)

Confused about who should be on a gluten free diet and why? Read my Q&A on gluten free eating here.

family riding bicycles together

Are You Making Tradeoffs for a Healthier Lifestyle?

This post was originally written during my 2 1/2 year tenure as a blogger for Family Goes Strong. This site was deactivated on July 1, 2013, but you can read the post here.

AMERICANS HAVE DIFFICULTY FINDING TIME FOR HEALTHY BEHAVIORS LIKE GOOD NUTRITION AND REGULAR EXERCISE

How do you keep track of what you and the rest of your family have to do each day? I know plenty of households that use a common wall calendar with big boxes for each day so all of their appointments and activities can be recorded. Other families I know share their daily schedules with one another on smart phones so they always know who’s going where, and when.

Still, it seems no matter how we do it, there are never enough hours in the day for all we have to do. And when we’re all so busy, how can you make time for a healthier lifestyle?

Must We Choose Between Cooking vs Working Out?

Results of a study presented at the annual meeting of the Population Association of America suggest many of us must make concessions when it comes to healthy behaviors. Using U.S. Census data from more than 112, 000 American adults, researchers at Ohio State University analyzed how much time was spend on meal preparation and exercise in a single day

What they found was, on average, we’re spending less than an hour a day combined for these time-consuming healthy behaviors and if we try to do them both in the same day we have to choose between one of the other.

Does that sound true for you?

It must be pointed out that the Census data only captures one day’s worth of activity, so the researchers could not tell if people cooked one day and exercised the next.

Making Time for a Healthier Lifestyle

I don’t think good nutrition and fitness have to be exclusive, no matter how jam-packed my calendar is. It all comes down to time management. Here’s what I have learned works:

Blocked out the time each day to make breakfast, pack lunches and cook dinner

Become more efficient at getting nutritious meals on the table fast by using quick cooking ideas that take the toil out of food preparation

Remove some items from the schedule, like watching every episode of the latest BBC series in one night, if it takes time away from the healthy behaviors you’re trying to establish

While everyone complains about how hard it is to get enough exercise, it is actually easier than eating right. All you really have to do is get up and move around more. In fact, standing instead of sitting is even beneficial! In addition to the dozens of things you can do standing, you can also incorporate 10 minute bursts of activity throughout your day without making a trip to the gym.

The key is to be open to the opportunity. We can all do a better job of pushing those shopping carts back to the corral in the parking lot. How about walking to the school to meet your child so you can walk home together? I loved marching in place while waiting to pick up my teen from marching band practice.

Best of all, when we make good nutrition and physical activity a family affair, we only need to reserve one time slot on the calendar!

Other great ways to help you achieve a healthier lifestyle:

  • Quick Healthy Meals Begin with Pasta
  • Need Dinner Menu Ideas? Soup Makes Quick Easy Meals
  • Want a Quick Grilled Cheese Sandwich? Just Load Up Your Freezer
  • What To Do With Leftover Food? Create Makeover Meals
There are many ways to substitute whole grains for refined grains

15 Stealth Health Tips With Whole Grains

This blog was written as a guest post for the Bell Institute for Nutrition and health. You can read the original post here.

The message to eat more whole grains is now a familiar piece of nutrition advice to most Americans. It has been reinforced in each update of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans since the year 2000 and is prominently featured in the new MyPlate food plan. The food industry has also done its part by offering a wide assortment of whole grains choices to cover everything from cereals to snacks and side dishes.

The only challenge left is helping consumers incorporate more of these whole grain foods into their everyday meals.

The top 3 reasons I have heard from my clients for not eating enough whole grains are:

  • They’re not always available when eating out
  • I don’t always have a grain food with my meals
  • I don’t like the taste and texture of whole grains foods

While nothing could be easier than eating a serving of whole grain cereal for breakfast, a sandwich made on whole wheat bread for lunch and a stir fry over brown rice for dinner to get 4-5 servings of whole grains in one day, that menu doesn’t work every day of the week.

For those situations, some stealth solutions are needed. That means making simple substitutions in how food is prepared at home to make whole grains available at every meal and snack to increase their consumption throughout the week. What makes them stealth solutions is that they look and taste as good as the foods they’re replacing and can save money, too!

15 Stealth Solutions to Boost Whole Grain Intake

  1. Cube whole wheat or rye bread, brush with olive oil, season, and bake for crunchy croutons
  2. Crumble stale cornbread to make a country-style poultry stuffing
  3. Save whole wheat bread crusts and ends in the freezer, then use to make bread crumbs
  4. Slice day-old whole wheat baguettes, spray with olive oil, and bake for use with hummus and other spreads
  5. Prepare individualized pizzas using whole wheat pitas as the crust
  6. Cut corn tortillas into 6 pieces and crisp in a hot oven to enjoy with salsa
  7. Replace bread crumbs with rolled oats in meatloaf and meatballs
  8. Crush leftover whole grain cereal flakes and nuggets to stir into muffin batters instead of some flour or nuts
  9. Combine whole grain pretzel and cracker crumbs to use as a coating for fish and poultry
  10. Use white whole wheat bread to make French toast, and make extra to freeze
  11. Stretch tuna and chicken salad by adding some chilled brown rice
  12. Create a mixed-grain pilaf using brown rice, barley, and wild rice
  13. Use whole wheat couscous in place of noodles in soups
  14. Make risotto from barley instead of short-grained round rice for its creamy, chewy texture
  15. Mix cornmeal or oat flour into pancake batter for added flavor
There’s no need to waste leftover food when it can be turned into makeover meals

What to Do With Leftover Food? Create Makeover Meals

This post was originally written during my 2 1/2 year tenure as a blogger for Health Goes Strong. The site was deactivated on July 1, 2013, but you can read the original blog here.

THERE’S NO NEED TO WASTE LEFTOVER FOOD WHEN IT CAN BE TURNED INTO MAKEOVER MEALS

At one time or another we’ve all had leftover food in our refrigerators and wondered, “Is that still safe to eat?” Maybe we prepared too much for a meal or took a doggie bag home from a restaurant. No matter how it got there, eventually we have to deal with those leftovers.

The dilemma most of us face is having to choose between wasting good food or getting food poisoning. Fortunately, there are some guidelines to help make the right decision.

Identify Leftover Food for Future Meals

There are food safety rules for the correct temperatures and holding times for different foods before they should be discarded. Most cooked foods should not be reused if they have been at room temperature for more than 2 hours, or 1 hour if the room temperature was above 90o F. That includes leftovers from restaurants. So the best time to decide if a food should be kept or tossed is when clearing the table or returning home after eating out.

The foods you can safely keep should be transferred to food storage containers or properly wrapped in food grade paper. The goal is to avoid exposure to the air, leaking of any juices, transfer of odors, and cross-contamination through contact with other foods.

It is never advisable to store or reheat food in the one-time-use containers that they are sold in, such as margarine tubs.

Now all you have to do is label that container so there’s no guessing about its identity. Keep some blank address labels in the kitchen so you can record the date and description of what’s in the container before putting it into the refrigerator or freezer. The 20 seconds it takes you to do that can save you countless hours and dollars should you eat the wrong thing.

Plan Makeover Meals From Your Leftover Food

If you decide how you want to use your leftovers before putting them away, you can save even more time and money. Cooked meat, poultry and fish are the most expensive part of the food budget, so should get your immediate attention to avoid waste.

 

The quickest option is to just wrap cooked meats in single or double portions and freeze them if there’s little chance you’ll get around to eating them in 2 or 3 days. Another is to cut them into cubes or strips before refrigerating so they can easily be added to a stir fry, folded into a fajita, tossed onto a salad, wrapped in a quesadilla, stuffed into a taco or scattered onto a pizza.

If you know you’ll have the chance to recycle that cooked meat into a makeover meal in the next two days you can prep it for its rebirth in a casserole, curry, soup or stew. By removing the bones and skin, cutting or shredding it and seasoning as needed, you are that much closer to a delicious new meal.

Be sure to check these post, too:

  • 6 Ways to Kill Germs & Bacteria in Your Kitchen
  • Refrigerator & Freezer Storage Chart
The concept of Yin Yang can be applied to food selection for a healthy diet

The Yin Yang Symbol Offers Path to a Balanced Diet

How to use the philosophy of Yin Yang instead of MyPlate to make healthy food choices

The food world got a new circle in June called MyPlate. It was created to illustrate how we should proportion our food at each meal to balance the diet. It works pretty well if you can separate your food into individual piles of grain, protein, fruits, vegetables and dairy, but not if you’re eating a slice of mushroom pizza and a fruit smoothie.

Given the many ways food is combined to make it taste good – think lasagna, burritos, sushi – the strategically divided MyPlate is not the handiest tool for diet planning. But the ancient symbol of Yin Yang is. It represents the idea of balance by viewing everything in relation to its whole, like the complementary characteristics of day and night, sky and earth, fire and water.

Using the concept of Yin Yang at meals would encourage us to think about whether our choices harmonize well as part our daily diet, instead of trying to figure out into what food group each item on our plate belongs. I particularly like the way the symbol of Yin Yang invokes the importance of balance without making us feel like we need a scale to get it right.

Seeing the image of Yin Yang might gently nudge us to be mindful when eating and consider whether we have had enough whole grains for the day or possibly too many. In that way it could help us make healthy food choices without ever having to deconstruct a bowl of soup into its component parts.

The inclusive nature of Yin Yang also allows for all of our food choices, without judgment, as long as no food or drink dominates our diet or is neglected. This distinction of Yin Yang preserves the essence of cuisine that makes eating so enjoyable. In the harmonizing world of Yin Yang, food can be a little salty or spicy or savory or sweet. It can be hot or cold, liquid or solid, crunchy or smooth. All of the most highly personal to the most patently universal aspects of food selection can be accommodated.

In short, the Yin Yang message can be used to promote moderation and variety in the diet. And that’s pretty much all we need to know to achieve good nutrition. Why not conjure up the image of Yin Yang at your next meal and see what happens?