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How Seniors Should Use the New MyPlate Guidelines to Ensure Healthy Eating



The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s iconic Food Pyramid, created in 1992, was regularly panned for its lack of clarity. It finally died a death to an evolved understanding during the summer of 2012. In its place: MyPlate, the new dietary guideline illustration unveiled by the USDA as part of First Lady Michelle Obama’s battle against obesity. The new model shows a circular plate, equally divided into four different-colored sectors for fruits, vegetables, proteins, and grains.

Beside the plate is a small, white circle for dairy products. This is a marked difference from the pyramid, which divided the food groups into five slowly shrinking layers. At the largest, bottom layer were the grains, followed by a layer for fruits and vegetables, one for proteins and dairy products, and the smallest, top layer reserved for oils. USDA representatives said that they conducted focus groups with more than 4,000 adults and children to ensure the new model was clear and focused.

First Lady Obama noted during the unveiling that fruits and vegetables were lost in the pyramid, but if the plates we’re eating from looked like MyPlate, with fruits and vegetables taking up half of the space, “then we’re good,” she said. “It’s as simple as that.”

While the purpose behind the new MyPlate diagram is to reduce confusion, it can still be overwhelming to make sure you’re getting adequate nutrition that is recommended by the MyPlate guide. Senior Citizens on a fixed income may become particularly discouraged when trying to follow a healthful meal plan, especially on a budget. Following these guidelines doesn’t have to be costly, either. Senior citizens on a fixed income should learn to plan for meals on a grocery list, purchase generic brands when possible, and make their food in the most cost-effective way. Here are some other ideas:

  • Prepare meals that combine the food groups into one dish, such as a hearty casserole or stew. Not only will these dishes make vegetables taste delicious but they’re also likely to result in some leftovers.
  • Use coupons from the newspaper or shop during special grocery store sales to capitalize on the cheapest prices.
  • Buy fruits and vegetables from farmers’ markets, where produce is likely to be the freshest, most local — and cheapest.
  • Never go shopping on a hungry stomach. We don’t know where all those cookies came from either.
  • Buy in bulk when possible to save money over time. At other times, shop at stores that generally have the best prices.
  • Buy vegetables and fruits in season, when they’re the tastiest and cheapest, then plan dishes around those in-season offerings.
  • Don’t discount canned vegetables.  While not as high in nutrients as the fresh variety, they still possess the vitamins and minerals our bodies need.  Just be sure to rinse them in cool water before preparation to reduce sodium, and steam rather than boil to preserve nutrients.
  • When preparing meals, look for ways to treat vegetables or fruits like the star of the plate, instead of the subordinate. Rarely will you hear someone complaining about all the vegetables in their spinach lasagna or stir-fry? If it tastes good, it tastes good.
  • Take time to prepare several meals at once, then freeze what isn’t eaten right away. This makes eating correctly more economical and convenient, and if you’re cooking for only one or two, a great way to save money.

Maintaining adequate nutrition as we age is important to overall health and well-being.  If you feel you are having trouble understanding the new MyPlate guidelines or experience an inability to menu plan for yourself, consider reaching out to local organizations like Food Banks, Meals on Wheels, and local senior centers.  These resources exist in most communities to help people of all ages achieve and maintain healthy lifestyles.