Personalize your plate: National Nutrition Month

Written by: Niki Strealy, RDN, LD, Providence

What does the theme “Personalize Your Plate” mean to you? According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, “This year's theme promotes creating nutritious meals to meet individuals' cultural and personal food preferences.”

Before we explore YOUR plate, let’s review a little history. When we were in school, teachers often taught us about healthy nutrition using the current approach at the time. You may identify with learning one of the following:

  • 1956 United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) established the “Basic Four” food groups
  • 1992 Food Guide Pyramid replaced the food groups; the pyramid was then updated in 2005
  • 2011 MyPlate introduced

MyPlate is a basic template for a healthy diet, including fruits, vegetables, grains, protein, and dairy. Your plate will be unique, depending on a variety of factors, such as age, chronic conditions or diseases, culture, religious beliefs, ethical considerations, personal preferences, and finances.


The plate of a child may vary from an adult. Children and teen bodies are focused on growth and development, and their nutrition needs change during these different periods. Besides larger portion sizes, adults tend to choose their foods based in their own preferences. It’s important we encourage children to try lots of different textures and flavors, so they can develop their own palate.

As we get older, it may be a good idea to decrease portion sizes. Indeed, one two-year study demonstrated reducing caloric intake by 15% resulted in “improvements in biomarkers associated with slower aging and longer life span.”

Chronic Conditions or Diseases

Those with chronic conditions or diseases often need specific modifications. Food allergies or intolerances may dictate if certain foods should be excluded from your plate. For example, those who are lactose intolerant may substitute traditional dairy milk with lactose-free milk or dairy alternative. Someone with celiac disease will be sure everything on their plate is gluten free. A person with diabetes may be encouraged to decrease the portion size of grains, while increasing the veggies. In chronic kidney disease, decreasing protein intake may be recommended. 


Cultural and geographic traditions are rich with beautiful combinations of flavors, textures, spices, and variety. Meals may be served in a bowl instead of on a plate. One can appreciate curry from India, açai from Brazil, pho from Vietnam, or even the all-American cheeseburger.

Religious Beliefs

Sometimes there is overlap between cultural and religious food choices. For example, eating according to kosher law means not eating meat and dairy together, amongst other requirements. Other religious regulations may dictate people avoid meat or eat traditional foods during religious celebrations.

Ethical Considerations

The food on your plate may reflect important ethical considerations. A vegan or vegetarian diet is often followed by those who wish to prevent the exploitation of animals. Vegetarian and vegan diets are plant-based, with an emphasis on nuts, seeds, fruits, vegetables, whole grains. All nutrient needs can be met if the diet is well-planned. 

Personal Preferences

With the ability to get foods from all over the world, some are committed to purchasing food sourced close to home, or foods that are more sustainably grown, harvested, and sold. Some families prioritize purchasing organic food.

We all have unique food preferences. Sometimes we buy food simply because it looks and tastes good.


Your finances can also determine what is on your plate. Healthy choices can be made even on a tight budget. Eggs, nuts, seeds, and beans are inexpensive, yet high-quality protein. Potatoes and rice are affordable grains, and frozen vegetables can be substituted for fresh. While dairy is not expensive, dairy alternatives can be, unless prepared yourself.

The Mediterranean Diet

For an overall healthy plate, nutrition and health experts recommend the Mediterranean diet. The Mediterranean diet is not an “eat this, not that” plan; it is more of a pattern of eating, which includes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, olive oil, and omega-3 rich fish. It also includes some lean poultry, eggs, cheese, and yogurt, while limiting red meat, processed foods, and sweets. Moderate consumption of red wine is encouraged, as is consumption of water. Coffee and tea are also allowed. The Mediterranean pattern of eating has been shown to benefit aging adults in numerous ways:

Various plates providing balanced nutrition:

Delicious food draws people together and allows us to connect with one another. Whether we are celebrating holidays, honoring achievements, or fueling for exercise, your plate (or bowl) may look different from someone else’s, but it’s a great way to start a conversation.

Developing healthy eating behaviors can start with a few small changes. How are you going to personalize YOUR plate?


This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.

About the Author

We are all about food! The Providence Nutrition Team loves to talk about and share our expertise on how to help you find the right diet, food types and maintenance tactics to help you live life to the fullest...while also enjoying the best foods that mother nature has to offer.

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