What does eating “healthy” look like?

This month’s theme for National Nutrition Month® is to personalize your plate. What does personalize your plate mean to you?

If you would’ve asked me how to personalize a plate after I graduated from school, my answer would’ve been: “OF COURSE! You can eat this basic list of healthy foods, and add pizzazz!” And by pizzazz, I meant a few spices or maybe some dipping sauce on the side (watch that portion size! I would add enthusiastically). I thought molding people’s diets into what I had been taught in school and what I had thought was optimal nutrition was the end goal.

HOWEVER, throughout my experience with clients who lived in the real world and not in a textbook, I realized many of us RD’s have missed the mark. What do you think is missing from this picture?

Diversity and FLAVOR. Personalizing your plate is more than adding some seasonings to a basic list of healthy foods that may or may not be a part of your family’s menu. The food we choose represents many things: our emotions, how we communicate & celebrate with others, our family’s cultures & traditions, our cooking & taste preferences, not to mention the likely minimal amount of time we have to spend on preparing and enjoying our food.

As a dietitian of course I want to encourage choosing a variety of foods from all the food groups: Fruits, Vegetables, Whole Grains, Protein, and Dairy/Calcium- they all have a little something special to offer! However it is within those food groups you have to do some PERSONALIZATION, no matter who you are!

If southern soul food is your thing, it can be a nutritious part of your plate. If rice is a solid portion of what you eat and you enjoy it, there is no need to add quinoa or whole wheat pasta unless you want to. If you love green beans and corn and not much else- GREAT! You don’t HAVE to add kale and brussel sprouts to have a nutritious plate. You can choose what you enjoy and what represents you/your family within each food group and branch out only if you want to- no guilt required!

What I am saying is, don’t let diet culture or even American culture for that matter decide what you choose to put on your plate. While nutrition can play an important role in our health, it’s not the only thing that determines our health and sense of wellbeing. Many aspects go into not only the satisfaction of our meals but also our overall wellbeing. Sharing a meal with our community or family members adds to our health and sense of wellbeing, feeling isolated and alone because we cannot enjoy and eat what others are eating does not. Eating foods that indulge our senses and leave us feeling satisfied allows us to tune into a place of comfortable fullness and stop eating when we are ready adds to our health and wellbeing, where feeling anxiety over foods you “should” or “shouldn’t” have does not.

Picture this scenario:

You feel obligated to eat a kale salad because you feel you need to diet or perhaps you feel the foods your family enjoys are not the most nutritious, what are the thoughts that bubble up after that salad is gone?
That you’re not worthy of a full, enjoyable meal?
That you’re still hungry?
That you missed out on your mom’s famous pork ribs?
That “Forget it, I’m never going to eat healthy enough so I’m heading for the ice cream!”?

Restriction or elimination of favorite foods can lead to anxiety, stress, depression, or even binge eating. If eating what mainstream considers “healthy” leaves you feeling any or all of the above, is it doing much for your health?

Plates can 100% be nutritious no matter your background or taste preferences. Make it PERSONAL to you by adding in foods you love and leaving off things that don’t speak to you!

If you feel overwhelmed about doing this alone remember, this is what Dietitians can help you with! Working with a culturally competent dietitian can help you find a plate that makes you happy, fulfilled, and ready to tackle your day.

Explore different types of cultural diets here.

Seek recipes from a variety of cuisines here and here and here. 

What are some of your favorite resources for recipes and nutrition information? Leave them in the comments!

Scroll to Top