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The Great Plate
March 11, 2008
We at Michigan Today were excited to learn about the Great Plate. We asked Stacy Witthoff, Wellness Coordinator for the Michigan Healthy Community initiative, to tell us more about it.
MT: Tell us about the "Great Plate." Why create a picture of a plate of food?
SW: The idea behind the "Great Plate" is to illustrate that creating a healthy meal can be simple. People tend to think that eating healthy is complex and time-consuming, when it really isn't. We all have busy lives and don't have a lot of time to prepare meals; however, the goal of the healthy eating chef demonstration series and the "Great Plate" is to provide simple ideas to eating healthier: cooking on the weekend for the week ahead; having fresh fruit, low-fat yogurt, or nuts readily available for healthy snacks; or using fast preparation equipment such as a wok, rice cooker, or counter-top grill to prepare meals.
The Great Plate concept is designed to be an easy way to control portion sizes and create a healthier meal, simply by dividing a 10-inch size plate into three sections.
- Half of the plate is filled with non-starchy vegetables such as green beans, tossed salad or carrots.
- A quarter is filled with lean protein such as skinless chicken, non-fried fish, tofu or lean cuts of beef or pork.
- And the final quarter is filled with whole grains or starchy vegetables such as whole wheat bread, pasta, rice, corn, peas or potatoes.
- There are also recommendations for food categories that are not always present in every meal such as fats and fruits.
The "Great Plate" also addresses one of the biggest challenges people face when it comes to eating healthier—understanding portion sizes. Most don't realize that portions have changed dramatically over the last two decades. What we think is one serving is, in actuality, closer to two or even three servings. For example, 25 years ago, your average bagel had a three-inch diameter and contained 140 calories; today, the average bagel has a six-inch diameter and is 350 calories. Your average order of French fries was 2.4 ounces and 210 calories 25 years ago, but today it is 6.9 ounces and 610 calories.
MT: Was the Great Plate invented here at U-M?
SW: The idea of dividing your plate into three sections to create a healthier meal is a trusted concept that has been around for a while and has seen many variations. The Michigan version of the "Great Plate" is from U-M Residential Dining Services. Its content and healthy eating tips have been updated by the GOOD CHOICE healthy eating committee, and the design was created by Michelle Braun, multimedia designer for University Human Resource Communications.
MT: Why is the university involved in a healthy-eating initiative?
SW: The "Great Plate" and the healthy eating chef demonstration series—in which U-M chefs teach people how to cook healthy, tasty meals—are part of MHealthy's GOOD CHOICE healthy eating program, which improves access to healthier food choices and educates faculty and staff on how to maximize their food choices for better health and disease management.
MHealthy, a key initiative of President Mary Sue Coleman, is a multifaceted program designed to optimize the health and well-being of the U-M community by harnessing the latest thinking and creative ideas from across the University.
MHealthy currently encompasses several programs including
- healthy eating,
- physical activity,
- mental and emotional health in the workplace,
- ergonomics awareness, and
- leadership and community engagement.
It has also established two pilot programs, MHealthy: Focus on Diabetes, which eliminates or reduces the co-pay for selected medication for U-M employees and dependents with diabetes, and MHealthy: Focus on Medicines, which improves the health and contains costs for U-M employees, retirees and dependents who take nine or more prescription medications. These programs help us test new ideas aimed at improving the public health in broad and sustainable ways.
MT: What should U-M staff and alumni know about healthy living?
SW: Leading a healthier lifestyle doesn't have to be complicated or time-consuming and the benefits cannot be denied: reduced risk of chronic diseases such as high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and diabetes, as well as improved energy, strength, flexibility, stamina, muscle tone, sleep and stress release. Nutrition is a key component to a healthy lifestyle and there are plenty of easy ways to make meals healthier without sacrificing flavor. The GOOD CHOICE program, the "Great Plate" and the chef demonstration series are all tools that help demystify the myths associated with eating healthier and creating meals that are both satisfying and nutritious. Couple nutrition with regular physical activity and you will be on track to living a longer, more fulfilling life.
MT: Where can our readers learn more?
SW: Michigan Healthy Community's primary focus is the health and well-being of U-M's faculty and staff; however, the MHealthy website offers resources that are accessible to alumni and friends of the University as well. The website serves as a gateway to specific information on each of its programs, as well as access to the Healthwise Knowledgebase, an online database containing current and reliable information on health and nutrition. Healthwise is searchable by topic, medications, alternative medicines, medical tests and support groups.