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Is anyone really using the government's 'My Plate' as a guide for daily meals?

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Of 497 moms surveyed, 70 percent were not familiar with MyPlate. Moms were more likely to be familiar with MyPlate if they already knew about MyPyramid. Moms who found MyPlate easy to understand and relevant to their lives were more likely to see its potential to help their families eat better. Moms who adopted MyPlate were more likely to be "vegetable lovers" and to involve their kids in preparing family meals. You can check out a December 27, 2013 article summary news release by Joanna Ladzinski and Julia Hastings-Black, "Who is using MyPlate?"

If you're eating the same diet pushed for decades as obesity and diabetes have skyrocketed, and you keep gaining weight, perhaps your genetic profile and blood type require a different type of eating such as the Paleo diet, if you have Paleo-type genes. Those who remain thin and healthy on low-fat, high complex carbs, such as a vegan diet, have different type of genes, perhaps "farmer genes." Some people thrive on one type of diet and others gain weight. You also may be interested in the site, "Popular Food Blogs’ Recipe Analyses.."

Most Americans know about MyPyramid – the triangle depicting how many servings of each food group you should eat in a day - but who knows about MyPlate - the circle showing what a healthy meal looks like?

MyPlate was created in 2011 by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to help American consumers put the Dietary Guidelines into practice. It’s a simple, colorful icon that prompts us to think about what’s on our plate, illustrating healthy proportions of fruit, vegetables, grains, protein, and dairy within a single meal.

Dr. Brian Wansink of Cornell University and Dr. Sibylle Kranz of Purdue University wanted to find out who “got the memo” about MyPlate first – that is, who became familiar with MyPlate within 3 months of its release. In particular, the researchers were interested in mothers, who play the role of “nutritional gatekeeper” in most families, and what traits these trendsetting mothers had in common with each other. A national on-line survey was completed by 497 moms, ranging in age from 18 to 65, including questions about their demographics, knowledge, attitudes, and behavior, explains the December 27, 2013 news release, "Who is using MyPlate?"

You might be interested in a study, "Food preferences, cooking ability, involvement of children in food preparation, nutritional knowledge, and prior familiarity with MyPyramid were predictors of MyPlate awareness and use," from authors Wansink, B. and Kranz, S. (2013). Journal of Nutritional Education and Behavior, forthcoming.

Also of interest is the analysis, "Do Food Blogs Serve as a Source of Nutritionally Balanced Recipes? An Analysis of Six Popular Food Blogs." It's in the November/December 2013) issue of the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior. Listen now.

Consumers are using online search more than ever. Elizabeth P. Schneider, MS, RD, cautions that the public should be aware of the nutritional limitations of popular food blogs and discusses the potential opportunities that exist for dietitians in the evolving food blogging culture. Dietitians could assist in modifying blog recipes and partner with bloggers to improve the nutritional profile of recipes. But you don't have to be a registered dietitian to learn what type of nutrition is healthiest for you and your family members. There are plenty of studies to read about online so you can make up your own mind as to what works best for your health needs.

What can the rest of us learn from trendsetting MyPlate moms?

You may wish to see the YouTube video, "Choose MyPlate" Update." Of these 497 moms, 46 moms were familiar with MyPlate (9% of those surveyed), 105 were somewhat familiar (21%), and 349 were not familiar (70%). Some interesting patterns emerged from the analysis of their survey responses. First, moms were more likely to be familiar with MyPlate if they already knew about MyPyramid.

Moms who found MyPlate easy to understand and relevant to their lives were more likely to see its potential to help their families eat better. Third, moms who adopted MyPlate were more likely to be “vegetable lovers” and to involve their kids in preparing family meals. Moms loved veggies for a variety of reasons – not only because they are good for you, but also because they can improve the taste of the entrees they’re served with and make meals feel like special family occasions.

Recommendations

  • Involve kids in meal preparation. This doesn’t just mean cooking – kids can also make grocery lists, clip coupons, and set and clear the table.
  • Don’t just tell your kids to eat their veggies – show them that you do too. Make it a family priority to try new vegetables or new recipes for familiar ones. Who knows, you may become a vegetable lover!
  • Log onto to the government's Choose My Plate site where you can view the Like the MyPlate icon. This website is colorful and user-friendly. It features practical tips for meal planning, grocery shopping, and preparing simple, tasty meals for a range of budgets and taste buds. For Americans who eat out or on-the-go, there are strategies for keeping MyPlate in mind while navigating restaurant menus. Find out what the USDA can do for you and your family.

On another topic, kids can become involved in helping communities to eat healthier foods. The goal is to find creative and practical ways to eat healthier and become fit and healthy even if resources and money is lacking among individuals.

Here's how your child can improve nutrition and fitness in communities and use the information learned in school projects or for summer camp possibilities

First, your child begins by pitching his or her ideas on how to combat obesity in various neighborhoods, either your community, or a community in need in your city or state. Even prisoners are being taught how to start high-tech incubator businesses or brainstorming how to turn abandoned buildings into fitness centers.

You may wish to check out the December 27, 2013 L.A. Times article by Jessica Guynn, "Inmates go from lock-up to start-ups." If prisoners can brainstorm how to start fitness and nutrition businesses or community produce gardens, children and their families also can brainstorm how to use what's available or abandoned to improve nutrition, fitness, and health in their communities or elsewhere.

Next, the child researches information online or in books, newspapers, and magazines and talks to a group of people, whether it's in a library, in the kid's class, or in the community on how to combat obesity in low-income areas by turning empty lots into community gardens. That way people can grow their own food. See, "British kids build greenhouse out of plastic bottles | Grist," or "School Children Make Greenhouse Out Of Recycled Plastic Bottles."

Many neighborhoods lack supermarkets or food markets where they can find or even afford organic produce (fruits and vegetables) or other healthy foods. The foods available usually are processed, packaged, and often made from white flour, sugar, fats, and processed meats or cold cuts, such as hot dogs, sometimes seasoned with monosodium glutamate (MSG) and other additives and artificial colors or flavors, or high in salt. Kids end up getting too many chips, cookies, candy, pretzels, or greasy fast foods loaded with salt, fat, sugar, or artificial coloring and excess amounts of fructose.

Show kids how aquaponics works

During the winter months in school, kids can learn how to build their own greenhouses out of plastic bottles. See, "New York School Kids Build Their Own Greenhouse." Teach kids aquaponics in environmental science class at almost any age level. Aquaponics is about

A few years ago, one school in New York State managed to secure a $25,000 grant that enabled the teacher and his students to build a greenhouse dome, in which to grow vegetables using both soil and aquaponics. The greenhouse is an energy-efficient dome that runs completely on solar power. Vegetables grow in soil on the lower level of the dome, and a second level installed is used to grow lettuce using aquaponics, according to the May 10, 2011 TreeHugger site article by Rachel Cernansky, "New York School Kids Build Their Own Greenhouse."

Community gardens in summer, greenhouses in winter

Children can make a difference in the area of nutrition and fitness by speaking, writing, or video recording efforts to show how or if people were able to have low-cost access to organic produce all year 'round, such as from a green house built on empty lots, it would be like a farmer's market coming to the area, but with food available for the picking. In the summer, the community could work together, including the kids to plant food on these empty lots, including on church or school grounds not being used for parking spaces. In the winter, the greenhouses built by the community would allow growing more produce in the coldest months.

The idea is to turn empty lots and lawns not being used for 'show' into places where people could grow food in areas where the people wouldn't otherwise be able to afford to buy the food. Some cities have entire neighborhoods where there aren't any supermarkets, only convenience stores or liquor stores in areas where kids walk daily.

Crowdsourcing and fundraising to turn abandoned buildings into fitness centers in low-income areas

At the same time, your children might participate in crowdsourcing and fundraising efforts to talk to business people and owners of abandoned buildings to turn those abandoned buildings into fitness facilities. With fitness facilities and community gardens and greenhouses (even if they're on apartment complex laws or roofs, if the roof is strong enough to support a greenhouse, as determined by appointed, credentialed and licensed inspectors) there's a chance your kids can make a difference.

Besides fitness centers where kids of all ages and teenagers could work out for fitness, there could be videos, talks, and programs on nutrition, healthier food choices for parents, kids, and entire families, including volunteer speakers or internships for students. The children might focus either on how to turn abandoned buildings into fitness facilities. Or have a focus on growing food all-year-round on empty lots or school and church lawns, including building greenhouses for winter growing. Technology-oriented kids might emphasize designing apps for mobile devices or computers that would help people track their fitness progress.

Even some abandoned schools are being turned into fitness centers along with other facilities in the building. See, "$50M project will convert abandoned Detroit building into housing for homeless." Once complete, the 255,000-square-foot building will offer addiction treatment; mental-health counseling and case management services; life skills training; a library; computer, art and music rooms; a gym and fitness center; chapel; laundry; walk-out roof gardens; and a small sundry shop.

In the article, "Abandoned School Buildings in Rural Illinois and Their Conversions," housing developers are beginning to see opportunity in the shuttered schools cast off by the dozens in cities such as Philadelphia, Detroit and Chicago. These buildings, closed because of population decline and charter school competition, are gaining new life as apartments, senior housing and lofts. What else can these buildings house that can help entire families of all age groups from preschool to senior center generation choose healthier lifestyles, food choices, and fitness programs, including libraries or places where people can access information, technology, or even grow their own food for all seasons? All these topics are ways in which kids can get involved in making healthier choices.

Solving problems in the community: Practice kids can find from farming and fitness to designing computer apps

These types of efforts direct and guide kids into solving problems on how to make the world a kinder, gentler place through nutrition and fitness efforts. The process also could embrace the technology-driven children and teenagers, even high school, tech school, and college students into developing apps for tracking fitness, community garden efforts, or nutrition-related efforts, including getting organic produce to low-income areas that usually are not able to afford the prices of organic vegetables and fruits in supermarkets and natural food stores, such as families who go to food banks for free food or seniors who are food insecure.

The entire effort can focus on motivating children to make wiser choices about food and fitness efforts. Start by talking with your child to find out how the kid will approach the food for fitness effort. Is your child a person of action? Is he or she practical? Does your child think of himself/herself as a realist?

Where do your children fit into or focus on efforts towards fitness, finer food, and fervor?

Fitness and healthier food choices are about foresight, insight, and hindsight about lifestyle and information, including data and research so new the media hasn't yet seen it.

Is your child a sociable kid who enjoys fundraising and crowdsourcing to raise money, for example to have someone buy abandoned buildings to turn them into fitness centers in low-income areas? On the other hand, is your child a thinker? Into technology and designing apps? Perhaps the child who designs apps and is a thinker can design apps on tracking fitness especially for children interested in nutrition. Those who enjoy writing can focus on nutrition journalism or consumer science reporting and research.

Other children may be idealists or dreamers. The shy child who focuses on dreams and idealism can observe and write about or produce video documentaries on what people are doing in local areas to grow their own food or restore abandoned buildings as fitness centers, start community gardens, or build greenhouses for growing organic produce all year 'round to feed families, seniors, or individuals in need of food, fitness, and familiarity with healthier eating choices that are affordable, available, and accessible. Check out the sites, "Novel Uses For Abandoned Infrastructure « Building Resilient Regions" and "Images for turning abandoned buildings into fitness centers."

Kids can come up with ideas to serve older adults by the growing number of big-box and mall re-inhabitations that increase access to healthcare and medical services. For example, a former grocery store in Savannah, Georgia, was re-inhabited by a women’s medical center, even making use of the high voltage from the freezer section to power MRI machines.

Fitness and wellness centers can be opened in former retail buildings

For families, even children and teenagers interested in entrepreneurism, it's one more way to talk about starting a business. Is your teenager or college-age kid thinking of opening a small business turning abandoned buildings into other services or writing grants to raise the money to do that or perhaps sell abandoned buildings to people who turn the buildings into other types of centers?

Kids can think and list of how many ways that come to mind to turn abandoned school buildings into other uses or business that best help a neighborhood to be healthier? Then that list can be sent to people, including public speakers, educators, business executives, and writers, with the authority, resources, ideas, or fundraising ability to accomplish such a goal.

You have small, “minute –clinics” popping up in shopping centers around the country. For example, the entire second floor of the Hundred Oaks Mall in Nashville, Tennessee, has been re-inhabited by the University of Vanderbilt’s [sic] Medical Center. You also may wish to check out the article, "Detroit's abandoned buildings draw tourists instead of developers." You may also be interested in studies such as the following: Holistic Approach to Change Eating Behaviors of Low-income Women, Nutrition Education Affects Eating and Activity in Preadolescents, Report on North Carolina’s State Plan for Obesity Prevention, and Popular Food Blogs’ Recipe Analyses.

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