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Wait, how do I eat healthy? According to a recent Student Health 101 survey, only 25 percent of students say they feel confident that they eat balanced meals every day. We’ve got pyramids, pie charts, and plates trying to tell us what a nutritious meal consists of, but how do we translate that into actual food on the table?
“Don’t get caught in the weeds by thinking healthy means non-GMO, organic, gluten-free, or natural,” says Dr. Christine Rosenbloom, nutrition professor emerita at Georgia State University in Atlanta and sports nutritionist at Hart County High School. Instead, “choose food as close to the original source as possible,” she says. Try “an apple instead of apple juice, lean grilled steak instead of bacon or hot dogs, and load up your plate with veggies and healthy carbs.”
What a balanced plate really looks like
To help you untangle the mess of nutritional advice out there, Harvard School of Public Health created the Healthy Eating Plate, based on MyPlate by the US Department of Food & Agriculture (USDA).
Why make a new plate? Because experts at Harvard noticed a couple of missing pieces in MyPlate’s nutritional guidelines. They were also concerned that some of the recommendations may be influenced more by big food and agriculture industries than scientific research.
The meal that has it all
So what’s an easy way to get all of the goods at once? Meet pineapple fried rice. It has everything you need for a perfectly balanced plate: fruit, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy protein. “Pineapple fried rice is a nutritious recipe because it has so many different foods from plants and a small amount of healthy animal protein from the chicken,” says Dr. Pamela Koch, executive director, associate research professor, and registered dietitian at the Laurie M. Tisch Center for Food, Education & Policy at Columbia University in New York.
Here’s what makes each of these ingredients so good, according to Dr. Rosenbloom
Chicken: A source of lean protein that contains the building blocks needed to form lean muscle mass and help us feel full.
Pineapple: High in Vitamin C, needed for a strong immune system and wound healing.
Carrots: Rich in beta-carotene, which is converted into Vitamin A in the body. Vitamin A helps you maintain healthy vision and supports the immune system.
Peas: These are technically legumes—not a vegetable—but they add quality carbs and additional protein.
Red bell pepper: High in Vitamin C and Vitamin A.
Onion: Rich in antimicrobial sulfuric compounds and antioxidants that help the body’s natural defense systems work at high capacity.
Scallions: A good source of Vitamin C and potassium. Potassium is a mineral that plays a role in transmitting nerve impulses and supports heart health.
Broccoli: Contains fiber and Vitamins A and C.
Brown rice: Brown rice is a whole grain, so it has more nutrients and fiber than white rice, which may help you feel fuller longer.
Let’s take on this recipe, step-by-step:
Recipe makes 3–4 servings
- 2 chicken breasts (for a meat alternative, use tofu or tempeh)
- 1 cup pineapple (use fresh or thawed frozen pineapple)
- ½ cup carrots (if frozen, run under warm water to thaw)
- ½ cup peas (if frozen, run under warm water to thaw)
- ½ of a red bell pepper
- 1 medium onion
- ½ cup broccoli
- 2 scallions
- 2 tsps. of fresh ginger
- 1 clove of garlic
- 1 package of microwavable precooked brown rice
- 2 Tbsps. of reduced-sodium soy sauce
- 2 Tbsps. of healthy oil such as olive, canola, or sunflower, divided
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Start by chopping the chicken into bite-size pieces. Then set the chicken aside in a small bowl. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Note: Always wash your hands after touching raw meat. Use a separate knife and cutting board for the raw chicken, or wash your knife and cutting board with soap and water before using them with other foods.
- Chop the pineapple, carrots, bell pepper, onion, and broccoli into bite-size pieces.
- Dice the garlic, ginger, and scallions.
- Heat 1 Tbsp. of oil in a large pan on medium heat, add chicken, and cook until pieces are no longer pink on the inside, about 6–8 minutes.
- Add remaining 1 Tbsp. of oil to pan. Then add in onion, garlic, and ginger to cook, stirring occasionally. Once the onion is soft, add carrots, bell pepper, and broccoli to the pan. Stir and cook for an additional 3‒4 minutes, or until vegetables are cooked to your liking. Tip: You should be able to stick a fork through them.
- Meanwhile, heat the precooked rice in microwave as directed.
- Add rice, pineapple, peas, scallions, and soy sauce to the pan. Stir to heat and combine, 2–3 minutes.
- Remove from heat, scoop yourself a serving, and dig in!
Recipe adapted from Just a Taste by Kelly Senyei
Expert and student tips for how to eat well every day
Swap out ingredients. “Instead of saying, ‘I’ll give up pizza,’ try leaner meat toppings like turkey pepperoni or lean ham with lots of veggies such as peppers, tomatoes, or mushrooms. Better yet, watch YouTube videos on how to make simple meals at home and learn how to cook,” says Dr. Rosenbloom.
Step up your pasta. “A creative recipe that I’ve tried is a pasta salad. It can have tomatoes (which is a fruit actually), some grilled chicken pieces or beans, garlic, and bell pepper, with whole wheat pasta for extra fiber and whole grains,” says Kate, a sophomore from Brooklyn, New York.
Snack healthy. “Make trail mix with nuts, seeds, dried fruit, and wholegrain breakfast cereals. This is a great snack that you can carry with you that will help decrease the urge to stop and buy candy or chips,” says Dr. Koch.
Get colorful. “[Try] kebabs with grilled chicken, pineapples, and red peppers. And on the side, brown rice,” says Ryan, a senior from Wilmington, Delaware.
Add variety. “Since I am a vegetarian, I would say a nutritious meal I would enjoy would be a warm wheat tortilla with black beans, tomatoes, kale, corn, and cheese with a small amount of avocado,” says Imani, from Boston, Massachusetts.
Copyright © 2011 Harvard University. For more information about The Healthy Eating Plate, please see The Nutrition Source, Department of Nutrition, Harvard T.H Chan School of Public Health, www.thenutritionsource.org, and Harvard Health Publications,www.health.harvard.edu.
Christine Rosenbloom, PhD, RDN, nutrition professor emerita, Georgia State University in Atlanta, and sports nutritionist, Hart County High School.
Pamela Koch, EdD, RD, executive director, associate research professor, Laurie M. Tisch Center for Food, Education & Policy.
Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health. (2011). Healthy Eating Plate & Healthy Eating Pyramid. Retrieved from https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/healthy-eating-plate/
Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health. (2011). Healthy Eating Plate vs. USDA’s MyPlate.
Retrieved from https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/healthy-eating-plate-vs-usda-myplate/
Senyei, K. (2013, July 31). Pineapple chicken fried rice. Retrieved from https://www.justataste.com/easy-pineapple-chicken-fried-rice-recipe/