The New Food Pyramid – 6 Steps to a Healthier Family

Jill Holtz

September 18, 2012

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Healthy eating and meal planning can be easy as counting down, 6-5-3-2-1! The Department of Health has recently released an updated Food Pyramid and Dr Muireann Cullen from the Nutrition and Health Foundation gives some tips for parents on understanding the New Food Pyramid.

The new updated version of the food pyramid still maintains the basic essential aspects of our diet including grains, fruits and vegetables, dairy, and meats.

The base of the pyramid, containing grains and starches such as pasta, rice and bread is suggested to provide 6+ servings of your daily adult diet.

From there, add in 5+ servings of fruits and vegetables, 3 servings of dairy (5 for 9-18 yr olds), and 2 servings of high-protein meats, eggs, beans and nuts.

These important staples in the diet have remained unchanged from the former food pyramid.  Not everything is the same however. Some changes and adjustments have been made.

Change in Top Shelf Items

The most important difference includes the separation of the top shelf which formerly contained the category labelled “other foods”. Reduced fat spreads and oils have been removed, and placed into their own shelf on the pyramid, which suggests 2 servings per day.

Oils, particularly olive, rapeseed, and sunflower, are unsaturated fats that can be protective of health when used in moderation. As a friendly reminder, saturated fats such as those found in butter, full fat dairy, and high-fat meats should be limited in the diet.

The top most shelf still includes all of the “other foods”, which consists of treat type foods and drinks.

Related: 10 Easy Steps to Improve Nutrition for the Entire Family and 8 Tips for Understanding Food Labelling

How to use the Food Pyramid to adjust your diet

The Food Pyramid is a good guide to a well-balanced diet that, when followed, will help you to maintain a healthy weight when coupled with a physically active lifestyle.

If you’re looking to make changes in your diet, it is important to take baby-steps. Initially you could start by limiting the number of treats you have per day, and after a week implement a new dietary change such as increasing your fruit and vegetable intake by one portion per day. By setting drastic goals, you decrease the likelihood of achieving them so take things in your stride.

Over the course of a year, these small changes will add up, and each goal will be easier to achieve than the previous one. Eventually, you’ll be on your way to developing a healthier diet, and setting a good example for your family.

Planning your meals

The recent updates of the Healthy Eating Guidelines are another reminder of the importance of providing well-balanced, nutritious meals to yourself and your children. With everyone’s lives playing out in fast forward, finding time to practice healthy eating is becoming increasingly difficult.

In addition to the food pyramid and intake guidelines, the Healthy Eating Guidelines provides an extensive list of tips to help improve your eating habits. Such tips include the suggestion to always eat breakfast, as those who do are more likely to maintain a healthier weight than those who do not. Many people argue against eating breakfast because there is not enough time in the morning to fit in a proper meal. Other times, grabbing on the go may seem like the only option when you are pressed for time to get the kids out the door and to school in the morning. Refer to the tips provided below for a healthy breakfast option.

By slowly implementing smaller changes into your lifestyle, such as those suggested below, you can easily be on your way to improving your diet and health, and feeling better about yourself. If you implement some small changes into your own diet, your family may do the same, even when they are away from home. Just remember to keep the basics of the pyramid in mind. You may be surprised at how simple and effective small changes can be. Overall, healthy eating does not need to be a chore. The updated Food Pyramid and Healthy Eating Guidelines can be found by clicking here.

Some tips and pointers to help improve your lifestyle:

  • Always be sure to eat breakfast. It’s the most important meal of the day, and helps to improve concentration.
  • Try to increase your fruit and vegetable intake one serving per day. By adding an additional one serving of fruit or vegetable into your diet will help improve your intake of vitamins, minerals, as well as fibre.
  • To increase your daily exercise, take a brisk 20 minute walk during your work day. If you do so each day, you will add 140 minutes of exercise per week.
  • If you’re pressed for time in the morning, try making a banana shake by blending 200ml fresh low-fat milk and a banana together. This super simple breakfast drink is easy, quick and cheap to make, as well as portable. And of course, it provides you with one serving each of fruit and dairy.
  • Try to fit in 10 minutes the night before in order to prepare a sandwich or salad that can be taken on the go.
  • Next time you are cooking why not whip up a larger batch of the meal that can be easily frozen into individual portions and re-heated later for a quick home-made meal. Foods such as a vegetable lasagne are perfect for this.

The Nutrition and Health Foundation (NHF) provides information on diet and exercise for the promotion of a healthy Ireland.  Their mission is to communicate evidence based information on nutrition, health and physical activity to encourage an improved and healthier society in Ireland.

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