Healthy Dinners: the Simple Plate Method Way

Trying to eat healthy, but you don’t know how? You’ll know what to eat when you let the plate method guide you.

You push yourself to follow your strict eating plan and deprive yourself of all things yummy. But you’re pulled to give it all up because it’s too complicated, takes too much energy, and well, yuk! Push and pull. Push and pull. The struggle is real.

I know it and so does Cindy, a reader of this blog and a subscriber to my emails.

So how did Cindy, who describes her previous method of eating and meal planning as “good old southern home-cooking” lose 70 pounds and bring her blood sugar levels under control?

The Plate Method.

The Plate Method with chicken, butternut squash and string beans

The plate method helps you know what to eat. It’s a super simple way to fill your plate that takes the counting, measuring and confusion out of healthy eating. I use the plate method and have taught it to thousands of clients.

Here’s what Cindy says: “What I love most about the plate method is that the plate takes care of my serving size measurements and counts the carbs for me.  It makes it so easy to eat anywhere – at home, out, and even on holidays. I add a bite of this and that in the starch section, so I don’t feel like I missed out on any of the foods I love.”

No yuk for Cindy!

How You Can Follow the Plate Method & Know What to Eat

Start with a 9-inch plate. If you use one much bigger, you’ll likely serve yourself portions too large. That’s what Cindy means by the plate taking care of her serving size measurements.

    1. Draw an imaginary line down the middle of your plate and fill half with one or more of your favorite non-starchy vegetables like salad greens, broccoli, cabbage, roasted carrots, steamed green beans, and so many others.
    2. Draw a second imaginary line across the middle of the other half, and place some lean meat or another protein source in one section. Some good choices are skinless poultry, lean beef or pork, broiled fish, eggs, tofu, lentils and reduced-fat cheese. FYI: most cheese is so low in carbohydrate and a good source of protein that we put it in the protein section instead of a carb section.
    3. The last section of your plate is for the starchy foods like bread, rice, pasta, grits, tortillas, crackers, pretzels, lentils, navy beans, black-eyed peas, corn, potatoes, acorn squash and other winter squash. Don’t be confused: lentils, navy beans, black beans and similar foods fit into either the protein section or the starch section because they are both protein-rich and carb-rich.
    4. If desired, add an 8-ounce glass of skim or 1% milk or a similar amount of light yogurt and a piece of fruit about the size of a tennis ball. And feel free to use small amounts of healthy fats: olive and canola oils, nuts, avocado, salad dressing, nuts and seeds.

So there you have it; you know what to eat.

Still hungry? Probably not. But if you are, refill the non-starchy vegetable section.

Know What to Eat!

Get this Plate Method template.

Cindy shared these two snapshots of plate method meals.

Plate Method Dinner

Plate Method with vegetables, bread and ham

The Plate Method Fits in a Bowl

The plate method of meal crafting or meal planning is more flexible than it sounds. You’ll know what to eat even if you don’t use a plate. Consider the basics:

  • You serve yourself an equal volume of starchy food and protein-rich food.
  • You eat twice as much non-starchy vegetables. At least half of your meal consists of low-calorie, low-carb non-starchy vegetables.
  • You eat reasonable portions.

To make a balanced nourish bowl, use the types of foods above in the proportions mentioned. For example: 1/2-cup brown rice, 3 ounces salmon, 1-cup leftover roasted vegetables, and a sprinkling of nuts.

Similarly, here’s how to turn a salad into a healthy, satisfying meal!

If beef stew is in your bowl, give it a look for proportions. Do you have twice as much non-starchy vegetables as potato (a starchy vegetable)? And twice as much non-starchy vegetable as beef? If not, add a salad.

The plate method takes the complication and confusion away from knowing what to eat. It won’t leave you hungry, and it makes room for your favorites. And there’s more: You can use the plate method as a way to plan your meals too. I’ve created a plate method meal planning weekly template to make your week less of a push and pull struggle.

Download the Plate Method template now for easy meal planning. You’ll always know what to eat!

Jill Weisenberger

I'm Jill, and I believe simple changes in your mindset and health habits can bring life-changing rewards. And I don't believe in willpower. It's waaaay overrated. As a food-loving registered dietitian nutritionist, certified diabetes care and education specialist and certified health and wellness coach, I've helped thousands of people solve their food and nutrition problems. If you're looking for a better way to master this whole healthy eating/healthy living thing or if you're trying to prevent or manage diabetes or heart problems, you'll find plenty of resources right here.

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  1. Stephanie Krinsley on October 25, 2020 at 9:16 am

    Since COVID-19, I am eating more complex carbs and not eating enough salads or veggies. I am also not walking often enough. I am 71 years old and have gained 20 lbs. since this all started. How can I make the transition back to healthy eating? I had lost 45 lbs. when I was diagnosed with diabetes a few years ago and am still obese. I’m afraid that it will continue to come back. I bought divided plastic dishes to help me once I regain motivation. I’d appreciate your advice and motivation. Thank you so much.
    Best wishes,

    • Jill Weisenberger on October 26, 2020 at 5:44 pm

      Healthy eating is especially difficult right now! I love the idea of your divided plate. I assume it’s the kind that follows the plate method described in this blog post. Perhaps you can think back to what skills, strategies and thoughts helped you lose 45 pounds before, and pick something from that to get started with. Progress is not a straight line, so gaining some of your weight back doesn’t mean you’ve failed – as long as you learn something from your experience to do differently next time. I usually suggest picking the easiest single, meaningful goal to get started. Something like commiting to eating at least a cup of non-starchy vegetables at lunch and dinner everyday. Or whatever you know is important and that you can be successful with. Here’s a post about forming habits and another about starting new behaviors. They might help you. When you’re struggling it’s important to set yourself up for success by focusing small and also to speak kindly to yourself.

    • Cynthia Betz on November 10, 2020 at 4:07 pm

      For me, Stephanie, I have to decide what I want, what my goals are and understand my reasons for the changes I have made in my eating and motion, then remember why I started eating healthy in the first place (goals). We all know we are healthier when we balance our meals correctly, that our blood pressure, glucose and weight respond to that healthy eating by staying where we want them,, so just change your mindset and remember that the goal is to remain healthy even during Covid,,and hopefully you will make the choice to do just that. Food is our best medicine for prevention.

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Hi there! I'm Jill, a nutrition & diabetes expert and the author of 4 books.

Jill Weisenberger

I believe simple changes in health habits can bring you life-changing rewards.

And I believe willpower is way overrated.

Right here is where you can discover the mindset and habits to stick with healthy lifestyle choices most of the time - and drop the guilt when you don't.

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