Intro Group Nutrition Week 3: The Plate Method

Happy Thursday, intro group! Have you had a chance to try out mindful eating? You may recall that mindful or intuitive eating is one way to determine how much food your body needs at each meal. I think you can always turn to mindful eating–both alone and in combination with other portion control strategies. This post will focus on a second way to know how much to eat. It’s called the plate method.

Like mindful eating, the plate method is easy to use in settings where you don’t have a lot of control over the menu. I love it because it promotes proper portion control, and it also ensures that you have a good balance of macronutrients (protein/fat/carbs) and micronutrients (vitamins & minerals) on your plate. An additional perk for parents: It’s a great way to model healthy eating for kiddos.

It won’t work at every single meal; however, following the plate method at most meals is a great way to moderate your food intake without much effort.

How Does the Plate Method Work?

The plate method is easy to put into action.

  • -Start with a medium-sized dinner plate (I recommend a plate that’s 9″ in diameter–about the size of a standard paper plate). Younger children may start with a round salad plate.
  • -Create an invisible line down the center of the plate, creating two halves.
  • -Now, divide one half of the plate in half again. You should have three sections.
  • -Fill the biggest half with nonstarchy vegetables (cucumbers, broccoli, cauliflower, cucumbers, greens, green beans, peppers, onions, sprouts, etc.). You can also add a bit of fruit in this section if you wish, but at least 3/4 of it should be veggies.
  • -The next section of your plate will be your lean protein (lean meat, lowfat dairy, fish, shellfish, tofu, etc.). Start with a portion of meat or fish that’s about the size of your palm. Dairy foods like yogurt or cottage cheese should be about the size of your fist.
  • -The final quarter of your plate is for your starches (bread, pasta, rice, quinoa, potatoes, corn, peas, sweet potatoes, cereal, etc.). Feel free to fill this section, but don’t overcrowd it.
  • -Add a glass of water, unsweetened tea, or black coffee on the side.

Just like this!

diagram of plate method

This is your starting point for your meal. It’s a good amount of food for many people; however, some athletes may need more or less food at one or more meals.

How to Adjust the Plate Method

Take a look at your filled plate. How does it look to you? A lot of food? Not enough food? Try to suspend your judgement for just a moment. The plate method may or may not be the right amount of food for you. That’s why we’re going to combine it with mindful eating–at least for a bit.

Sit down with your plate at a table, away from technology or other nonhuman distractions. Take your time as you eat, chewing each bite fully. If you feel satisfied before finishing your plate, then feel free to stop! If you are still hungry after finishing your plate (pssst: You’re not fooling anyone if you skip those nonstarchy veggies) feel free to have a bit more food. But remember, you are aiming for satisfied–not full.

Over time, you’ll likely learn more about how much your body needs at each meal. As you work toward that, keep in mind:

  • -EAT YOUR VEGETABLES!!! Don’t leave them abandoned as you continually reload your plate with meat and carbs.
  • -Tune in to your body for clues on how much to eat. Don’t assume you’ll need more, but don’t feel bad if you do!

What About Mixed Meals?

If you’re reading this and are sad about a life without casseroles, fear not. There are a couple of ways you can still embrace the plate method. For carb and protein-heavy meals, you can still fill half your plate with nonstarchy veggies on the side. You can also adjust the ratios of your recipes to include two parts vegetables, one part protein, one part carbs.

Try these strategies in addition to mindful eating and see how you feel! And as always, feel free to grab me at the gym or comment on social media if you have questions.

Kim is a registered dietitian nutritionist, a CF-L1 trainer, and a certified Brand X Method instructor. She leads adult and kid classes at 26. 


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