National Nutrition Month®

March is National Nutrition Month®. This year the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ theme is Personalize your Plate. Developing a healthful eating pattern is not a one-size-fits-all endeavor. The key is tailoring your favorite foods to meet your individual nutrient needs. We are all different, and our choices are shaped by many factors–not only taste preference–but more complex factors too, like access to food, culture, and tradition. Whether you are lactose intolerant, leaning toward a plant-based diet, or have a family to feed, there are a variety of ways to personalize your plate for healthy eating.

Lactose Intolerant?

If you are lactose intolerant, you don’t have to ditch dairy, just personalize your plate to include the dairy foods you love. After all, dairy provides essential nutrients, such as calcium, potassium, and vitamin D, that people of all ages need to grow and maintain stronger bodies and minds. If you’re lactose intolerant, choose aged cheeses like cheddar or Parmesan, which contain almost no lactose, cultured dairy foods like yogurt or kefir, which contain beneficial bacteria that help you digest lactose, or lactose-free milk-—real milk, minus the lactose.

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Eating Plant-Based?

Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes are all part of a healthy balanced diet. Eating plant-based doesn’t have to mean giving up animal foods such as chicken, fish, eggs, and dairy. Eating the MyPlate way, based on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, can help provide guidance on how to fill your plate to make sure every bite and sip counts. Fill ½ your plate with fruits and veggies, ¼ with lean protein, such as chicken, seafood, beans, and nuts/seeds, ¼ whole grains, and a serving of dairy. Dairy is important to add to a plant-based diet, because not only does it provide high-quality protein, important for flexitarians and vegetarians who may be limiting their meat intake, but milk adds 3 nutrients lacking in American diets—calcium, vitamin D, and potassium. Plant-based foods with dairy are a superfood power couple.

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Feeding a Family?

What children eat is vital to laying the groundwork for health for the rest of their life. Look to the new Dietary Guidelines for Americans for advice on how to personalize children’s plates—they even added guidance for infants and toddlers for the first time!

Because most of the bone-building years occur in childhood and adolescence, what is on our children’s plates AND in their cups is important. Calcium and vitamin D are important bone-building nutrients, but according to the Dietary Guidelines, as children get older they are falling short on the recommended intake of dairy foods. Ensuring your child is getting the recommended serving of dairy based on their age is an easy way to provide calcium and vitamin D needed for a lifetime of building and maintaining healthy bones. Leading health experts agree water and plain milk are the only recommended beverages for children 1 to 5 years old.

  • 6-11 months old: Provide plain yogurt and cheese as complementary foods beginning around 6 months old. Cheese and yogurt offer a range of diverse tastes and textures, which can help support the development of future healthy eating habits.
  • 12-23 months old: 1⅔-2 servings of whole milk, reduced-fat cheese, or reduced-fat plain yogurt per day is advised for those who no longer consume human milk or formula. During this time, flavored milk is not recommended due to added sugars.
  • Preschoolers 2 to 3 years old: 2 servings of dairy are recommended at this age. Plant-based alternatives are not recommended due to their wide variability in nutrient content, limited evidence of bioavailability, and impact on diet quality and health outcomes.
  • Children 4-8 years old: At this age, the serving size for dairy increases to 2½ cups. Dairy’s calcium, vitamin D, protein, and phosphorus can help support bone mass, which may reduce risk for osteoporosis (or bone diseases) later in life.
  • Children and Adolescents 9 years and older: At this age, 3 servings of dairy are recommended through adulthood. The gap between the amount of dairy foods recommended and actually eaten widens as children age. The nutrients of concern provided by dairy—calcium, potassium, and vitamin D—are especially relevant during adolescence given the increased need for calcium and vitamin D to support the accrual of bone mass. Dairy foods provide more bone-beneficial nutrients per calorie than any other food group.

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Questions? Ask a Registered Dietitian