The American dinner plate often holds an entree that includes meat, starch, and veggies. Maybe the plate has a casserole with a side of vegetables, or maybe it's a few slices of pizza - a one-food favorite.
Buffets, potluck dinners, or picnics offer another picture, often with food piled high - a hodgepodge of irresistible foods that one rarely makes at home: You want a little taste of everything and just can't say "no" to any dish along the buffet line.
When it comes to holiday dinners, each has a once-a-year menu with family favorites that are a perfect combination of foods and flavors that "demand" tasting and savoring.
Somewhere in all those eating experiences, there are good intentions of dieting, counting calories or carbs, and sticking to good nutrition goals.
There are ways to enjoy holiday dinners, buffets, and even restaurant meals while maintaining your nutrition and dieting goals. The New American Plate Cookbook from the American Institute for Cancer Research (University of California Press, $24.95) has a simple, easy-to-remember approach: Fill at least two-thirds of your plate with a variety of plant foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and beans, and leave only the remaining room - one-third of the plate or less - for animal protein. This is in line with the USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2005.
"With the old American plate, half the plate was dominated by meat," says Maggie Sheen, spokesman for AICR. "The rest was probably a generous portion of starchy vegetable, usually potatoes and a small amount of one vegetable. Potatoes are still considered the number one vegetable served in many forms." Most menus have a small number of vegetable choices.
"What we found wrong as a research institute was there's a large amount of saturated fat [in this plate]. As a protection against cancer, this has few phytochemicals. The old American plate is cheating you from having maximum protection against cancer. Every meal is an opportunity to reduce the risk."
In the new American plate, she recommends scaling back animal protein to one-third of the plate. "That's an adequate amount for health purposes," she says. "The other two-thirds should have a maximum number of plant-based whole-grains and at least two vegetables."
For Easter, lean ham fits nicely on that new American plate. Just try to incorporate a reduced portion plus two or three veggies. Alternative entrees from the New American Plate Cookbook might include Cornish Hens with Orange Sauce or Tarragon Turkey Breast. Tasty vegetables and salads might include Gingered Carrots with Golden Raisins and Lemon and Three Bean Salad with Cilantro Chile Dressing.
You can also maintain this new American plate approach to eating in restaurants, advises Ms. Sheen. "If you're at a steak house, get the smallest steak. To get more fruits, vegetables, and grains, substitute a vegetable for french fries," she says.
Portion sizes can exceed the three-ounce to four-ounce recommendation by AICR. "Take the rest home, if you are going directly home," she says. Set aside the portion at the beginning of the meal so you fill up on vegetables, whole grains, and salad.
At the same time, let's all encourage restaurants to offer more vegetable selections on their menus.