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Use these simple strategies to lighten up your family meals and encourage balanced nutrition

Planning a delicious meal that satisfies everyone in your family can be quite challenging. Add in trying to balance different dietary needs or just containing healthy nutrition, and it all starts to feel impossible. 

But don't give up and head for the drive-through just yet!

Today's Food Pyramid points out making smart choices from every food group, watching the amount of calories consumed with increased physical activity and getting the most nutrition out of those calories. So, eating almost everything but in moderation is the key.

Rely on the Basics

Eating smart is the first step toward healthier living. According to the USDA guidelines, a healthy diet is one that contains fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat milk products. It also includes lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, eggs and nuts. Finally, a healthy diet is low in saturated fats, Trans fats, cholesterol, sodium and added sugars.

Try to have variety in your daily healthy meals, and you'll see how easy it is to meet your nutritional goal. Consider these steps:

Focus on fruit. Fruit provides essential vitamins, fiber and antioxidants. Eat a variety of fresh, frozen, canned and dried fruits, avoiding juices, which often have added sugar.

Vary your veggies. Vegetables help lower the risk of type 2 diabetes and may prevent cancer, lower blood pressure or drop high cholesterol levels. The more veggies you eat, the better! So include plenty of colorful options such as broccoli, carrots, cauliflower and beans; and eat plenty of dark-green leafy foods like spinach, kale or leaf lettuces. But pass on the deep-fried varieties such as French fries and onion rings. To find out more about leafy salads (Salad Greens) click here...

Get your calcium-rich foods. For stronger bones, rely on protein rich, calcium-fortified foods such as milk, yogurt and cheese. Reach for the low-fat or fat-free varieties and take it easy on whole milk and full-fat yogurt and cheeses. If you don't or can't consume milk, you can still meet your daily requirements by choosing lactose-free milk products or other calcium-fortified foods.

Make half your grains whole. Look to whole grains as your primary source of carbohydrates. Cut back on refined grains like white bread, white rice or ready-to-eat cereals high in sugars or fats. Then focus on whole-grain breads, brown rice, oatmeal and whole-wheat pastas.

Go lean with protein. Bake, broil or grill lean meats and poultry, and add in more fish, beans, peas, nuts and seeds. The variety of protein sources will provide essential amino acids, minerals and vitamins necessary for building muscle and tissue.

Know your fats. Choose foods low in saturated fats. Good choices are ones that use olive, canola, peanut or walnut oils (monounsaturated) or corn, soybean or safflower oils (polyunsaturated). Aim for zero Trans fats—a big problem in commercial foods and restaurant foods.

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