Whether it’s the news media, social media, or the local coffee shop – the chatter about diets and nutrition is a hot topic. It’s no wonder consumers are confused about what to put on their plate. 

No sweat, this registered dietitian is here to help you makes sense of it:

Let’s start by focusing on MyPlate, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s visual representation of a well-balanced diet. The recommendations include filling half of the plate with fruit and vegetables, one quarter of the plate whole grains, and the remaining quarter with protein foods, including animal and plant protein sources such as soy.

Despite being the largest portion of MyPlate, less than 20% of the American population meets the recommended daily intake for fruit, and just 10% of the population is meeting recommended intake of vegetables1 – meaning many people are missing out on key nutrients like fiber.

Couple that with research that indicates the importance of consuming adequate high-quality plant and animal protein throughout the day to maintain muscle mass (20-30g per meal, three times a day) 2, and we see room for opportunity!

How can we close some of these gaps in order to increase fiber consumption and maintain adequate protein intake throughout the day? By pairing plant and animal protein, and adding more vegetables and fruit.

Let’s explore some ideas to help you put this into practice:

It starts with just one meal, one eating occasion at a time. Order a side salad to accompany your lunch or get the steamed veggies instead of french fries.

When grocery shopping, purchase a variety of fresh, frozen or canned fruits and vegetables that best suit your needs and accessibility. Frozen edamame pods can be easily microwaved for a fresh, protein-centered snack, or shell them and add them to salads, soups, and stir fries.

Focus on lower sodium canned and frozen vegetable options when available.

Choose lean animal proteins by selecting skinless options in poultry or looking for the word “loin” or “round” in the beef cut’s name.

Put the “better together” to practice:

Pair protein rich foods and vegetables together. Build a leafy green salad base, top it with edamame (a good source of protein and fiber), matchstick carrots, sliced mango, 2-3 oz of lean sirloin steak, and dress it with a peanutty salad dressing. It is a flavor combination that is sure to be loved.

There are endless options when pairing plant and animal protein together. Consider using a miso glaze on a steak, adding sausage to a tofu scramble, or filling your burrito with black beans and ground beef.


  1. Analysis of What We Eat in America, NHANES 2013-2016, ages 1 and older, 2 days dietary intake data, weighted. Recommended Intake Ranges: Healthy U.S.-Style Dietary Patterns (see Appendix 3).
  2. Mamerow MM, Mettler JA, English KL, Casperson SL, Arentson-Lantz E, Sheffield-Moore M, Layman DK, Paddon-Jones D. Dietary Protein Distribution Positively Influences 24-h Muscle Protein Synthesis in Healthy Adults. J Nutr. 2014