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Shake Up Your Plate with Good Food Combos

The Plate Method is a simple guide for eating and meal planning.  The idea is to fill half your plate with non-starchy vegetables, a quarter of the plate with a low-fat protein and the last quarter with whole grains or starches. While you might visualize a plate, these food groups can be mixed together in many ways – a soup, a salad, in a casserole, or a smoothie for example.

“The Plate Method of eating gives you a map for appropriate portion sizes, delivers fullness and energy for today, and also supports long term health,” said Katelyn Newkirk, a dietitian and diabetes educator with Samaritan Lebanon Community Hospital. “It doesn’t have to be boring though!”

We all know that good nutrition comes from eating good foods, and while it may start with The Plate Method, you can be creative to fit your food preferences.

“Eating nutrient-rich foods in combination helps the body absorb more essential vitamins and minerals,” said Newkirk. “It works best with uncooked foods because the cooking process breaks down vitamins and minerals.”

For example, combining Vitamin C-rich foods and iron-containing foods promotes better iron absorption. Toss some strawberries and orange slices on a spinach salad for a delicious way to absorb more iron from the spinach. Add a healthy fat source such as an olive oil-based dressing or some avocado, and you will better absorb the fat-soluble vitamins in your salad.

Try salmon, rich in vitamin D, with plain yogurt instead of mayo when making a sandwich. Vitamin D helps the calcium from the yogurt get absorbed which helps build strong bones.

“An autumn dish option (recipe below) could be a sweet potato black bean chili where the sweet potatoes that contain vitamin C would help absorb the iron from the black beans,” Newkirk said. “You could toss some avocado on top when serving the dish to help absorb the vitamins present in this dish (vitamin A, E and K).”
In addition, fruit and low-fat dairy can be eaten separately or together as part of a well-rounded diet.

5-ingredient Sweet Potato & Black Bean Chili


• 3 medium yellow or white onions, diced and cooked in coconut or olive oil
• 3 medium sweet potatoes, scrubbed clean and chopped into bite-size pieces
• 1 16-ounce jar chunky salsa
• 1 15-ounce can black beans with salt, slightly drained
• 2 cups vegetable stock
• 2 cups water

Optional Ingredients

• 1 tablespoon chili powder
• 2 teaspoons ground cumin
• ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
• ½ teaspoon chipotle powder
• 1-2 teaspoons hot sauce

Serve with
• Fresh cilantro
• Chopped red onion
• Avocado/guacamole
• Lime juice


1. In a large pot over medium heat, sweat onion in 1 tablespoon olive oil. Add sweet potatoes and any desired spices. Cook for three minutes.
2. Add salsa, water and vegetable stock.
3. Bring mixture to a low boil on medium high heat and then lower heat to medium-low and simmer. Add black beans and simmer for 20 to 30 minutes, or until sweet potato chunks are fork-tender and the soup has thickened.
4. This soup is best when prepared the night before and allowed to rest for a few hours so the flavor marries with the vegetables and beans.
5. Serve with fresh cilantro, red onion, avocado and/or lime juice.

Makes 6 servings.

Nutrition information per serving:

213 calories
.0.6g fat
411mg sodium
47g carbohydrates
4.4g sugar
9.1g fiber
6.8g protein

Recipe adapted from

Learn more about adding whole foods to your diet.  

See our video recipes for more healthy ideas or visit Samaritan Diabetes Services.