Wednesday, June 8, 2011

MyPlate and Tortilla Casserole

Is this a healthy meal?
 Take a look at the picture above and really think about the questions I'm going to ask.  Does this look like a healthy meal to you?  Does any of it look unhealthy?  Why or why not?

With the release of the new MyPlate to replace MyPyramid, many Americans are now examining their plate to see if it stacks up.

Do you think MyPlate makes it easier to tell if you're eating a healthy meal?  I do!  No, this government model isn't perfect, but it's a giant leap in the right direction.  In my practice I use the healthy plate model with almost every patient, and it's remarkably similar to the government's new guidelines.  Typically, I ask my patients to fill half their plate with vegetables, a quarter with protein and a quarter with carbs.  If fruit makes it onto the plate, that's fantastic, but not required.

The first thing I dislike about this plate is that dairy is off to the side in a glass, implying that you should have a glass of milk with every meal.  I realize there was no way the dairy lobby was going to allow new guidelines without including milk, but it seems silly to imply every American should drink it when many adults are lactose intolerant. The enzyme that digests dairy (lactase) typically declines with age, even in people of European descent!

The second idea that I dislike about this new model is that your plate has to look like this:

Please, if you ever eat like this, come see me immediately!  Is that pasty blob where protein is supposed to be chicken or fish?  And why would you eat a plain piece of bread with your dinner?

You should love what you're eating.  Period.  What MyPlate does well is show that we need to eat a lot more veggies and a little less protein.  Pizza can still fit on a healthy plate, but I hope you're adding a healthy dose of salad.

One night last week I was going to make tacos for dinner, but that meal plan wasn't thrilling me.  In the last couple of months I've been bored with my standard meals and so I've been scouring cookbooks in search of new and fabulous recipes.  I've made fancy items like pineapple chicken, skillet chicken pot pie and Thai steak salad.  It's been fun.  So, instead of preparing a meal I didn't want to eat, I looked through my cookbooks and found a recipe for tortilla casserole.  At first blush, it doesn't seem appropriate for a dietitian to make a meal with tortilla chips, but seeing as I had salt-free chips and it was chock full of beans and tomatoes, it was a healthy meal!  Based on the ingredients I had on hand I made several changes from the original recipe, and so I give you... tortilla casserole with chard and sliced melon.

Tortilla Casserole, gluten-free
Chicken Tortilla Casserole

1 T safflower oil
1/2 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced or put through a press
2 tsp adobo spice blend
1 cup chicken broth
1 can (15.5 oz) kidney beans, rinsed
1 can (14.5 oz) fire-roasted tomatoes
1 cup shredded chicken
2-3 cups tortilla chips (unsalted if desired)
1 cup grated cheddar cheese
  1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.
  2. Poach the chicken: Boil enough water to cover the chicken in a shallow pan.  Poach the chicken for approximately 10 minutes or until cooked through.  Remove and let cool on a plate and then shred with your fingers or two forks.
  3. Saute onion in the safflower oil until translucent, 3 to 5 minutes.  Add garlic and adobo spice blend and cook for 30 seconds.  Add chicken broth, kidney beans, tomatoes and chicken.
  4. In an 8x8" baking pan, spread a layer of tortilla chips, then half the chicken-bean mixture and then 1/3 of the cheese.  Add another layer of chips, the rest of the chicken-bean mixture and 1/3 of the cheese.  Top with a final layer of tortilla chips and the remainder of the cheese.  
  5. Bake for 10 minutes or until the cheese is golden-brown.
Adapted from The Best 30-Minute Recipe



  1. I think the pink glob might be spam, but I'm not sure... it looks dodgy. YOUR meal looks great! You've got a point about how no one would eat a plain piece of bread with their dinner. I like hearing your thoughts on this new way of looking at meal portions. I agree that it's more helpful than that pyramid thing. What might also be useful is providing an example of a breakfast plate. Three different plates for different meals? Maybe it's too complicated, but it'd be nice to see what portion sizes are recommended for meals where you don't necessarily consume meat. Like breakfast. Fruit, grains and dairy? Do people eat veggies for breakfast? Tomatoes?

  2. What a great idea! I'm working on a series of shots right now but I need a few more days...

  3. Great post! This past week I sauteed swiss chard for super one night and had leftovers for breakfast the next day. I cooked two eggs over easy, the runny yolks with the garlicky chard was delicious! And I got veggies in at breakfast.