Chefs are Embracing MyPlate

While interviewing chefs for a trade article on food trends, I had a pleasant surprise. Several chefs described the growing number of veggie-centric choices on their menu and cited MyPlate as their guide. Wow, could it be that this simple graphic is reaching chefs in a way that the Pyramid never did?

John Abels, chef instructor and manager of campus events at Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Chicago, called out MyPlate as his inspiration. “We are following the guideline for plates to be half fruits and vegetables. That means looking for new ways to bring vegetables to the plate. There’s more than one way to serve a common vegetable such as a potato or carrot, and we make vegetables look different in creative ways.” Chef Abels also talked of a growing movement to use all parts of the vegetable. One example — he tosses carrot tops with olive oil and serves them as a side salad.

The MyPlate focus on vegetables and fruits also influences Branden Lewis, MBA, CEC, chef and assistant professor at Johnson & Wales University—College of Culinary Arts, who teaches a course on plant-based cuisine. “While I don’t use MyPlate specifically, it becomes the foundation for our creation of Michelin Star-quality dishes that combine vegetarian cuisine with meat minimalism. We instruct students to look at animal protein as an ensemble piece — for example, a vegetable dish that is garnished with a scallop or a 4-oz. steak instead of one that weighs 16 ounces.” I never imagined that the dietitian’s prescribed 3- or 4-oz. protein portion would become trendy! 

Chef Lewis also teaches his students to design multi-course menus that happen to follow MyPlate, but in multiple courses. His dish of locally grown lamb tenderloin with pea and mint puree, pea pods and carrots, shown above, is the only animal-based protein served in a six-course meal.

But I do have a complaint. When I work with hotels and restaurants on conference menus, I often am disappointed by the lack of creativity in the vegetarian options. Don’t get me wrong — I love risotto, quinoa patties and scalloped potatoes, but they’re hardly poster children for MyPlate.

So here’s a meatless dish I created that captures the essence of MyPlate and takes advantage of seasonal produce.

Fall Fiesta and Carnival

Recipe developed by Mindy Hermann, MBA, RDN

Serves 4

1 carnival squash, 1 ½ to 2 poundsChefs are Embracing MyPlate -
2 cups cooked wheat berries or other whole grain
One 15-oz. can small red beans, drained
½ cup diced red and green bell peppers
¼ cup dried tart cherries
¼ cup slivered almonds
1 tablespoon squash seed oil
1 tablespoon chili powder
½ teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon onion powder
½ teaspoon garlic powder
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup water


    Preheat the oven to 425° F. Spray a large baking pan with cooking spray.
  1. Cut the squash in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. Scoop out a thin layer of flesh, chop finely and place in a large bowl.
  2. Add the wheat berries, beans, peppers, cherries, almonds, oil and seasonings to the bowl and mix well.
  3. Place the squash cut-side up in the pan and fill each cavity with the wheat berries mixture (there may be some left over). Spoon the remaining mixture into the pan. Add the water and cover with foil.
  4. Bake for approximately one hour or until the squash is soft. Cut in half and serve with the extra wheat berry mixture.
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Mindy Hermann
Mindy Hermann, MBA, RDN, is a food and nutrition communications specialist who puts words and food in the mouths of her clients. She also plans conferences for nutrition professionals. Connect with her on her blog and Twitter.