The next time you’re heaping food onto your dinner plate, stop and take a closer look. Is it well-balanced and colorful? Or is it full of meat and carbs and monochromatic?

If you’re an American, it’s probably the latter. Only about one in 10 of us consumes enough fruits and vegetables, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Apparently we still have much to learn about what to eat. More than two-thirds of American adults are overweight, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and one in three are obese.

To help people make better food choices, nutrition experts at the Harvard School of Public Health and editors at Harvard Health Publications designed the Healthy Eating Plate. (It’s slightly different than MyPlate, from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.) Here’s how they say the contents of your dinner plate should break down.

1. Half your plate should be filled with fruits and veggies (more veggies than fruits) in a variety of colors. You may have heard the phrase “eat the rainbow” — eating produce in all sorts of colors gives your body the mix of nutrients it needs. And guess what — those French fries (and potatoes in general) don’t count as a vegetable.

Related: 8 “Health” Foods That Aren’t So Healthy

2. A quarter of your plate should go to whole grains, such as whole wheat, barley, quinoa, oats and brown rice. These whole grains have a milder effect on blood sugar than white bread and white rice. According to Harvard, the type of carbohydrate you eat is more important than the amount of carbohydrate you eat. Fruits, whole grains and beans are better choices than, say, low-fat muffins made with white flour.

3. A quarter of your plate should be reserved for protein. One quarter. If that serving of steak takes up more room, it's too much. When choosing your protein, think poultry, fish, beans and nuts. Limit red meat, and skip processed meats like bacon, sausage and deli meat.

Here’s where the Healthy Eating Plate and MyPlate differ: Harvard’s nutritionists say to drink water, coffee or tea with meals, and limit dairy and milk products to one or two servings a day. And the Healthy Eating Plate plan says to nix sugary drinks entirely.

The Healthy Eating Plate doesn’t set calorie limits or a maximum percentage of calories from healthy fats. Harvard’s nutritionists instead recommend choosing healthy oils, such as olive, canola, sunflower or peanut oil. “In this way, the Healthy Eating Plate recommends the opposite of the low-fat message promoted for decades by the USDA,” according to Harvard’s website. Remember: “Low-fat” doesn’t necessarily mean “healthy.”

Related: Want to Live Longer? Eat a Mediterranean Diet

Copyright © 2011, Harvard University. For more information about The Healthy Eating Plate, please see The Nutrition Source, Department of Nutrition, Harvard School of Public Health, www.thenutritionsource.org, and Harvard Health Publications, www.health.hCopyright © 2011, Harvard University. For more information about The Healthy Eating Plate, please see The Nutrition Source, Department of Nutrition, Harvard School of Public Health, and Harvard Health Publications. (Photo: Harvard University)

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