Traditional Southern Blue-Plate Special Packs a Powerful Nutritional Punch

By admin
January 05, 2016

If you grew up in the South, you can’t get through New Year’s Day without starting your year off right with the traditional black-eyed peas, turnip greens and cornbread for good luck. The peas were supposed to signify “jingling money,” the greens “folding money” and some say the cornbread was the “gold.” In my family, baked sweet potatoes typically rounded out the plate. I’m not sure what their significance was – maybe to make the New Year sweeter. One thing’s for sure, even if the tradition doesn’t guarantee luck in the form of material wealth, it certainly is rich in nutritional value, for New Year’s Day or any other day of the year.

Did you know that the tradition of eating black-eyed peas in celebration of the New Year, the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, has been traced to 500 A.D. Some believe it came to the South in the 1730’s when a group of Jewish settlers arrived in Georgia.

It turns out that the traditional New Year’s Day meal is a favorite blue plate special, served almost daily on discriminating tables throughout the South. And, it’s hard to find a culinary combination that is more economical or healthier for you. We thought it would be interesting to break down the nutritional value of each food to show why this humble menu is so good and so good for you. Maybe the real luck from these southern favorites comes in the form of important nutrients that fight disease and support good overall health.

The making of a balanced meal

[Protein] is well known for its role in adding to lean muscle mass, but protein also gives structure to all cells and provides energy when carbs and fat are not available. Based on an 1,800-calorie diet, this amounts to 46 grams for women to 56 grams of protein for men. Recommendations vary greatly based on activity level. For example, if you are relatively sedentary, you probably need less protein than someone who has a physically strenuous job and works out often.

[Carbohydrates] both sugars and starches, eventually break down into glucose. You need glucose to power cells throughout your body. If you usually stick to a strict 1,800-calorie diet each day, you need 202 to 292 grams of carbs. Nearly all foods, except for eggs, meat, poultry and some seafood, have carbohydrates. However, healthy carbohydrate sources, such as fresh produce, legumes, nonfat dairy and beans, pack lots of vitamins and minerals, which may be lacking in processed junk foods.

[Fiber] is a carbohydrate; however, it does not provide calories or convert to glucose. You need fiber for bowel health and regularity. It helps push out waste and allows nutrients to absorb through intestinal walls. Recommendations for adequate fiber intake are 14 grams for every 1,000 calories. As an example, you need 26 grams for an 1,800-calorie diet. Fiber only comes from plant-based foods, meaning you need to eat more fresh fruits, vegetables, beans and lentils to boost your fiber intake.

[Fat] is a structural component of cells and blood vessels. You also need fat to absorb vitamins A, D, E and K, as well as to provide energy when your system runs out of glucose. Based on an 1,800-calorie diet, you should get 40 to 70 grams of fat from your daily diet. Selecting lean meats, including skinless chicken breast, fish and lean cuts of beef, helps keep your fat intake to a minimum so you don’t wind up getting too many calories. Replacing full-fat dairy foods with skim or low-fat varieties, also helps trim some of the excess fat from your diet.

It is believed that the tradition of eating black-eyed peas for luck spread through the South during the Civil War because many Northern soldiers didn’t believe they were good for anything but feeding animals and would leave them behind in the fields instead of carrying them away or destroying them.

Nutritional Breakdown of the Blue-Plate Special A plate of black-eyed peas, turnip greens, a baked sweet potato and a cornbread muffin offers a delicious, low-cost nutritionally balanced meal even without a side of meat. We included some lean ham cooked with the peas in the calculations below.


Special thanks to Chef Paul Adair of The Gathering restaurant in Livingston for preparing the Blue-Plate Special for this article. Southern style peas, braised greens, smashed sweet potatoes and cornbread muffins are all on the blue-plate menu at The Gathering.

Black-eyed Peas 1 cup (cooked with salt, pepper and lean ham), Protein 14g, Carbohydrates 40g, Dietary Fiber 11g, Total Fat 4g, Calories 249

Cornbread Muffin Protein 4g, Carbohydrates 26g, Dietary Fiber 1g, Total Fat 6g, Calories172

Turnip Greens 1 cup (fresh, cooked with salt and pork fat), Protein 2g, Carbohydrates 6g, Dietary Fiber 5g, Total Fat 4g, Calories 65

Sweet Potato 1 medium potato (baked), Protein 2g, Carbohydrates 23g, Dietary Fiber 4g, Total Fat 0 (without butter), Calories 101

Baked Ham 1 thick slice (chopped – used to season a pot of black-eyed peas) Protein 7.25g, Carbohydrates .25g, Dietary Fiber 0g, Total Fat 1.75g, Calories 46

Total Per Plate vs. Daily Recommended Amount (Based on an 1,800 calorie per day diet) Protein 29.5g Daily Total 46 – 56 grams; Carbohydrates 95.25g Daily Total 202 – 292 grams; Dietary Fiber 21g Daily Total  25 – 30 grams; Total Fat 15.75g Daily Total 40 – 70 grams; Calories 633 Daily Total 1,800 calorie

The recommended daily intake of dietary nutrients is dependent on factors such as activity level, age, weight and gender. The recommended amounts noted to the left are averages. Individual requirements will vary. Note: Changes in cooking methods and seasoning can vastly affect the fat and calorie content. Sources: USDA Food-A-Pedia; LIVESTRONG

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