Resolving to eat healthier ought to be easier in 2012

This is the time of year we're all supposed to be thinking about our health. Those New Year's resolutions still are too fresh for us to give up on.

After all, what would it say about our personal willpower if we couldn't even make it a week into 2011 with our healthful resolutions intact?

But by March, a lot of us will start reaching for a bag of chips instead of celery sticks. And by next New Year's Eve, we will once again renew our resolutions, promising to make 2012 the year we finally start eating better.

One thing that will help consumers keep those declarations of healthy eating, weight loss and fitness at this time next year will be nutritional labels on meat.

At the start of 2012, the U.S. Department of Agriculture will require packages of the 40 most commonly purchased cuts of meat to include information labels.

When you are making your choices in the meat department of your local supermarket, you will be able to read about serving sizes and nutritional value on some cuts of pork, chicken, turkey and beef.

The requirement applies to raw and single-ingredient cuts of meat, and the information will include calories per serving, the calories that are fat, total grams of fat, etc.

It's the same kind of information we've been seeing on food packaging for decades, but the meat industry largely had remained immune from such mandates.

For some people who already are well-versed in calories and fat grams from years of dieting or conscientious food choices, the information might not change much about the way they shop or portion their food.

For others who already ignore the nutritional labeling on other foods, this probably won't make much of an impact, either.

But in a nation of excess with a battle against obesity undermining the health and well-being of many of our residents, more information can't be a bad thing. For people wanting to make better choices or for those in charge of food preparation in the household, the information could prove valuable and life-changing.

Some meat packaging already is confusing. Ground meat is especially baffling. If it's 80 percent lean, that sounds good and healthy. It sure tastes good at that ratio of fat to lean. A 4-ounce serving -- about the size of a deck of cards or the palm of your hand -- has only about 280 calories. But 200 calories of that portion is from fat. Not so good if you're watching your waistline.

The new nutrition labels will add to the information we can already use to make decisions about what we eat. We all know skinless chicken breast is a good option for low-fat protein, but you may be surprised how lean some cuts of beef and other meats are when you analyze the data.

And when we want to have something that we know will pack a little too much fat, we can still just pretend we don't see the label on the package.

After all, that burger on the grill will taste better if it's got more fat in it. Fat gives us mouth-feel and flavor and a certain amount is actually necessary for our bodies to work efficiently.

Balance is key, and information can help us find it.