Parents likely remember the food pyramid that we were encouraged to follow as kids. The U.S. Department of Agriculture food guides today look a bit different. That pyramid graphic has been replaced with a plate image to help teach kids what a properly balanced meal looks like.
“USDA Food Guides have seen many faces in the past century," Community Hospital Clinical Dietitian Allison Forajter said. "After nearly two decades of the Food Guide Pyramid, the USDA introduced MyPlate in 2011. MyPlate helped to illustrate how to set up your plate in a healthy way. One major change is the absence of oils or added sugar that had been present on previous food guides.
“Aside from the number of servings in a food group, MyPlate has recommended choices for each of the five food groups. For example, it is recommended to ‘make 1/2 your grains whole grain.’ Examples of whole grains include whole-wheat flour and brown rice.”
MyPlate shows five basic food groups: grains, protiens, fruits, vegetables and dairy with half of the plate covered with vegetables and fruits, the other half with protein and grains. More specifics on the updated guidelines can be found at choosemyplate.gov. It is a great resource for parents that includes recipes and checklists, Forajter said.
While the plate image may seem to have simplified the guidelines, there are now more specific recommendations within each of the five identified food groups. In days long ago, a serving of protein was a serving of protein. Now, healthier choices within the groups are encouraged.
“The main message for the protein group is to vary your protein routine. It is recommended to get protein from either plant sources (i.e. beans, nuts, soy) or animal sources (meat, poultry, eggs),” Forajter said. When it comes to dairy, low-fat and fat-free are pushed.
If it’s been a long time since you really thought about the food pyramid and what’s recommended, you may be surprised by some of the changes.
“The vegetable group has two definitions of what is considered a cup based on what vegetable you are choosing. One cup of raw or cooked vegetables or 8 ounces vegetable juice or 2 cups of raw leafy greens can all be considered as one cup from the vegetable group,” Forajter said. “Although oils are not depicted on the MyPlate graphic, there is a daily allowance for each varying calorie level. The ‘oils’ group includes nuts/nut butters, avocado, olives and seeds as well various oils, such as olive oil, sunflower oil, corn oil. Avocados and olives are also part of the vegetable group and nuts and seeds are also part of the protein foods group.” Also a new feature, the USDA provides recommendations on physical activity based on age.
Looking at a graphic of recommendations and getting kids to go along with them are two different things. Forajter suggests bringing MyPlate into family discussions, arranging plates to mimic the image and keeping a picture of the image on the refrigerator as a reminder. When kids assemble their dinner plate, Forajter recommends having kids compare it to the image to see if all the food groups are represented. She said not to forget the guidelines when packing school lunches.
Kelly Devine Rickert, registered dietitian with Franciscan WELLCARE, reinforces the idea of getting kids involved in assembling their meals and making them part of the decision-making in their diet.
“I encourage parents to have their children pick out one or two fruits or vegetables at the store. If kids have a hand in picking them out and help prep them for snacks or meals, they are more likely to try the food and eat it.”
A buzz phrase in recent years in nutrition has been to “eat the rainbow” and it can be an effective tool for kids who are enticed by colorful foods.
“Adults and children usually eat with their eyes. The more color and variety presented the better,” Forajter said. “Explore different colored fruits or vegetables of the same type of food. For example, discuss how different colored bell peppers taste different. The same can be said for green vs. red apples. Also, including unusual fruits or vegetables can be a learning experience for kids and adults. Try purple and orange cauliflower or red, yellow, white or purple carrots.”