Thanks to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, kids will have to eat more than their vegetables—they’ll have to finish their whole grains and low-fat milk, too.
The government released "MyPyramid for Kids" on Sept. 28, the first food pyramid designed exclusively for children. A modified version of the MyPyramid Plan launched by the USDA in April, MyPyramid for Kids, available online at www.mypyramid.gov/kids, uses colorful images and simple language to reinforce the importance of a well-balanced diet and exercise among kids ages 6-11.
"With obesity on the rise, we wanted to get to the kids at the elementary school level to develop healthy eating habits at an early age," says John Webster, information director for the USDA’s Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion.
In addition to the new kid-friendly graphic, parents will notice other changes. The pyramid replaces "servings" with ounce measurements, makes the distinction that oils are not a food group and advises kids to do 60 minutes of exercise daily.
"I’m liking what I see," says Sue Rose, a registered dietitian and mother from Park Ridge. "They’re stressing the activity. We’re addressing portion control."
So far, the federal government has spent $2.5 million on the new graphic, double-sided posters and promotion, says Webster. Team Nutrition, an extension of the Food and Nutrition Service, is currently developing a curriculum for schools.
But Webster says he is depending most on the Internet to reach kids. "One of the big features is the MyPyramid Blast Off [online] game," he says. "It introduces kids to the idea ‘You’ve got to get your balance right.’ "
In the Web-based game, also at www.mypyramid.gov/ kids, players must fuel their rocket ship with healthy food and exercise before they can blast off to Planet Power.
"I think the game was challenging, but it’s good to show kids what to eat," says Tess Fisher, 9, of Oak Park.
In addition to the online game, the Web site includes downloadable versions of both the simplified and advanced pyramid, tips for families, a coloring page and classroom materials. Webster says about 35,000 schools had signed up by mid-October to receive those materials.
Cindy Zwart, a registered dietitian from Northlake who runs a group weight loss program for children, was impressed with the resources on the Web site.
"If someone is serious about making changes, the tools are there," she says. "I saw that coloring sheet and thought, ‘Oh wow, I can use that.’ "
Yet Zwart does not see this new pyramid as a quick-fix solution, and says it won’t be successful unless entire families get involved.
"I think a child would have a hard time applying it alone," Zwart says. "Who shops? Who prepares the food?"