Goodbye baffling pyramid. Hello MyPlate! We are finally rid of the striped Food Guide Pyramid, replaced by a familiar plate. In June, the USDA unveiled the symbol that should guide our meals: A plate divided into food groups shown in the recommended proportions.
The plate makes it perfectly clear that eating right means plenty of vegetables, fruits and whole grains. First Lady Michelle Obama even stated during the press conference to unveil the new plate, "... as a mom, I can already tell how much this is going to help parents across the country."
The key recommendations are:
• Enjoy your food, but eat less.
• Avoid oversized portions.
• Make half of your plate fruits and vegetables.
• Make at least half of your grains whole grains.
• Switch to fat-free or low-fat (1 percent) milk.
• Compare sodium in foods like soup, bread and frozen meals and choose the foods with lower numbers.
• Drink water instead of sugary drinks.
The changes are especially important for childhood nutrition.
Chef Renee Zonka, registered dietician, dean of the School of Culinary Arts at Kendall College in Chicago and certified executive chef, approves of the new plate graphic.
"It's much simpler now. It brings me back to the basic four food groups that worked because it was easy to remember. It was visual. Proportionally, this shows you the amount of protein, grains and vegetables that should be on your plate," she says.
Getting advice on what to eat from the U.S. government is nothing new. In fact, they've been dishing it out for more than 100 years. This time, the agriculture department tested the plate using focus groups with about 4,500 people, including children.
How have we been doing?
While MyPlate recommends we make fruits and vegetables half of our plates, the latest USDA figures show fruits make up just 3 percent of our total daily calories and veggies just 5 percent. Added fats, oils, sugars and other sweeteners made up 41 percent of calories in 2008.
Plenty of more detailed advice is offered in the full nutrition guidelines at ChooseMyPlate.gov. For example, right on the home page you can use the MyFoodapedia, Daily Food Plan, Food Planner and Food Tracker interactive tools.
Zonka recommends parents of preschool-aged children use MyPlate as a game. She suggests taking pictures of foods like broccoli, meat and whole grains and matching the foods to the food groups like a puzzle. "Ask, what do you think this is?"
Children age 6 and up should get in the kitchen, Zonka says.
"Get them making food and plating it. Talk about colors and texture, put it on the plate and let them play around. Have them come up with a menu. Ask, how does it all work together?" By making it more tactile, kids can function better in the kitchen.
As for me? I like that the plate is simple enough for anyone to understand. I'm happy that the tips found on the website start off with encouragement to enjoy your meals. And as Mrs. Obama stated, if her daughters' plates are filled with lots of fruits and vegetables, "then we're good, it's as simple as that."
Christine M. Palumbo, RD, is a nutritionist living in Naperville.
See more of Christine's stories here.