Earlier this month the USDA did away with the old “Food Pyramid”, replacing it with the new “Choose My Plate” recommendations. Largely I’m thrilled to see the USDA present a simple attractive graphic that even kids can understand. Along with the simplified graphic they also include some other highlights:
- enjoy food but eat less
- avoid oversized portions
- make half your plate fruits and vegetables
- drink water instead of sugary drinks
- switch to fat-free or low-fat (1%) milk
- compare sodium in foods
- Make at least half your grains whole grains.
What I like about the new USDA guidelines:
- There is flexibility. The ratios are not set in stone. There is some room to tailor the plate to the individual.
- This plate provides a visual which shows the importance of fruits and vegetables which together should fill half the plate. Many of us parents get stuck on trying to fill kids with carbs and worrying about protein. Those sections are usually easy. Most kids in America eat twice the protein that they need, and overemphasizing carbs is largely what has created an obese nation. As parents we should be doing our best to get the left half of the plate full of as many types of plant foods as kids will accept. During well-child visits, I often ask families about how much fruits and veggies their children like. If they like and eat many, I’m usually reassured that their diet is adequate.
- I like the message of avoiding sugary beverages. Too many children drink too many calories. Sweet drinks like sports beverages, juice, sweet tea, and soda are contributing to the crisis of overweight kids. What’s wrong with drinking water? Nothing, says the USDA and I LIKE THAT!
- Highlighting the idea of “empty calories” is key when thinking about food. The USDA says that much of the American diet consists of “empty calories”. These are the added fats and sugars that provide no nutritional benefit. So many parents think of food as fuel only. However, food is much more than that. It has vital nutrients, vitamins and minerals which serve as medicine to keep us healthy. If we keep that in mind, we may make more wise choices and maximize those important benefits for each calorie we feed our children.
Finally, I would say that parents should share this new USDA visual with kids that are old enough to understand. Talk about why the plate looks like it does, and strive to make your plate match the visual. For more detailed information visit the USDA website, choosemyplate.gov.