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Food Pyramid Ouster a Nutritional Game-Changer

By Madeline Holler |

usda food pyramid, childhood obesity

Is that one serving of dairy? Who cares! According to my plate, that's more cheese than necessary for a meal.

Quick: what’s a serving?

I don’t know either. Is a serving of whole grains a slice of bread? A bagel? A cup of pasta? When I would see something like the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s food pyramid, which recommended getting six to 11 servings of grains, to me it sounded like a dreamy bakery free-for-all. Of course, sadly, it’s not.

Servings, pyramids, whatever. In contrast to Meredith’s weak embrace of the recent replacement of the USDA food pyramid with MyPlate, I’m, you know, totally eating it up.

Here’s why:

One of the big problems with the food pyramid is that it used “serving” as a unit of measure, even though only nutritionists had any kind of intuitive grasp of what a serving was. Moreover, a USDA serving isn’t the same as an food industry serving, which, as far as I can tell, is something you just get to make up as you go along in the food business.

The pyramid also arranged a day’s worth of food into the pyramid, which was kind of hard to visualize as three square meals plus snacks. The food pyramid never translated to much, unless you’re a food diary keeper, which I am not, and a deliberate food measurer, which I also am not. Basically, to make the food pyramid work, you had to be obsessed with the act of food provisioning — hard enough for one person but then think of doing it for a five-person family.

A few years ago, though, this plate thing started being bandied about. And it’s always made more sense. Coupled with the “Eat a Rainbow” campaign — where you’re supposed to eat five different colored fruits and vegetables everyday — I’ve found grocery shopping, menu-planning and food prep way easier.

The MyPlate strategy translates from adults’ plates to kids’ plates. Adults fill their plates. Little ones fill theirs less — they just take more vegetables than pasta. Easy, no counting, no measuring, no Googling “serving of oils.” You’re just eating less, better — less and better. With something like a stir-fry, where everything’s mixed up, as long as it’s filled with way more veggies than meat/tofu, you just fill half your plate. This new schema also reminds you that the accompanying rice is, while delicious, still background to the stir fry.

I think the plate is a great road-map for young kids who are ready to serve themselves but see an empty plate and fill it up with the first thing that’s passed along to them. Now, they’re “coloring in” the plate. And making nutritious choices independently.

This could work as a national nutrition guide, because MyPlate isn’t necessarily about ounces and cups. It’s about eating more fiber and vitamins and dense nutrition and cutting back on protein, which has traditionally been the big fat center of the American meal. So think about school lunches, which are regulated by the USDA. They’re going to have to look pretty different in order to come close to the MyPlate recommendations.

Don’t leave me looking like the USDA’s cheerleader. You like MyPlate, too, right? No? Why?

Photo: YoAmes via flickr

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About Madeline Holler

madeline-holler

Madeline Holler

Madeline Holler is a writer, journalist, and blogger. She has written for Babble since the site launched in 2006. Her writing has appeared in various other publications both online and in print, including Salon and True/Slant (now Forbes). A native of the Midwest, Madeline lives, writes, and parents in Southern California, where she's raising two daughters and a son. Read bio and latest posts → Read Madeline's latest posts →

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4 thoughts on “Food Pyramid Ouster a Nutritional Game-Changer

  1. Gagagolly says:

    Most packaged foods…pastas, rice, sliced breads, have the serving size on their packages. It’s not rocket science. Other things, it’s kind of obvious or it doesn’t matter…and apple, is well, an apple. Eat as many berries as you want. Eat as many carrots as you want. Other things can be easily found online, if one cares to know. I have mixed feeling about the plate. It’s so simple that the plate alone is not all that useful to those who already generally eat healthfully. It may be useful to someone who is completely clueless about nutrition, as a starting point.

  2. Madeline Holler says:

    Glly: You’re sounding like the plate!
    And that was my point, if you care to know, like me, you have to look it up. Those package serving sizes aren’t consistent, part of the problem!
    But I wouldn’t say someone would have to be completely clueless about nutrition to find it helpful. I think when you’re having to shop/cook/serve, it’s a great guideline — certainly much better than the pyramid.

  3. Rosana says:

    I love The Plate for the same reasons you do. It makes it simpler for kids to learn what to eat and how much. I am also with you about The Food Pyramid. I had no idea how to use it and I thought the starch and sugar servings were too many for a day.

  4. Jennifer H. says:

    I love the plate! We’ve been using it for a while – Super Healthy Kids has a plate that’s pre-printed to help kids learn!
    .
    Check it out: http://www.facebook.com/superhealthykids

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