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The New Food Plate and Family Nutrition

Americans looking for a dietary makeover for their family can find healthy eating tips with visual guidelines. MyPlate, the government’s latest symbol for healthy eating, uses a dinner plate icon as a simple reminder of what to serve yourself and your family for meals and at snack time.

USDA my plate iconMyPlate is useful for promoting healthy eating habits in more ways than one. It’s colorful, so kids and adults are attracted to it, and a plate is an icon that everyone understands. In addition to the plate, a circle at the side of the plate, labeled “dairy,” alerts you to include eight ounces of fat-free or low-fat (1%) milk or yogurt with meals and snacks. The MyPlate program reflects the suggestions for healthy foods made in the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

MyPlate’s Messages for Healthy Eating Habits

MyPlate is supported by several easy messages that you and your family can start working on today. But there’s no need to make all the suggested improvements at once. Start with one small change and add others as you go along. The MyPlate messages include:

  • Enjoy your food, but eat less, and avoid oversized portions. MyPlate reminds Americans to help reduce their calorie intake through portion control -- mega portions can turn into mega pounds. Most adults should eat less, and some kids may need to reduce serving sizes, too.
  • Make half of your plate fruits and vegetables. Produce provides the nutrients that often go missing in the typical American diet, including potassium and fiber. In addition, fruits and vegetables are more filling, and nearly all are relatively low in calories.
  • Make at least half your grains whole grains. Whole grains have more fiber and other nutrients than highly refined grains, such as white bread. Aim for at a minimum of three servings of whole grains, including whole grain cereal and bread, every day, for you and your children.
  • Switch to fat-free or low-fat (1%) milk. Fat-free and low-fat (1%) milk have the same amount of protein, vitamins, calcium, and other minerals as higher-fat milks, but with fewer calories and less saturated fat. Milk is a major source of calcium and vitamin D, two nutrients that are often in short supply in our diets. 
  • Check the sodium in prepared foods, and choose the foods with lower numbers.  Excess sodium in the diet is linked to high blood pressure. No adult or child should eat more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium a day, and many adults need far less.
  • Drink water or milk instead of sugary drinks. Soda, energy drinks, and sports drinks are major sources of added sugar and calories in our diets, and they offer nothing in the way of nutrition. Sugary beverages often contribute calories that kids and adults don’t need. 

What about fats and sweets? MyPlate doesn’t mention how much you’re allowed, but it’s OK to cook with olive oil and canola oil, spread some tub margarine on vegetables, or have a scoop of ice cream or other sweet treat. No matter what your calorie needs, the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans allow for some added fats and sugar every day -- about 260 calories worth of fats and sugar in an adult consuming 2,000 calories a day and about 120 calories for children consuming 1,400 calories daily.


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