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Before the federal government introduced its new My Plate guide to healthy eating, there were several other government guides to help Americans choose food.

new food plate

Many people are familiar with the “four basic food groups” and the USDA’s Food Pyramid that shows whole grains forming a wide, supportive base and fats and sweets at the tiny tip.

The new My Plate guide is an easier-to-understand alternative to the previous dietary helpers for American families. After all, you don’t eat from a pyramid, do you? The My Plate concept shows you exactly what a healthy dinner plate should look like. It’s pretty simple:

  • At least half of each meal should be made up of fruits and vegetables.
  • Grains should make up a bit more than half of the rest of your plate -- and at least half of those should be whole grains.
  • Fill out the rest of your plate with healthy protein sources like poultry, fish, lean meats, beans, and egg whites.
  • Get 2 to 3 cups of dairy a day. Keep it lean by switching to fat-free or low-fat milk. There are also dairy alternatives, such as soy milk.

How can you make your new plate as healthy as it can be? There are plenty of tasty possibilities.

  • Study the labels when shopping. If you’re looking for whole-grain bread, for example, the first ingredient should have the words "whole grain" in it, or the name of a grain, like oatmeal, buckwheat, or millet. "Multi-grain" breads usually aren’t whole grain.
  • Look for meats that are "90% lean" or better on the label.
  • Trim away all the visible fat on meats before cooking.
  • Vary your fruits and veggies -- they all have different nutritional content.
  • Steam, grill, bake, or broil fish, poultry, and meat instead of frying or sautéing it.
  • Start every meal with a veggie-packed salad or soup, to satisfy hunger sooner.
  • Ask for an appetizer-sized portion when out at restaurants. You can try something tantalizing while not overeating.