Dish Up Healthy Meals with "My Plate"

Parents have recently been feeding me lots of questions about how to make sure their children eat healthy now that the "Food Pyramid" is no longer being used.  Let me see if I can provide some food for thought on this topic.

This summer the U.S. Department of Agriculture switched from the Food Pyramid to a colorful food plate – called "My Plate" – given the need to make eating healthy as simple as possible.  If you are unaware of what the Food Pyramid is all about, that is part of the reason for this change. 

Instead of six food sections in the Pyramid, the food plate has four sections (vegetables, fruits, grains, and protein) plus a side order of dairy in blue.  Fruits and vegetables take up half the plate, with vegetables slightly greater than fruits.  Likewise the grain section is slightly larger than protein, since nutritionists recommend more grains than protein (beef, poultry, fish, and eggs) in the diet.  Thus the hope is that your child's plate, when filled with food, will mimic the food plate arrangement.

Why the emphasis on fruits and vegetables?  There are fewer calories in these foods, and more vitamins and minerals, compared to the grains and proteins, to help your child keep their weight healthy and reduce the risk of their becoming overweight or obese. 

As for dairy, the symbol reflects a need for dairy with each meal, or at least three 8-ounce glasses of nonfat milk or the equivalent each day. And speaking of choosing equivalent types of foods for each category on the plate, there is even a website to allow you to devise your child's personal eating plan, at www.choosemyplate.gov.  You simply enter your child's age, weight, sex and height as well as how active they are, and the website helps you design a meal plan to offer your child choices to fill out the plate proportions, rather than “telling” him or her what they can or cannot eat.

Hopefully tips like this will dish out just what you need to know to begin to model your family meals using My Plate. 

Lewis First, M.D., is chief of Pediatrics at Vermont Children's Hospital at Fletcher Allen Health Care and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Vermont College of Medicine. You can also catch "First with Kids" weekly on WOKO 98.9FM and WPTZ Channel 5, or visit the First with Kids video archives at http://www.FletcherAllen.org/firstwithkids