Choose MyPlate for Healthy Choices for Your Child

Child Nutrition Basics

The MyPlate logo encourages people to enjoy their food, but to just eat less.
The MyPlate logo encourages people to enjoy their food, but to just eat less. Photo courtesy of the USDA

You're probably very familiar with the idea of the food pyramid, but even after it was revised, many parents were confused by how to use the guidelines to balance their child's diet.

Choose My Plate

The food pyramid has finally been retired, after years of changes.

Basically, instead of looking at the one-size-fits-all food pyramid poster to try and see much you should eat from each food group (like you did with the old food pyramid), you can now look at the MyPlate logo to build a healthy plate by:

  • avoiding oversized portions
  • making half of their plate fruits and vegetables, including a variety of colors and eating fruits, vegetables, or unsalted nuts as snacks
  • switching to fat-free or low-fat milk (or try calcium-fortified soy drinks as a dairy alternative)
  • eating grains, but making sure that at least half of your grains are whole grains
  • varying your choices of proteins, such as by eating seafood twice a week, eating beans, and eating small portions of lean meat and poultry

You can still create a daily food plan too, just like with the food pyramid, but a quick glance at your plate will help you know if you are on track.

  1. Go to Daily Food Plan
  2. Enter your child's age, gender (sex), and physical activity level
  3. Submit your answers to get a customized Food Pyramid Plan

Daily Food Plan

Your customized daily plan includes the familiar five food groups, including grains, vegetables, fruits, milk, and meats and beans.

What might unfamiliar will be that instead of simple servings, the recommendations include how many cups or ounces of each food group you should eat.

For example, a 3 year old male who is fairly active should eat 5 ounces of grains, 1.5 cups of vegetables, 1.5 cups of fruits, 2 cups of milk, and 4 ounces of meat and beans each day.

That sounds easy enough, but do you know what counts as an ounce of grains? Probably not, but far too many people overestimate what counts as a regular serving too, so it is important to give an absolute measurement when making recommendations for how much you should be eating.

So what counts as an ounce of grains? According to the United States Department of Agriculture, an ounce of grains is equal to:

  • 1 slice of bread
  • 1 cup of ready-to-eat cereal
  • 1/2 cup of cooked rice, cooked pasta, or cooked cereal
  • 1 mini bagel
  • 1/2 English muffin
  • 2 small 3 inch pancakes

For the other food groups, the USDA also provides a ready explanation if you click on 'tips' and then look in the links to the right for the one that says 'What counts as an ounce?,' or view these links:

Using MyPlate

In addition to printing out your child's results, to help you truly understand MyPlate, you should review the 'tips' for each food group:

You can also print out a daily checklist to see how closely your child is following his MyPlate daily food plan.

And don't forget to limit the amount of oil and discretionary calories that your child gets each day and encourage regular physical activity. Most kids should get at least one hour of physical activity each day.

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