Stepping up to the ‘Plate

Goodbye baffling pyramid. Hel-LO MyPlate!

We are finally rid of the striped Food Guide Pyramid and now have a familiar plate in its place. In June, the United States Department of Agriculture unveiled the symbol that should guide our meals: a plate divided into food groups shown in the recommended proportions.

The plate makes it perfectly clear that eating right means plenty of vegetables and fruits, plus whole grains.

“This is a quick, simple reminder for all of us to be more mindful of the foods that we’re eating,” said First Lady Michelle Obama during the press conference to unveil the new plate. “And as a mom, I can already tell how much this is going to help parents across the country.”

The key recommendations are:

• Enjoy your food, but eat less.

• Avoid oversized portions.

• Make half of your plate fruits and vegetables.

• Make at least half of your grains whole grains.

• Switch to fat-free or low-fat (one percent) milk.

• Compare sodium in foods like soup, bread and frozen meals, and choose the foods with lower numbers.

• Drink water instead of sugary drinks.

The changes are especially important for childhood nutrition.

“It’s much simpler now. It brings me back to the basic four food groups that worked because it was easy to remember,” says Chef Renee Zonka, Dean of the School of Culinary Arts at Kendall College in Chicago, who approves the new plate graphic. “It was visual. Proportionally, this shows you the amount of protein, grains and vegetables that should be on your plate.”

Getting advice on what to eat from the United States government is nothing new. In fact, it has been dishing it out for more than 100 years. This time, the agriculture department tested the plate using focus groups with about 4,500 consumers, including children.

How have we been doing?

While MyPlate recommends we make fruits and vegetables half of our plates, the latest United States Department of Agriculture figures show that fruits make up just three percent of our total daily calories, and veggies just five percent. Added fats, oils, sugars and other sweeteners made up 41 percent of calories in 2008.

Plenty or more detailed advice is offered in the full nutrition guidelines at For example, right on the home page, you can use the MyFoodapedia, Daily Food Plan, Food Planner, and Food Tracker interactive tools. Would you like to know the calorie count of a particular food? Ask there. Also, if you click on New and Media, scroll down to Print Materials to download coloring sheets in English or Spanish.

Zonka recommends that parents of pre-school aged children use MyPlate as a game. She suggests taking pictures of foods like broccoli, meat and whole grains, and matching the foods to the food groups, like a puzzle. “Ask, what do you think this is?” She suggests.

Children ages 6 and up should become involved in the kitchen, according to Zonka.

“Get them making food and plating it. Talk about colors and texture, put it on the plate and let them play around. Have them come up with a menu,” she says. “Ask, how does it all work together?” By making it more tactile, kids can function better in the kitchen.

As for me? I like that the plate is simple enough for anyone to understand. I’m happy that the tips found on the website start off with encouragement to enjoy your meals. And as Obama said, if her daughters’ plates are filled with lots of fruits and vegetables, “then we’re good. It’s as simple as that.”

Christine M. Palumbo, RD, practices nutrition in suburban Chicago. Contact her at with your column ideas or questions, or follow her on Facebook at Christine Palumbo Nutrition.

Fruit kabob

(Makes seven kabobs)


1 apple

1 banana

1/3 cup red seedless grapes

1/3 cup green seedless grapes

2/3 cup pineapple chunks

1 cup nonfat yogurt

½ cup flaked coconut

7 10-inch wooden skewers

DIRECTIONS: Prepare the fruit by washing the grapes and apples and cutting them into small squares; peeling the bananas and cutting them into chunks; and cutting the pineapple into chunks, if fresh. Put the fruit onto a large plate. Spread the coconut and yogurt onto two other large plates. Slide the pieces of fruit onto the skewer and design your own kabob by putting as much or as little of whatever fruit you want! Do this until the stick is almost covered from end to end. Hold your kabob at the ends and roll it in the yogurt, so the fruit gets covered. Then roll it in the coconut. Repeat with the remaining fruit and skewers.

NUTRITION FACTS: 90 calories, 18 grams carbohydrate, 3 grams protein, 2 grams fat (1.5 gram saturated), 0 cholesterol, 2 grams fiber, 30 milligrams sodium, 77 milligrams calcium, 12 milligrams vitamin C.

Recipe adapted and used by permission from Kendall College School of Culinary Arts.