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The Food Pyramid, My Plate, and Meal Structure

Updated on July 10, 2013

Circa 1992, the food pyramid approved by the USDA taught us how much of each food group to eat in a day. The bottom layer was grains, with the least amount of added fat and sugar (all part of a balanced breakfast); the recommended amount was six servings, which guaranteed it in all meals (sorry you carbophobes). With breakfast being the most important meal of the day (breaking the nighttime fast - unless you are awake at midnight and need to eat approximately six hours), most could be found here in the form of cereal, toast, etc. While sugary cereals were still frowned upon back then, they were no less plentiful than they are now and most parents I knew let it slide every once in a while.

Next came fruits and vegetables. Fruit is served at breakfast in the form of orange juice or actual fruit, plus as a substitute for dessert as fruits are naturally sweet. Vegetables mostly come at dinner time unless you have a salad for lunch or put lettuce on your sandwich. Meats and dairy came after that, which can be found in most meals but lunch and/or dinner especially (unless you're a vegan in which case you'd skip it altogether except for the nuts and beans of the protein group).

Lastly, the food pyramid recommends you eat fats, oils, and sweets sparingly, though they can be found in lower concentrations in any food group. The very top of the food pyramid, and the smallest, probably refers to desserts or snacks (unless your snack happens to be something like peanut butter crackers or a celery stalk). Thus, from beginning to end, bottom to top, we see that the food pyramid was designed to be our daily meal plan, which I've been taught to follow since watching Barney and attending kindergarten.

However, First Lady Michelle Obama has done away with this model in favor of what is now called the My Plate pie chart (warning: does not contain actual pie or sweets of any sort). The plate is cut into roughly equal quarters of fruits, vegetables, grains, and proteins, with a smaller circle outside for dairy, possibly representing a glass of milk ( This model seems to be about promoting portion control rather than daily intake, however. As her appearance on a Disney Channel PSA shows, it is all about our intake awareness and curbing childhood obesity. I can only assume this is what is being taught in elementary schools nowadays unlike twenty-one years ago when I was in school. Should it be enforced as a rule in school cafeterias though as mandatory edict? I'm a bit skeptical of that. The only times they laid down the law for us in my elementary school cafeteria were when someone spilled something (though accidents were still treated as if done on purpose) and for disruptive behavior (never had any food fights, but inflating plastic lunch bags and popping them was as bad as accidentally flinging a pencil or rubber band across the room).

Harvard takes it a step further to explain it (Harvard School of Public Health - The Nutrition Source According to its Healthy Eating Plate chart, the only healthy oils are olive and canola oil; we are to avoid trans fats and limit butter. Sugary drinks are not approved, and of course potatoes are starches and not vegetables (fried foods are huge no-nos as well). It tells you to eat a wide variety of vegetables and fruits and to limit dairy and red meat with no processed foods whatsoever. Whole grains are good while white bread and white rice are all but banned. Pretty much the only thing you can drink is water, as even juice and milk fall into the "use sparingly" column along with any added sugar like in soda, coffee, or tea. I guess our soymilk is safe so better get used to drinking that. I actually like vegan foods but I realize they're not for everyone.

Bottom line: You know your own limits, your resources, and your budget. It is up to you to make smart decisions for yourself. Talk to your doctor about diet and recognize that diets don't work. Personally, I don't think you should be ashamed to reach for your comfort food as long as you keep everything in moderation. No one is perfect, so as long as you know what your dietary weaknesses are and you at least try to overcome them, you're doing something right in my book.


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    • kat11 profile image

      kat11 4 years ago from Illinois

      Although I think the food pyramid is important today. I just don't think that everyone uses it anymore. Simply because of the food allergies people suffer from and other medical conditions. The article was informative and interesting I voted up Great Job!