USDA's MyPlate

The USDA has simplified nutrition guidelines with its "MyPlate" campaign. MyPlate replaces the older Food Pyramid that many adults grew up with. The campaign's goal is to make healthy eating simpler and more practical by using the visual icon of your plate with what should be on it.

Good health depends on good nutrition. But sorting through complicated nutrition data can be confusing. The MyPlate campaign reminds you to plan meals based on a balanced diet. That means paying attention to the relative amounts of different food groups in your diet.

The science behind MyPlate lies in the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. With epidemic rates of overweight and obesity, the MyPlate icon simplifies healthy meal planning by focusing on the end result -- what ends up on your plate.

Use MyPlate for Relative Portion Sizes

Imagine looking down at your dinner plate. Do you see a lone lettuce leaf, a pile of french fries, and a thick steak draped over most of your plate?

The beauty of MyPlate is in using a plate icon to "measure" the relative portion sizes of the food groups you're eating. You don't have to eat from every food group at every meal. Instead you can use MyPlate as a guide for what to eat each day.

And speaking of food groups, oils, which were included in the Food Pyramid, have been dropped as a separate group. That's because many foods already contain oils, and a key nutrition goal for most Americans is to cut back on fat.

Vegetables and Fruits: Half Your Plate

The first goal of healthy eating is to fill half your plate with vegetables and fruits, adding slightly more veggies than fruits. This is one of the best things most Americans can do to improve their nutrition. That's why it's a primary focus of the MyPlate campaign.

The other half of your plate should be filled with proteins and grains, using slightly more grain than protein. Now each of four major food groups -- vegetables, fruits, proteins, and grains - occupies roughly a quarter of your plate. Dairy is the fifth food group in the MyPlate campaign. To remind you that need to include dairy in healthy balanced meal planning, the MyPlate icon shows a glass of milk near your "plate."

The recommended daily amounts of each food group depends on your age, gender, activity level, and other considerations such as whether or not you're pregnant. But the MyPlate plan gives everyone a clear reminder of what a balanced diet generally looks like.

What Does MyPlate Look Like?

A steak-slathered plate without any fruits or vegetables doesn't meet MyPlate's good-nutrition guidelines. Nor does a diet made up solely of salad without balanced portions of protein, fruit, and dairy. Here's how to apply the MyPlate guidelines to your own plate.

MyPlate: A Variety of Vegetables

Make room for vegetables. Remember, vegetables, along with fruit, should cover half of your plate. Choose a variety of multi-colored vegetables from these vegetable groups to boost nutrition and keep your taste buds happy
  • Dark green vegetables such as broccoli, spinach, romaine lettuce, and bok choy.
  • Red and orange vegetables such as tomatoes, red pepper, carrots, and butternut squash.
  • Beans and peas such as kidney beans, soy beans, and split peas.
  • Starchy vegetables such as potatoes, corn, green peas, and water chestnuts.
  • Other vegetables such as cabbage, cauliflower, eggplant, and celery.
MyPlate: A Range of Fruits

Fresh, whole fruits are ideal because you get the added value of maximum vitamins and fiber in your diet. But frozen and dried fruit count, too -- as does 100% fruit juice. Try different fruits, such as mangoes, raspberries, or kiwi, along with apples, bananas, oranges, and your other favorites.

MyPlate: Healthy Whole Grains

Aim to eat at least half of your grains as whole -- rather than refined -- grains. That means choosing brown rice, whole-grain bread, and whole-wheat pasta over white rice, white bread, and regular pasta. You can also add whole grains like oatmeal, muesli, and bulgur to your diet. Whole grains give you the entire grain, including the bran "coating" and the nutrient-rich "germ" inside the grain. That means you can enjoy added nutritional value and fiber -- plus more texture and taste.

MyPlate: Lean Protein Foods

Whether you're a vegetarian or an omnivore, fill only a quarter of your plate with protein foods. Choose a variety of proteins to maximize your intake of vitamins and minerals. Also limit processed meats like hot dogs, luncheon meats, and sausage, which have added fat and salt. Aim for low-fat proteins to help keep your waist trim and your weight under control.

The following are good sources of healthy protein:
  • Lean cuts of beef, pork, lamb, and other meats
  • Fish and shellfish
  • Beans and peas
  • Low-fat tofu and other soy products
  • Chicken, turkey, and other poultry
  • Eggs
  • Nuts and seeds (use sparingly)
Because beans and peas are high-protein vegetables and a staple in vegetarian diets, they count as both "protein foods" and "vegetables" in meal planning.

MyPlate: Low-Fat Dairy

When you imagine your "plate," picture a glass of milk on your place mat, as well. The MyPlate icon sports a "glass-of-dairy" icon as a reminder to add low-fat milk, cheese, yogurt, and other calcium-rich dairy products to your diet. Calcium-fortified soy milk and lactose-free milk are widely available now for those who are lactose intolerant. High-fat foods made from milk that have little calcium in them, such as cream cheese and butter, don't count as "dairy."

More MyPlate Tips for Good Nutrition
  • Switch to nonfat or 1% milk to reduce extra fat calories.
  • Avoid oversized portions and "super-sized" meals. Savor meals rather than pile on more food.
  • Choose low-salt soups, breads, frozen meals, sauces, and other processed foods; check food labels for sodium content to compare brands.
  • Avoid sugary drinks and sodas, and drink water instead.
For Parents

The American Academy of Family Physicians advises using MyPlate for your children, too. Encourage kids to eat balanced portions of vegetables, fruits, proteins, grains, and dairy -- not necessarily at every meal, but every day. Remember that children mimic parents' behavior, so watching you eat well will encourages them to eat healthy meals, too.

For more information on portion sizes for individual foods, recommended daily requirements for each age group, and other nutritional data, go to