Understanding USDA’s MyPlate

Back in the day, the key to good nutrition, was finding balance — it still is.  Today, USDA’s latest guide to help American’s find the right nutritional balance and make smart healthy choices in their lives is called MyPlate.  Gone are the “food pyramids” of the 90s and early 2000s.  Since 2011, USDA’s been providing guidance based on MyPlate.

What’s on your plate?

Like the pyramids of yesteryear, MyPlate recommends people obtain good nutrition by making choices from all food groups, including fruits, vegetables, grains, proteins, and dairy.  At the same time, there’s a need for individuals to get enough energy for they need (that means the right amount of calories specifically for your age, sex, size, and physical activity level), yet avoiding saturated fat, sodium and added sugars.

How to make it happen

MyPlate recommends taking note of nutritional labels and ingredients to help make healthier choices.  Lowering fat and consuming fewer calories may help manage the risks of overweight or obesity.  Reducing sodium consumption may help reduce the risks of hypertension.

Additionally, MyPlate recommends creating personal goals and accomplishing little “win”s to gradually make sustainable changes towards a healthy diet.

Visit  USDA’s MyPlate site to learn more, and to use their online planning tools:

Nuances to MyPlate

“MyPlate is meant to be inspirational and not prescriptive.” Haven, et al., 2014

A 2014 article written by Jackie Haven of the USDA and colleagues, provided some useful perspective on the USDA’s goals for MyPlate. They noted that the concept of a plate wasn’t meant to suggest that meals should be eaten on plates, but rather the goal was to inspire people to eat a variety of foods — doesn’t matter if its from a plate, bowl, bag or something else.

They also mentioned the importance of snacks.  They’re allowed, and MyPlate can help guide choices between healthy vs unhealthy snacks.  Likewise, MyPlate can help people think through types of fats to consume, like focus on polyunsaturated or monounsaturated fats, and reducing consumption of saturated fats and trans fats.

Finally, they describe their goal for including the “protein foods” group.  It wasn’t just for protein, but because of the entire profile of nutrients available from the variety of meat, poultry, seafood, beans and peas, eggs, soy products, nuts, and seeds — like B vitamins, vitamin E, iron, zinc, and magnesium.

Want to read more?  Haven et al., 2014

Little MyPlates

Additionally, USDA has created specific guidance for younger age groups to use MyPlate.  Various lessons and activities suitable for specific ages can be found on the USDA website: