Although it is still shaped like a pyramid, the new food pyramid has a very new look. In addition to stressing the importance of physical activity (represented by the person climbing the steps), the new food pyramid uses six color bands to represent each food group, with the width of the band representing how much of that food group you should be eating.
Another big difference is that the new food pyramid can be customized to a person's age, gender, and activty level, which combine to determine their calorie level and the recommended amounts of 'servings' from each food group.
Any food made from wheat, rice, oats, cornmeal, barley or another cereal grain is a grain product. Bread, pasta, oatmeal, breakfast cereals, tortillas, and grits are examples of grain products.
Grains are divided into 2 subgroups, whole grains and refined grains. At least 1⁄2 of all the grains eaten should be whole grains, which can include brown rice, buckwheat, bulgur, oatmeal, wild rice, and whole wheat bread, crackers, pasta, and tortillas.
Recommended amounts of grains vary from 3 ounces for a younger child who only needs 1000 calories a day to 10 ounces for a teenage boy who might require up to 3200 calories a day.
Watch your portion sizes, because it is easy to eat too many grains. For example, a large bagel or large 12 inch tortilla can equal 4 ounce-equivalents, and a portion of pasta or rice (1 to 2 cups cooked) may be 2 to 4 ounce-equivalents. In general, 1 slice of bread, 1 cup of ready-to-eat cereal, or 1⁄2 cup of cooked rice, cooked pasta, or cooked cereal can be considered as 1 ounce equivalent from the grains group.
To provide a variety of nutrients and dietary fiber in your diet and help reduce risk of chronic diseases, you should eat recommended amounts of vegetables, and choose a variety of vegetables each day.
Recommended amounts of vegetables vary from 1 cup for a younger child who only needs 1000 calories a day to 4 cups for a teenage boy who might require up to 3200 calories a day.
As a part of a healthy diet, you should include more dark-green vegetables (broccoli, spinach, kale, romaine lettuce, spinach, and watercress), orange vegetables (carrots, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, and winter squash), and dry beans and peas (kidney beans, pinto beans, split peas, chickpeas, lentils), and limit the amount of starchy vegetables, such as white potatoes, corn and green peas.
To get your kids to eat more veggies, you can:
- Include vegetables as a part of their lunch, dinner, and snacks.
- Prepare main dishes, side dishes, and salads that include vegetables.
- Add vegetables to mixed dishes such as soups, stews, casseroles, and stir-fries.
Any fruit or 100% fruit juice counts as part of the fruit group. Fruits may be fresh, canned, frozen, or dried, and may be whole, cut-up, or pureed.
Fruit is an important part of a healthy diet, as most are naturally low in fat, sodium, and calories, and are important sources of many nutrients, including potassium, dietary fiber, vitamin C, and folate (folic acid).
Recommended amounts of fruits vary from 1 cup for a younger child who only needs 1000 calories a day to 2 1/2 cups for a teenage boy who might require up to 3200 calories a day.
A cup of fruit might include a cup of most sliced or diced fruits or:
- 1 small apple
- 1 large banana, orange, or peach
- 32 seedless grapes
- 8 large strawberries
- a 1 inch small wedge of watermelon
- 1 cup of 100% fruit juice (limit fruit juice)
Recommended allowances of oils vary from 3 teaspoons for a younger child who only needs 1000 calories a day to 11 teaspoons for a teenage boy who might require up to 3200 calories a day.
Most people consume enough oil in the foods they eat, such as:
- cooking oil
- salad dressings
Milk products are important sources of calcium, potassium, and Vitamin D.
Children 2 to 8 years old should consume 2 cups of fat-free or low-fat milk, or an equivalent amount of yogurt or cheese, per day.
Older children and adults should consume 3 cups of fat-free or low-fat (1%) milk, or an equivalent amount of yogurt or cheese, per day.
Equivalent amounts for one cup of milk are 1 cup yogurt, 1 1⁄2 ounce natural cheese, or 2 ounces of processed cheese.
Other sources of calcium include calcium-fortified beverages, fortified breakfast cereals, sardines, or tofu made with calcium if milk and milk products are not consumed.
In general, you should choose a variety of different types of foods from this group each week, including fish, dry beans and peas, nuts, and seeds, as well as meats, poultry, and eggs.
You can consider dry beans and peas as an alternative to meat or poultry as well as a vegetable choice.
Recommended allowances of meats & beans vary from 2 ounces for a younger child who only needs 1000 calories a day to 7 ounces for a teenage boy who might require up to 3200 calories a day.
Keep in mind that 1 ounce of meat, poultry or fish, 1⁄4 cup cooked dry beans, 1 egg, 1 tablespoon of peanut butter, or 1⁄2 ounce of nuts or seeds can be considered as 1 ounce equivalent from the meat and beans group.
As with grains, be sure to watch your portion sizes.
Other Tips from the New Food Pyramid
In addition to making healthy choices and following the recommendations from each food group based on your child's age, gender, and activity level, you should:
- Choose and prepare foods and beverages with little added sugars or caloric sweeteners.
- Avoid saturated fats and trans fats.
- Choose and prepare foods with little salt.
- Choose nutrient-dense foods that provide substantial amounts of vitamins and minerals and relatively fewer calories.
- Encourage children and teens to engage in at least 60 minutes of physical activity on most, preferably all, days of the week.
- Don't go over your daily limit of discretionary calories.
Your Food Pyramid
As already mentioned, the key to the new food pyramid is that it can be customized to a person's age, gender, and activty level.
The My Pyramid Plan from the United States Department of Agriculture will create a food pyramid for each member of your family. Combine them with the pyramid tracker and food pyramid tips and resources and you will be on your way to a healthier diet for your whole family.