My Plate - New USDA Guidelines

my plate food portioning

USDA's MyPlate Program

food pyramidMany of us grew up with the USDA Food Pyramid which was designed in 1992 and represented the guidelines for healthy eating.  Foods groups at the bottom, largest area of the pyramid, grains, cereals, breads were to make up the largest part of our diet as compared to fats and oils at the top, smallest area of the pyramid.

While the classifications of the foods and even the general distribution in our diet was pretty clear (well, maybe controversial, but clear)  the pyramid concept didn't really clearly convey in a simplistically way what foods one should eat in a day in order to maintain an healthful diet and weight.

And Now, The New My Plate

On June 2, 2011 the USDA introduced the new My Plate program.  While the general nutritional principals are the same the graphical presentation has taken a giant leap forward.  As a tool to be used to teach people a method of improving their eating habits; the MyPlate graphic fills the bill.

my plate food portioning

My Plate Basic Guidelines

The healthful eating guidelines have been boiled down to these simple suggestions:

Balancing Calories
Healthful eating includes foods from all natural food groups.  Cutting back does not necessarily mean cutting out.  If a food is healthful then it should be included in your diet but you may need to eat certain foods in smaller quantities and less often

  • Enjoy your food, but eat less.
  • Avoid over-sized portions.

Foods to Increase
Many of us don't eat enough of the foods which are most healthful.  The new guidelines show you that for any given meal, half the plate should represent fresh fruits and vegetables. 

  • Make at least half your grains whole grains
  • Switch to fat-free or low-fat (1%) milk.

Foods to Reduce

Ideally if you are able to make most of your food choices from fresh or home-prepared foods then your sodium intake will inherently go down.  If you do need to add convenience, pre made foods to your diet then make sure to compare sodium content.  Canned soup for example can provide over 1000mg of salt per serving but a comparable reduced salt soup may be less than half of that.

  • Compare sodium in foods like soup, bread, and frozen meals ― and choose the foods with lower numbers. 
  • Drink water instead of sugary drinks.

Learn More About The Food Groups

grains food group vegetable food group fruit food group dairy food group protein food group
Grains Group Vegetable Group Fruit Group Dairy Group Protein Foods Group
Make at least half your grains whole. Vary your veggies. Focus on fruits. Get your calcium-rich foods. Go lean with protein.

USDA Interactive Tools

In addition to the new easy-to-follow guidelines and helpful graphics the USDA offers a couple of really nice Interactive Tools for meal management. Daily Food Plan -  I love this!  You simply fill out a few questions like you age, height, weight, sex and the tool will produce a plan for you to either maintain your current weight or a plan to help you work towards a more healthufl weight.  You can print out the forms and even get a helpful daily menu guide.

There are other tools too including a system to track your daily eating and exercise.  These tools do require a login which is easily obtained on the site.

Calorie Results and Food Tracking Tools -  View a daily breakdown of foods or a food tracking worksheet for various calorie levels from 1000 to 3200.

Sonoma Diet - My Plate Style

First published in 2005, this eating plan is very similar to the My Plate plan with a focus towards Mediterranean style foods. The book emphasis portion control based a plate divided into food groups.  If you are looking for recipe, cooking and menu planning suggestions then this book may be helpful to you.  The current printing is called the New Sonoma Diet.  There is also a companion cookbook with more recipe suggestions.


Barbara Bowman graduated with degree in Foods and Nutrition from San Jose State University. As CEO of she spends most waking hours writing, cooking, eating, gardening and traveling.