The Food Guide Pyramid was designed by the US Dept. of Agriculture to promote healthy nutrition in children over six years of age (see the Kids Food Guide Pyramid for younger children). It is meant to be a general guide to daily food choices. The main emphasis of the Food Pyramid is on the five major food groups, all of which are required for good health. It also emphasizes that foods that include a lot of fats, oils and sweets should be used very sparingly.
Althought most people find the food pyramid helpful, others think that it is hard to understand and may even be one of the causes of obesity epidemic among our children. An updated food pyramid, set to be released in 2005 will hopefully improve it. To influence how the food pyramid changes, you can send your written comments to the Food Guide Pyramid Reassessment Team at the USDA on or before October 27, 2003. See this guide to the Food Pyramid Update for more information.
Since the new food pyramid is still several years away, it is important to learn to use and understand the current food pyramid so that you make healthy choices when planning your children's meals.
One of the biggest problems with the current food pyramid is that I think that a lot of people misunderstand what a 'serving' is.
A serving in the food pyramid is not equal to whatever portion that you can eat at one meal. For example, if you only eat 1/2 cup of cooked pasta, you should count it as one serving in the Bread, Cereal, Rice, and Pasta Group. But if you eat 1 cup of pasta, that would be two servings and would count against the 6-11 servings you need each day.
The Meat, Poultry, Fish food group provides another good example. The food pyramid advises that people eat 2-3 servings from this food group each day, but that doesn't mean that you can eat meat 2-3 times a day. Since a serving is only 2-3 ounces of cooked lean meat, poultry, or fish, you could easily eat 2-3 servings at one meal with one large 5 to 7 oz. portion.
And what happens with mixed foods, like pizza. For example, a large serving of pizza would count in the grain group (crust), the milk group (cheese), and the vegetable group (tomato). Add in some meat toppings, like sausage or pepperoni, and you likely have also added a serving from the meat group.
Or if you eat a bologna sandwich, that would include 2 slices of bread (2 servings of a grain) and 2 slices of Bologna (1 serving of a meat).
Did you know that 1 medium (2 oz.) doughnut counts as 2 servings from the Bread, Cereal, Rice, and Pasta Group?
As you can see, it quickly gets confusing when trying to figure out how many servings your child is eating if you are using the Food Pyramid as a guide to planning your child's diet.
What counts as a Serving?
Meat, Poultry, Fish, Dry Beans, Eggs, and Nuts Group Servings
- Lean meat, poultry, fish, cooked (3 oz.)
- Ground beef, lean, cooked (3 oz.)
- Chicken, with skin, fried (3 oz.)
- Bologna, 2 slices (1 oz)
- Egg, 1 (1 oz.)
- Dry beans and peas, cooked, 1/2 cup (1 oz.)
- Peanut butter, 2 tbsp. (1 oz.)
- Nuts, 1/3 cup
Milk, Yogurt, and Cheese Group Servings
- Skim milk, 1 cup
- Nonfat yogurt, plain, 8 oz
- Lowfat milk, 2 percent, 1 cup
- Whole milk, 1 cup
- Chocolate milk, 2 percent, 1 cup
- Lowfat yogurt, plain, 8 oz
- Lowfat yogurt, fruit, 8 oz
- Natural cheddar cheese, 1-1/2 oz
- Process cheese, 2 oz.
- Mozzarella, part skim, 1/2 cup
- Ricotta, part skim, 1/2 cup
- Cottage cheese, 4 percent fat, 1/2 cup 1/4 serving
- Ice cream, 1/2 cup 1/2 serving
- Ice milk, 1/2 cup 1/3 serving
- Frozen yogurt, 1/2 cup 1/2 serving
- Vegetables, cooked 1/2 cup
- Vegetables, leafy, raw 1 cup
- Vegetables, nonleafy, raw, chopped 1/2 cup
- Potatoes, scalloped, 1/2 cup
- Potato salad, 1/2 cup
- French fries, 10
- Whole fruit: medium apple, orange, banana
- Fruit, raw or canned, 1/2 cup
- Fruit juice, unsweetened, 3/4 cup
- Avocado, 1/4 whole
Bread, Cereal, Rice, and Pasta Group Servings
- Bread, 1 slice
- Hamburger roll, bagel, english muffin, 2 servings
- Tortilla, 1
- Rice, pasta, cooked, 1/2 cup
- Plain crackers, small, 3-4
- Breakfast cereal, 1 oz.
- Pancakes, 4" diameter, 2 servings
- Croissant, 1 large (2 oz.) 2 servings
- Doughnut, 1 medium (2 oz.) 2 servings
- Danish, 1 medium (2 oz.) 2 servings
- Cake, frosted, 1/16 average
- Cookies, 2 medium
- Pie, fruit, 2-crust, 1/6 8" pie 2 servings
How many servings do you need?
The other big mistake people make is overestimating how many servings that they need. According to the USDA, 'the number of servings that are right for you depends on how many calories you need, which in turn depends on your age, sex, size, and how active you are.'
So someone on a 1,600 calorie diet should only eat 6 Grain Group Servings while if you were on a higher 2,800 diet, you could eat 11 Grain Group Servings .
For adults and teens:
- 1,600 calories is about right for many sedentary women and some older adults.
- 2,200 calories is about right for most children, teenage girls, active women, and many sedentary men. Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding may need somewhat more.
- 2,800 calories is about right for teenage boys, many active men, and some very active women.
Sample Diets for a Day at 3 Calorie Levels:
|Grain Group Servings
|Vegetable Group Servings
|Fruit Group Servings
|Milk Group Servings
|Meat Group (ounces)
|Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding,
teenagers, and young adults to age 24 need 3 servings.
group amounts are in total ounces.
Are you following the food pyramid?
Next, use our food pyramid worksheet to figure out how many servings from each food group that your child is getting.