A New Plate

On June 2, 2011, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) released “MyPlate,” a new food guidance system designed to simplify nutrition messages and enable consumers to more easily incorporate healthy dietary changes into daily life.  Instead of  a pyramid shape, the new graphic is a plate divided into four sections that remind diners to fill half of their plates with fruits and vegetables, one quarter with grains (preferably with half of these as whole grains) and one quarter with lean protein.  A cup of milk next to the plate encourages a serving from the dairy/calcium-rich group with each meal.   Key messages to remember follow:  balance calories with activity; enjoy food while keeping portions smaller; choose low-fat dairy products and lower sodium foods; and, replace sugary drinks with water.  The accompanying website, http://www.choosemyplate.gov, includes additional information on portion size and food groups, allows users to analyze and track their diet (similar to MyPyramid Tracker) and promises classroom resources for teaching children and teens about MyPlate in the near future.  In the meantime, here are some ideas for teaching about MyPlate.

-Have students design a “healthy plate” of their own.  Use crayons or markers to outline and label the four sections on a disposal paper dinner plate.  Punch a hole in the top, and attach a piece of wide ribbon for hanging.  Trace the base of a cup on paper; cut out the circle, and glue it onto the ribbon overlapping the top of the plate to represent the dairy group.  As you introduce each food group, have students fill their plate with examples by drawing or cutting and pasting pictures of foods in the appropriate sections on the plate.

-Have a “food group mystery day.”  Fill empty containers with foods from each group, one food per container.  Choose some that are familiar and some that may be new (e.g. refined vs. whole grain flour, samples of diced fruits and vegetables).  Allow students to guess what each food is before going over the correct answers.

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