The USDA serves up fresh nutrition guidelines

By Marilee Griffin • Published: February 25th, 2013
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Meals got a makeover last year. First, the U.S. Department of Agriculture retired the widely recognized food pyramid and adopted a new icon: MyPlate. The MyPlate graphic resembles a dinner plate divided into four sections: fruits, vegetables, grains and protein. A small circle next to the plate represents dairy.

With MyPlate, the USDA attempts to simplify its dietary recommendations. For example, a quick glance at the graphic tells you that about half your plate should be fruits and vegetables. The USDA recommends eating approximately two cups of fruit, two-and-a-half cups of vegetables, six ounces of grains, five-and-a-half ounces of protein and three cups of dairy each day.

Next, the USDA took MyPlate to the street — er, cafeteria — and made the first nutritional improvement to school lunches in 15 years.

The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act requires schools that receive federal aid and lunch reimbursements to follow guidelines on caloric content and food types.

Elementary school students are limited to a 650-calorie meal, while middle school and high school get 700 and 850 calories, respectively. Fruits and vegetables are both daily requirements and must make up two-thirds of a lunch. Milk must be either 1 percent or nonfat and at least half the grains must be whole.

However, not everyone is willing to give the new lunches a taste test; many schools are reporting that food waste is at an all-time high. Some students, especially athletes, have voiced complaints about being hungry, while others are opting for vending machines and nearby fast food.

While the USDA is trying to combat childhood obesity by introducing healthy eating habits at an early age, the battle begins at home. Parents can encourage children to eat healthier by talking to them about different food choices, involving them in cooking meals and only providing nutritious snack options.