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From Pyramid to Plate: Back to Food Basics

CDKitchen Cooking Columnist Pamela Chester
About the author: Pamela Chester
Mom of two; graduate French Culinary Institute; kids cooking program instructor; Master's degree in food studies. Creates kid friendly foods and loves her slow cooker.
Have you heard about the new food guide "My Plate?" It was introduced last Thursday by First Lady Michelle Obama and replaces the former food guide pyramid. It’s a simple illustration of a plate divided into four sections: fruit, vegetables, proteins and grains, with a smaller circle on the side for the dairy, representing the basics for a healthy diet.

I never really “got” the much maligned food guide pyramid. The major problem in my opinion (besides it being confusing to interpret) was the larger base of the pyramid suggested you eat 6-11 servings of grains each day. Only the finer print explained that those servings were very small portion sizes. This confusing message meant that many people were overdoing it on refined carbohydrates and bulking up their diet thinking it was in their best interest. Not good when the country is facing an obesity epidemic and an increase in Type II diabetes!

To tell you the truth, the food pyramid never really stuck in my mind. Although it had been around almost twenty years, I still have the good old Basic Four in the back of my head when preparing meals. For those who might not remember, those four were 1) milk 2) meat, 3) fruits and vegetables and 4) grains. This ancient concept of a “square meal” is so ingrained in my mind, yet I know that in reality we should eat more fruits and vegetables than anything else. That just goes to show you that what you learn in childhood can really stick with you.

Today’s generations of children will get to know this new plate concept. With fruits and vegetables as two separate groups and occupying half of the plate, it’s a good pictorial representation of the message we try to get across to our kids all the time, “Eat your fruits and vegetables.” Furthermore, meat has morphed into protein, encompassing all lifestyle and cultural choices. Even young children can understand the plate concept and the simple idea of dividing up your food choices in this way.

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There has been some debate over this simple re-working. Is it too basic? Are the food groups represented in the appropriate quantities or are they serving corporate interests? Shouldn’t there be pictures of the various foods within the categories? Portion size should also be accounted for. Why is dairy represented as a glass, and is it appropriate to recommend dairy when part of the population is lactose intolerant? Furthermore, should it be the government’s responsibility to make food recommendations in the first place?

While these new dietary recommendations may seem like common sense to some, the overall aim seems to be to reach all of the population in as simple a way as possible. And in my humble opinion, anything that inspires the American public to eat healthier is a step in the right direction; the simpler and clearer it is, the better. Time will tell whether this new My Plate concept helps to turn around the obesity epidemic and inspires Americans to eat more mindfully.
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