Should MyPlate be Your Plate?

August 19, 2011   41 Comments

Snack Girl is probably the last website to feature the USDA's MyPlate. And, yes, dear readers, I have a big problem with it.

MyPlate vs. Harvard Pyramid

What is up with that FORK?!! How could you not include the Asians who eat with chopsticks or the Africans who eat with their hands! SHEESH, talk about an excluding people.

Drop the FORK!

Actually, I think much of their advice is sound (I could nitpick). If we all took their advice and filled half of our plates with fruits and vegetables we would get a lot healthier as a nation.

See their website for a comprehensive discussion of the MyPlate Plan:

There is a different plan image that I like even more. See below:


First of all, no forks :)

Harvard's School of Public Health's Healthy Eating Pyramid is their response to the USDA's pyramid - now a plate.

Those rebels at Harvard decided to use the latest science - unaffected by business or organizations - to make their nutrition recommendations. Crazy hippies :)

Read a discussion of all their recommendations here: Healthy Eating Pyramid.

What I like is the bottom of the pyramid - the base of healthy eating is exercise, watching your weight, and portion control. Yes! These actions are the most important in terms of a healthy diet.

They also give suggestions on the protein level of the diagram. There are nuts, tofu, beans, and seeds! The red meat is ALL the way at the top in the "use sparingly" column.

And, they put optional: "alcohol in moderation" on the side instead of "dairy". Now, that is my kinda pyramid.

Harvard criticizes the new MyPlate by not going far enough in their recommendations and the criticism is outlined here: New U.S. Dietary Guidlines: Progess, Not Perfection.

Wow! They are actually seeking perfection from the government. A bit idealistic, no?

The big message for me from the Healthy Eating Pyramid is that I must treat exercise like healthy food. I must get some at least every day and it will nourish me.

For my children, I have been introducing them to different sports. My seven year old daughter tried softball in the spring, and my five year old son is trying soccer in the fall.

Both of these activities were very low cost (run by my small town). Yes, it takes some coordination to get them there - but I feel so good about supporting them in physical activity.

What do you think of MyPlate and the Healthy Food Pyramid?

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I'm impressed by this pyramid. It makes a lot more sense than anything I've seen before. I'm also amazed that it recommends a multivitamin. It's always been a standard of nutrition teaching that if you eat right, you don't need vitamins. I'm pleased to see movement from Harvard, if not from any other teaching organization.

The difference is the targeted audience. Anyone can understand the plate in 3 seconds or less, whereas the pyramid would require thinking, which isn't everyone'c cup of tea.

E got it right - they are trying to make it simpler to understand, so the plate works. I like the wine on the Harvard pyramid though!

I get what the USDA was trying to do. But something bothers me... Someone could eat canned fruit in syrup, white rice, chocolate milk, steak, and fried zucchini and believe they are eating healthy because they have "followed" the recommendations according to the picture. The Harvard healthy eating pyramid is MUCH better (and probably one of the best I've seen) but I agree with E, those who don't care to read it, won't spend the time to look at it and properly use it.

The plate is way easier to understand. I think that people who are not well versed in nutrition (and heck, people who ARE well versed in nutrition) will have a hard time trying to figure out the pyramid. What does it even mean? there are no recommended servings per day, there are no values, there is no guidance on how to build a healthy meal or snack. Since the (food) base of the pyramid is veggies and fruit, fats, and grains does that mean i can neglect the other food groups? Teaching people how to build a plate and then educating on how to improve their choices for each food group seems to be the more logical way to me. I think the plate is a great start for teaching young children about healthy eating. It's not perfect, but it's a start! And yeah, ditch the fork.

I like that the Harvard pyramid included exercise. The government tried exercise in their last pyramid, then ditched it! And if you filled up a regular dinner plate with that much food, it would be way too big of a meal, so I like the Harvard pyramid portion control base.

I kind of like the new MyPlate. No, it doesn't address the exercise issue, but to me that's something else kind of different. The MyPlate is useful when you go to sit down to eat. But they didn't even really need a plate, they could've just typed :"1/2 plate fruit or veggies." And saved a lot of money on color printing :)

Honestly I think the plate looks like it was made for a 5 year old, with all it's bright colors and lack of any information whatsoever...

Thank you for sharing this! When MyPlate came out, I thought it was too simplistic and missing some major points! Something that sticks with me is the "Dairy" label on MyPlate. It's not DAIRY that we need -- it's calcium. I linked to the blog article that I co-wrote with one of the nurses here at FCHP. Thanks for the tips to the different (and better!) food guides!


I just spent a few weeks in Hawaii (i know, lucky me). Where I was feasting on Mangos, pineapples, papayas, bananas, nuts and avocados. I ate well and did a lot of paddle boarding, snorkeling and swimming. I came home 5 pounds lighter! Eating lot's of Fruit and vegetables before rice and meat/fish works! (ps I'm over 40 yrs)

Ditto Sarah in you just don't know what people put on their fruits and veggies - could be canned fruit, could be veggies drowned in some fake cheese or other fatty sauce, stuff sauteed in oil...

I also don't see people going to the trouble of reading and following that pyramid but I do like it better.

This is a little misleading. The Healthy Pyramid from Harvard isn't a response to the plate. They developed that pyramid several years ago. IMO, the plate is better in that it demonstrates that veggies and fruits should be the bulk (no pun intended) of the plate in front of you. I disagree with the dairy thing. For the general public, we need something super simple. For people who then want more info, we need something more detailed.

People who think MyPlate is too simplistic probably don't do any nutrition education. As a registered dietitian I know that the average person knows very little about healthy eating. For the health conscious consumer who wants to dive deeper there is more info on the USDA's website. However, most people would do themselves a tremendous benefit to eat 1/2 fruits and veggies, even if they didn't change anything else!

I also think the "dairy" is there as a support for US dairy farmers and not necessarily a diss to calcium. After all, eggs are considered dairy and are a source of protein.

I am not offended by the fork, but think they should have stuck to a plate alone. I think the fork is fine... I understand being PC and maybe it shouldn't have a utensil at all. I don't think we need to include every single eating utensil used by Americans these days. :)

I'm not sure...I'm very impressed with the pyramid for being very detailed, yet to the average Joe (or Betty, or Jane/John Doe), the MyPlate is the overall sort of thing. All you need to know is veggies, fruits, whole grains, dairy, & protein (although, Americans do get MORE protein than they need because of the consumption of meat). So the MyPlate is very simple. I like both charts..

Liking the Harvard pyramid. They're quite clever those chaps and chapesses aren't they.

when I first saw the myplate I had to think where's the healthy fats? Or is that too specific or do they think the "common mind" immediately thinks fats = bad?

I love your recommedation about dropping the fork:-) Myplate recommendation is just recommendation of Western diet with more fruits and veggies. Harvard pyramid is better, but I have also seen pyramids from Mayo clinic for Asian and Mediterranean diets as well.

I like the plate. I learned about the food pyramid in elementary school so I assume they are going to teach this plate to elementary school students. The plate is a great visual for kids (and adults) to see and understand. Now if only my husband would bother to learn what foods make up each food group!

And maybe I'm too ego-centric but I like the fork, too. It completes the look. This is a USA guideline for Americans and while I understand some first-generation immigrants might not use forks, their kids probably do.

The Harford pyramid is nice if you're into nutrition but as others have commented, most people aren't.

I haven't reseached it but I bet canned peaches in syrup is healthier than french fries and it would be a positive step if Americans would change their lunch side to canned fruit or even sweetened applesauce instead of fries.

I'm glad to see someone else does not like the new "plate" representation. I personally preferred the old pyramid, and I like Harvard's even better. But to get the point across to my children, I follow these simple guidelines: get adequate sleep, plenty of fresh air and sunshine, play every chance you get, and eat when you're hungry.

When eating, try to eat foods that are "whole," "fresh," "unprocessed," and as close to "fresh from the garden" as possible. My husband and I were at odds about making our children eat "at mealtime" and always cleaning their plate, until our daughter (8yo) started bringing home stories about girls in her class who are **dieting**. We want no part of DIETS, as the term so commonly refers, in our house. OUR DIET is simply what we eat--nothing more, nothing less.

I too like the Harvard pyramid, however, after taking my mother-in-law to the dietician to learn about eating healthy for a diabetic, I can completely understand why they switched to the plate. As we used to say KISS (keep it simple stupid). OK, drop the fork. But, the plate is very easy for EVERYONE to understand. Maybe it needs to be 2 levels. The easy plate for starters with more details for each portion for those who need/want to learn more??

@Mia I like the wine too!! :)

I think that MyPlate and the Harvard Pyramid need to be used in conjunction. While the pyramid is certainly useful for those who are looking to improve on an already healthy lifestyle, MyPlate is an extremely positive step forward for those who now subsist on a McDonalds/Doritos diet. I agree with sallyjrw... canned fruit instead of fries is definitely a positive *first* step. We've recently changed our eating lifestyle, and I was thrilled when my 4 year old announced that she now liked our grilled chicken better than chicken nuggets. Baby steps is the way for so many of us...

It's too bad people rely on the government for what they eat and not eat. Plate or pyramid? The old pyramid was way off. Dairy is not a requirement and there are people who are allergic to it. Whole grains? One of my friends eats whole wheat and gets a stomach ache. Not everyone can handle whole grains either if their systems aren't geared to digest it. Red meat? I disagree with Harvard pyramid putting red meat at the top-eat sparingly. I personally cannot handle red meat(I get plugged up), but my husband thrives on it. Since I started using the Blood Type guidelines,I am losing weight and getting healthier(mine is basically vegetarian though I like turkey once in awhile). Eggs are not dairy. Have people quit reading or paying to their own body's needs? It seems that living in these bodies would make nutrition and health a priority from the time we're old enough to understand what it means.

Uh, Veronica, where the heck do you get eggs=dairy? They're separate on both plate and pyramid, because dairy=comes from a cow. >.<

I like this pyramid better then the plate but I do think that people should have dairy in moderation unless they are allergic or lactose intolerant

I wish people would rely on the government for what they eat. Because the fact remains that millions of Americans are overweight. They will try to follow the latest diet craze or buy whatevers fast and cheap or stuff themselves at a restaurant with supersized portions. The government tries to make some coherent guidelines incorporating all current scientific information. There is a lot of information out there that can be confusing to someone who just wants to start eating healthy. Not everyone talks to a dietician or nutritionist or even a GP doctor about what they should be eating. If you want to feel a smug superiority that you know the answer then see how many people you can get to change their lifestyle eating habits when the average American doesn't want to spend time planning meals, reading labels, cooking food, etc. And exercise has a lot of benefits but what I've read is your weight is something like 85% what you eat so food should be the focus as far as dietary guidelines.

There are also some takeaway statements that were made along with the new MyPlate but I didn't see those being brought up.

The Harford pyramid has been out for 4 or 5 years. I've seen it on a couple websites but most people aren't aware of it. The average person would benefit by "filling half their plates with fruits and vegetables, limiting added sugars and solid fats, making at least half their grains whole grains, and choosing low-fat dairy.". There is also a lot of information on the website for those who do want to learn more. MyPlate translates well to the average American, much easier than the last two pyramids.

I guess what I've learned is you can't please everyone.

My main questions is: Where is the chocolate group???? ;)

I really like the pyramid... and as part of the vast majority of non-white people who can't digest liquid dairy products, I like the Harvard pyramid's handling of that. I do eat dairy--but in things like yogurt and small amounts of cheese.

Thanks for sharing the Harvard pyramid which I hadn't heard of before.

I agree I dont like the my plate either but wow! Asians dont o nly eat with chopsticks and Africans dont alwyas eat with their hands! That was completely uncalled for. I eat pizza with my hands does that make me African? I eat with chopsticks sometimes for the hell of it but am I asian? I loooove the pyramid but you are kind of rude about certain things.

I also forgot to mention-- USDA UNITED STATES agricultural department(i think) but still UNITED STATES.

*USDA united states department of agriculture---u are suggesting thaty all African americans eat with their hands and all asaians only eat with chopsticks

I generally like your articles, but I can't believe you would turn a fork into something racial. What you applied was more racial than a fork being the only utensil shown. Come on people, stop making everything a racial issue!!! We will never move forward!!! Shame on you, snackgirl!

@Susan, on the contrary. We can only move forward by recognizing not everyone is the same and allowing a safe place where those in the minority feel comfortable rather than unwelcome.

Thank you Lisa for at least pointing out that not everyone uses a fork.

I don't get what the big deal is about the fork and why u all hate it but it looks fine to me. And I like the plate. Goes well with the fork. Gesh.

Good point about the fork. I like Harvrd FGP too.

I would like to see both Harvard and My plate add sustainability issues to their recommendations. See:… for the "Healthy Food In Healthcare summary of additional issues.

the 2 should be combined! keep it visually simple K.I.S.S. AND have important details & exercise. liquor thankfully IS optional NOT a necessity like TOO MANY ppl think!

The fork makes it instantly recognizable as a plate as opposed to a badly drawn pie graph.

I like the Harvard graphic except I would argue that whole grains are not essential or necessarily healthy. I would not put meat which is good for your body right up there with white rice and sugar which have no nutritional value!

When I first moved out on my own, before I knew anything about nutrition, I lost 35 lbs in three months by doing exactly what MyPlate shows...half a plate of vegetables/fruit, 1/4 starch and 1/4 protein....not always great choices, but it worked and I felt great.....I think the simple explanation is the best for showing all types...

FOR PARENTS & TEACHERS: I used the plate to introduce different food categories with my 5 year old daughter. However, our conversations quickly went beyond the 5 food groups. This is when the Harvard pyramid is invaluable. In order to combat obesity and unhealthy lifestyle choices, we must have deeper converations with our kids and many of them. When she asks me where candy belongs, and what are healthy fats & oils, I know we're making progress because she's analyzing the pyramid and thinking about food attributes. I recommend printing and laminating a placemat size copy of the Harvard Pyramid to spur questions and observations over time.

This "my plate" argument relates to what I think is wrong with Weight Watchers and why sites like yours that encourage and support healthy dieting are so important. I listened to other Weight Watchers complaining about feeling hungry and realized they were eating far too many WW frozen products, especially desserts, and not enough healthy fillers - like chopped steamed cauliflower and other veggies which can be used to bulk up practically anything (even those skimpy WW frozen dinners) and huge salads made with a variety of healthy dark green things and veggies. There is no excuse for going hungry with crunchy snap peas (washed & trimmed in a package at Target) to munch on and fresh pineapple for something sweet and apples are so-o-o filling. Just presenting a divided plate is just not enough for the majority of people. I'm appalled at the number of people I've talked to who simply don't know how to diet or feed their family in a healthy way. I was a lower-income single parent for years and managed to feed my family very healthy food because I acquired the knowledge through research and an interest in doing so. Your site is one of several sites that help me use Weight Watchers to lose weight eating healthy. The plate is a fine short-cut if you already have the knowledge to use it effectively. I'm down 42 healthy pounds and still going, and I am grateful for the contribution your site has made to my healthy dieting :-)

The fork is also there for proportion. Remove the fork and the plate could be either a tiny saucer or a gigantic serving plate, no one would know. Not that there aren't different sizes of forks but they tend to fall in a specific range that almost everyone (yes, even those crazy chopstick-only asians know what a fork looks like nowadays) can understand. I do love the half plate of veg, always my goal to have 3/4 veggies and the rest carb.

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