Several of you have asked why I have not commented on all the great work that Michelle Obama has been doing to promote better health for our nation’s children. My silence (up to now) in no way means that I am not entirely in support of the great work she has done with the Let’s Move! campaign. I have been quite vocal about my pleasure in seeing a Victory Garden planted at the White House, especially with the involvement of local school children. I watched with great delight as the Recipes for Healthy Kids contest was launched (a joint effort of the USDA and Let’s Move!), and I frequently visit the winners recipe page when I am looking for new inspiration for kids recipes. But what really surprised me the most? When Michelle Obama helped to kill the old Food Pyramid! And boy, was I happy to say goodbye to these images and frameworks!
So I’m admitting here in broad public that I was NOT a fan of the old food pyramid(s). The one we had from the 90’s that seemed to encourage everyone to stuff themselves on bread, cereal, rice, and pasta….could that have anything to do with the rampant rise in diabetes and weight issues in both children and adults? Hmmm……Even when they changed it in 2005 to MyPyramid, I was still so upset by the pyramid structure that I had trouble teaching it. Many nutritionists and experts in the field actually had trouble understanding it (which I believe has to do with the fact that it is a much more abstract template as opposed to being descriptive). You can watch this ABC news clip about the change over to MyPlate from Mypyramid in June of last year:
This month, I had a great experience teaching MyPlate to a group of children at Community School in Idaho. Children get the very simple message that is most easily communicated by the simple diagram: Make half of your plate fruits and vegetables (the nuance that you may or may not notice immediately is that we should be eating more vegetables than fruits, but at least the dominance of these two food groups together on the plate is very clear from the diagram). There are actually seven key messages that Myplate wants to send, which can actually be simplified into three main categories:
Message #1. Enjoy your food, but eat less
Message #2. Avoid oversized portions
Message #3: Make half your plate fruits and vegetables
Message #4: Make at least half your grains whole grains
Message #5: Switch to fat-free or low-fat (1%) milk
FOODS TO DECREASE
Message #6: Compare sodium in foods like soup, bread, and frozen meals ― and choose the foods with lower numbers
Message #7: Drink water instead of sugary drinks
I think it is interesting and also telling that the USDA is finally sending the message to Americans that we need to watch the overall quantities of what we eat. Hooray! It is about time we start bringing more awareness to the issues around “portion distortion” and the seemingly endless food quantities that our kids are exposed to in grocery stores, restaurants, and even our own homes. As for Foods to Increase, I am glad to see an emphasis on fruits and veggies and whole grains. As for dairy, that is a controversial subject. I personally enjoy dairy without any problems, but I choose whole dairy instead of low-fat. MyPlate claims that low fat dairy is superior because it is more nutrient dense, which is true (for the same amount of calories, you’d get more nutrients from an amount of low fat milk than you would from whole). But I’m not much of a calorie counter, and I feel more satisfied from the higher fat in whole dairy. But the dairy decision should be an individual one based on unique needs and circumstances. As far as Foods to Decrease goes, I think we all know that to be healthier, we need to watch the amounts of junk foods that we consume, including foods high in sodium, added sugars and refined grains.
What is MyPlate missing? Well, the website and promotional materials indicate that promoting physical activity is part of the message, but there is nothing explicit on the template that communicates the importance of fitness (on the old MyPyramid, the person walking up the steps was the representation of physical activity). MyPlate also does not include healthy fats, which are increasingly viewed as important to overall health. Also, because MyPlate has been kept very simple, there is just not a lot of prescriptive advice on the image itself. I like to show kids a very similar (but yet different) image that Harvard Health Publications came up with, called the Healthy Eating Plate:
The Harvard Healthy Eating Plate shows water, not dairy, and I love the addition of the healthy oils on the side. The winner? Well, I think we all win by having the MyPlate instead of the Pyramid. Along with the image, the USDA Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion also came out with some creative consumer materials—I will list my favorites below. But as for my favorite single informational piece to show kids how to eat well, I guess I’d have to go with the Harvard Healthy Eating Plate as the overall winner balancing simplicity with great information.
Here’s to your plate (or MyPlate) being a Healthy one!
Have a great start to 2012!
For more information, here are some selected nutrition education materials from MyPlate:
Kids-Fruits and Veggies
Kids and Sweets
Meal Planning-Family Meals
Healthy Role Model
Back copies of Healthy Kids Ideas Exchange monthly newsletters are always available online.
Don’t forget to check out the recent posts on the Delicious and Nutritious, Green and Plenty and Wholesome Heart Blogs!
Delicious and Nutritious recipes are kid tested and range from breakfast to snacks. We occassionally include a dessert as well –which we know is probably more delicous than it is nutrititiuos, but we feel that people need a sweet treat here and there. We hope you are inspired by our ideas!
Green and Plenty: presents the latest in nutrition, delicious and seasonal recipes, green design and wellness tips for the reader and her family.
Wholesome Heart: includes delicious recipes, time-saving tips, and nutrition tidbits.
This column is for information only, and no part of its contents should be construed as medical advice, diagnosis, recommendation or endorsement by the author. You should always ask your physician for his or her recommendation before starting any new health-related activity.