Perryman Nutrition Column: What’s on Your Plate?

Note to Reporters: The following column is written by Shirley Perryman, an Extension specialist in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition. The department is part of the College of Applied Human Sciences at Colorado State University.

A digital, print-quality graphic illustrating the MyPlate concept is available at

The new icon replacing the MyPyramid image is a plate—something everyone, even children, can relate to. The original food pyramid debuted in 1992 and even after it was revised in 2005, it remained a complex tool for Americans to reference when making food choices.

The MyPlate icon divides the plate into four food groups: fruit, vegetable, grains and protein with a fifth group next to the plate to represent dairy foods. It is intended to be used for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Two-thirds of adults and one in three children are either overweight or obese and at greater risk for developing heart disease later in life. That’s evidence of a clear need for an easy-to-use guide like MyPlate to help busy consumers make healthier food choices..

MyPlate is consistent with the 2010 Dietary Guidelines and makes it easier for people to understand and follow those guidelines. The main messages which form the basis of the dietary recommendations include:
– Enjoy what you eat but balance your food choices with your activity level. 
– Eat less especially when the portions are large.
– Fill half your plate with fruits and veggies.
– Drink low fat (1 percent) or fat free milk.
– Make half your grains whole grains.
– Choose foods that are lower in sodium based on food labels.
– Drink water instead of sugary drinks.

If you look back at this list of recommendations how many can you check off? If you are among the nearly two-thirds of grocery shoppers who acknowledge their diets could be healthier, these suggestions may be a good starting point.

If implementing all the recommendations seems overwhelming, consider making changes one at a time. A good way to start is to look at your plate and what is on it. More than fifty percent of Americans clean their plate. Perhaps your plate size is contributing to eating large portions? You could be eating healthier and fewer calories if your plate is modestly sized—based on your age, gender, height and weight and activity level. If your dinner plate is larger, 12- to 14-inches, the smaller — but healthier — portions will look meager. Get a smaller plate, 8- to 10-inches, and those same smaller portions will fill it up so it will look like a meal.

Because portion sizes served at many restaurants tend to be over-sized, our recognition of healthy portion sizes is distorted. At you can see healthy daily portions from each food group.

Here are a few easy to remember visuals that represent one standard, healthy portion: 
– An ice cream scoop could hold about one-half cup – of fruits, veggies or grains.
– Lean protein such as chicken, fish or lean meat is about the size of a deck of playing cards. 
– Several tablespoons of nuts are equal to a small handful. 
– One serving of bread is about the size of a Blackberry or iPhone. To be certain you make half your grains whole grains, check the label for the word “whole.”
– An 8 ounce glass of milk is equivalent to a fist. One full serving may only fill your glass part way. Use a measuring cup to find out how many ounces are in your glasses at home.

If you’re already feeling challenged to fill half your plate with fruits and veggies, one researcher found that keeping fresh fruits and veggies in plain sight encouraged eating more of them more often. Keep your fruits and veggies in a bowl on the counter or in the fridge at eye level in clear bins rather than hidden in the crisper drawers near the bottom. Keeping them in plain sight will help you reach for them more often.

You’ve likely noticed there isn’t a place on the plate for “other” foods with added sugar and fat. You should choose those foods thoughtfully and after you’ve counted calories for healthful eating. At the MyPlate site you can see how many additional calories you can afford and what specific foods contain added sugar and fat if you decide you can afford those extra calories.

If you’re inspired or just curious, give this new tool a try! At, you can analyze your diet, get a personalized plan, and ask a question. You can find tips for eating out and how to count mixed dishes, among other options. Additional “how-to” resources are being developed but the MyPyramid resources can still be used. Focus on what is on your plate and you’ll be making an investment in your own good health and that of your family.