The five food groups and the Food Guide Pyramid are as old as any of us can remember.
No doubt, many of us remember the multi-colored sections of the triangle that were tacked up on the bulletin boards at school and plastered on the back covers of our science textbooks, even if we didn't follow the guidelines as closely as we should have.
Now, the pyramid of old is being replaced with a new design and interactive Web site, www.mypyramid.gov , offering a great chance for parents and children to learn about nutrition together.
The most exciting feature on the new pyramid is personalization. Parents can enter their child’s age and amount of daily physical activity to create an individualized pyramid with eating and exercise recommendations.
Rather than stacking sections from top to bottom, the new design has vertical groups placed side by side, each accompanied by food tips. The pyramid still emphasizes balanced portions, but an added graphic serves as a reminder to include daily physical activity (see illustration).
“Physical activity is very important,” said Rita Chrivia, clinical dietitian at SSM Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital. “Even if someone is overweight, physical activity can help reduce the risk of long-term diseases.”
Chrivia warns that in most cases, children should not be placed on extreme low or no-fat diets. For example, children younger than 2 years old should receive whole milk. That can be changed to 2 percent or skim as children get older, but keep in mind that a moderate amount of fat in a child’s diet helps to maintain the healthy balance they need to grow.
“We don’t necessarily want children to lose weight,” Chrivia cautions. “However, healthy eating and physical activity will help them to maintain their weight until they grow into it.”
On the new pyramid, vertical sections for each group emphasize that healthy foods should be eaten most often, and those with more discretionary calories such as sugar and fat should be consumed on a less frequent basis.
“No matter what the food group, some choices in that group will be better than others,” Chrivia said. “It is important to eat more whole grains, leaner meats and a variety of veggies and milk products; and stay away from processed foods.”
It is also important for children to eat smaller, more frequent meals during the day, so on-the-go families should make sure to plan for snacks such as raisins, bananas, grapes, or granola bars.
“The best place to hide any foods you don’t want your kids to eat is in the veggie bin!” Chrivia said. “Kids are going to grab what they see, so keep healthy options in easy-to-reach, convenient places. The front of the fridge is a great place for cut up raw vegetables, baby carrots or grape tomatoes.”
Children and adolescents should get 60 minutes of physical activity most, but preferably all, days of the week. This can be broken into short bouts of activity, such as 10 minutes of dancing, swimming, or mowing the lawn. During these times, children should feel some exertion, but still be able to carry on a conversation, Chrivia said.
Starting with small changes and building on those over time is the most effective way to make eating and activity changes. Parents should participate with their children in physical activity, not only to motivate them, but also to experience personal results.
“There are opportunities for physical activity, it's just a matter of recognizing them,” Chrivia said. “Just that little bit of extra activity is going to add up.”
Some other healthy tips include:
- Drink water instead of soda.
- Limit discretionary calories. Fats, oils and sweets should used in moderation.
- Eat with your senses. You eat more with your brain than your stomach, so eating different colors, temperatures and textures will make you feel more full. Try a cold glass of water before eating, or peel and eat a fresh orange instead of drinking OJ.
- Eat breakfast. “Breakfast doesn’t have to be cereal, toast and eggs,” Chrivia said. “If your child is not a big breakfast eater, and he wants to eat half a peanut butter sandwich and milk instead, that is okay. You don’t necessarily have to have breakfast food for breakfast, as long as you are eating something healthy.”
If you're still not sure exactly what to eat, the MyPyramid Tracker can help. A printable Meal Tracking Worksheet serves as a checklist to make sure you're getting all your fruit, veggies, meat, dairy and grains.