Balancing Your Food Plate

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) provides dietary guidance to Americans to help them eat healthy. For a long time, the USDA displayed its recommendations using a food pyramid. In 2011, it switched to a new graphic of a plate filled with the proper amounts of foods. Known as MyPlate, it focuses on variety, amount, and nutrition for each meal. Healthy eating is important in managing or preventing chronic disease and enjoying a better quality of life. Use MyPlate to help create a healthy eating routine and lifestyle.

Path to improved well being

Five food groups make up the food plate.

  • Vegetables. USDA recommends an average of 2.5 cups of vegetables each day. Your intake can include many forms of vegetables, as well as 100% vegetable juice. There are 5 subgroups of vegetables based on the nutrients they contain. These are:
    • Dark green, leafy vegetables, such as broccoli or spinach.
    • Red and orange vegetables, such as carrots and tomatoes.
    • Starchy vegetables, such as corn.
    • Beans and peas.
  • Fruits. USDA recommends an average of 1.5 cups of fruits each day. Your intake can include many forms of fruits, as well as 100% fruit juice.
  • Grains. USDA recommends an average of 6-ounce equivalents of grains each day. An example of 1 ounce equivalent is 1 slice of bread or 1/2 cup of cooked rice or pasta. There are 2 subgroups of grains based on the nutrients they contain.
    • Whole grains are made with the whole grain kernel. At least half of the grains you consume each day should be whole grains. Examples include whole-wheat flour, oatmeal, and brown rice.
    • Refined grains are milled and have fewer nutrients. Some products, however, may be “enriched.” This means certain vitamins are added back in. Enriched foods are better for you. Examples include white flour, white rice, and white bread.
  • Proteins. USDA recommends an average of 5-ounce equivalents of protein each day. An example of 1 ounce equivalent is 1 ounce of cooked meat, 1 egg, or 1 piece of deli sliced meat. You should eat a variety of proteins, which include:
    • red meat
    • poultry
    • seafood
    • eggs
    • nuts and seeds
    • soy products
    • beans and peas
  • Dairy. USDA recommends an average of 3 cups of dairy each day. Your intake can include milk or products that contain milk and its nutrients. For example, cheese is a form of dairy, but butter is not. Try to eat or drink low-fat or fat-free dairy products.

Oils are not counted as a food group on MyPlate. However, they do contain nutrients. Be sure to only consume them in limited portions. USDA recommends an average of 5 teaspoons of oils each day. There are a variety of oils made from different plants and nuts, as well as fish. Solid fats, such as butter or chicken fat, often are made from animal foods. Before choosing oils, look at the ingredients on the nutrition facts label. Oils and fats can include both good and bad fats.

Things to consider

Use USDA’s MyPlate to balance your diet. Choose a variety of foods that are rich in nutrients. Keep in mind that the amount of food you should consume from the 5 food groups each day does vary. Your sex, age, and level of activity all determine your portions. Talk to your doctor about your diet. They can make suggestions based on your health and any conditions you may have. Certain programs and apps can help you track your food intake. Some will balance your food intake with your exercise output.

Almost everyone should get some physical activity each day. Check with your doctor if you a health problem that may prevent or limit this. On average, children should be active for at least 60 minutes each day. Adults should be active for at least 150 minutes each week. Exercise for both kids and adults should include a mix of moderate and vigorous intensity. Aim to do a variety of activities to maximize your health benefits.

  • Aerobics, such as running, biking, or swimming.
  • Muscle strengthening, such as climbing or swinging.
  • Bone strengthening, such as jumping rope or playing sports.

Questions to ask your doctor

  • Are there any restrictions I should make to my diet?
  • How much physical activity should I get per day or week?


Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans

U.S. Department of Agriculture, ChooseMyPlate

U.S. Department of Agriculture, Physical Activity