USDA Food Guide and MyPyramid (Lesson 2 Part A)

Elizabeth S. Reames, Charles, Sharman J.


The USDA Food Guide is a tool designed to promote the concepts of variety, moderation and balance in the diet. Variety means eating foods from all food groups; moderation means limiting the amount of high-sugar or high-fat foods; and balance means eating the number of servings recommended according to your individual calorie needs.
The USDA Food Guide is based on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and is also designed to provide the recommended dietary allowances for calories, fiber and nutrients. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans also identifies the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) Eating Plan as an alternate eating guide for healthy Americans.

There are six food groups and a subgroup: grains, vegetables, fruits, milk, meat and beans, and oils. There is also a discretionary calorie allowance for solid fat and added sugars. Balance among the food groups is needed daily. No one food group is more important than another. There are no "good" foods or "bad" foods, but it is important to balance the high-fat or high-sugar foods with low-fat or low-sugar foods over one or two days. Foods that have three grams of fat or less per 100 calories are considered low in fat.

What You Will Learn and How it Will be Useful to You

After completing this lesson, you will be able to:

  • Name the major food groups in the USDA Food Guide.
  • List the range of servings recommended for each food group.
  • Understand serving sizes/equivalents.
  • Understand that fat intake should be limited to 25% - 35% of calories.
  • Give suggestions for food selection and preparation methods to help moderate sugar, sodium and fat intake.
  • Understand that exercise is an important part of a healthy lifestyle.
  • Visit the Healthy Choice Web site to learn some nutrition facts.


Grains are the foundation of a well-balanced diet. Foods in this group provide key nutrients for a variety of uses:

  • B-vitamins - help use energy from food, keep the skin healthy and help digestion and appetite
  • Iron - builds red blood cells
  • Protein - for growth and repair of body tissues
  • Carbohydrate - for energy
  • Fiber - prevents constipation and decreases risks for coronary heart disease.

Some foods in this group include biscuits, bread, ready-to-eat cereals, cooked cereals (oatmeal, grits and cream of wheat), cornmeal, macaroni, muffins, noodles, pancakes, rice, spaghetti, tortillas, waffles, graham crackers, saltine crackers and popcorn. It is recommended to consume an equal amount of whole grains to other grains.

The USDA Food Guide recommends 6 ounce-equivalents from the grain group daily. Serving sizes for this group are:

  • Bread - 1 slice
  • Biscuit, roll or muffin - 1 small
  • Tortilla – 1 – 6”
  • Waffle or pancake – 1 4” in diameter
  • Crackers - 5 small or 2 large
  • Hamburger or hot dog bun and bagel – 1/2
  • Ready-to-eat cereal - 1 cup (1 ounce – DASH Eating Plan, ½ cup – 1¼ cup depending on type of cereal – check label)
  • Cooked cereal, rice and pasta – 1/2 cup

Some of the best buys in the grain group are:

Less Expensive

More Expensive

Enriched white rice, brown rice

Enriched macaroni, noodles and spaghetti

Enriched white or whole-grain bread

Saltine crackers

Cornbread or muffins made from scratch

Cornbread, muffin or biscuit mix

Enriched flour

Instant rice, seasoned rice, wild rice

Pasta in special shapes (curls, shells)

Specialty breads

Specialty crackers


Ready-to-eat muffins, biscuits

Cake flour

Other cost-saving tips for the grain group include:

  • Buy ready-to-eat cereals in large boxes or bags instead of single serving boxes.
  • Buy day-old bread and shop at bread outlets.
  • Use stale bread for toast, casseroles, french toast, grilled sandwiches, bread pudding and stuffing.
  • Compare bread prices by weight, not by size of the package. A large loaf of bread may contain a lot of air.
  • Buy store brands or generic bread products. These are usually cheaper than name brands.
  • Make your own baking mixes for cornbread, biscuits and muffins. These are usually cheaper than ready-made mixes.
  • Use foods in the bread, cereal, rice and pasta group in casseroles to stretch your food dollar.

Make sure to read the labels on these products, so you will know what you are buying.

Some terms you may find on the labels include:

Whole-grain: These are made from whole kernels of grain. These are a good source of fiber. It is recommended that we eat at least 3 ounce-equivalents of whole-grain foods each day, such as whole-grain breads and cereals, brown rice and whole-grain pastas.

Enriched: Vitamins and iron are lost when grain is milled to make white flour or meal. Enriched flour or meal has vitamins and iron added during processing. However, fiber lost during milling is not added back.

Fortified: Many breakfast cereals have extra vitamins and minerals added. These are called fortified products. They are usually more expensive than those which have not been fortified.

Storage tips for the grain group:

Bread stored at room temperature stays fresh longest. Bread stored in the refrigerator gets stale faster but will not mold quickly. You may freeze bread for up to six months. Store rice, flour, noodles and cornmeal, etc. in tightly closed containers in a dry place.

Washing rice and rinsing cooked spaghetti and noodles removes important vitamins.

Is the grain group fattening?

Many people think that grain products are fattening. This is not true, though. It is not the bread that is fattening; it's what we put on the bread. If you add a pat of butter and a tablespoon of grape jelly to the bread, it will have 160 calories instead of 80 calories. If you add two tablespoons of gravy to your rice, the calories jump from 80 to 200. Foods from the bread, cereal, rice and pasta group won't make you fat. This important group gives us vitamins, minerals and energy. Half of the foods in our daily diet should come from this group. To make lower calorie choices in the grain group, follow these tips:

Choose lower fat and lower sugar products.

  • One slice bread = 80 calories
  • One small biscuit = 100 calories
  • One doughnut = 175 calories

Cut down on fat in your biscuit or cornbread recipes.

Use thinly sliced bread.

Snack on unbuttered popcorn.

Choosing Cereals

Did you know that some cereals may have as much as 3 ½ teaspoons of sugar in each serving? We will look at how to choose the best cereals for you and your family. Cereals are nutritious, tasty, convenient and low in cost. They are easy to prepare and are packed with energy. Cereals help build muscles and other body tissues. They also help promote growth and good health.

The USDA Food Guide recommends eating six equivalents of grains each day. Cereals made from whole grains are best. They have more fiber. Examples of whole-grain cereals are barley, corn, oats, rice and rye. Insoluble fiber aids in digestion and elimination. Soluble fiber helps to reduce cholesterol levels. Cereals made from bran of wheat, oats, rice, corn or other grains are high in dietary fiber. Cereals that are cheaper are usually more nutritious. Cereals that you cook are usually less expensive than ready-to-eat or instant cereals. Single packages of cereal cost more than large packages. Some cereals contain added sugar. These cereals usually have more calories and cost more than plain cereals. Add your own sugar to plain cereals to save money and calories. Use the ingredient label. Read labels to select the best cereal. As a general rule, the shorter the list of ingredients, the more nutritious the cereal. Look for whole grain as the first ingredient. Choose cereals that are whole grain, enriched or restored. Look for the terms - oats, corn, rice, barley, rye and wheat.

Web Sites to Visit: This is a good site for rice recipes, cooking tips and nutrition information. Click on "Wheat Foods" and then the "6 Classes of Wheat." Also click on "Wheat Facts" and "About Wheat Nutrition" and read the topics included. Click on "Course 1" and go through the course. This is a good site for recipes and nutrition information This is a good site for recipes and nutrition activities for children.

Vegetables and Fruits

Fruits and vegetables also provide key nutrients needed by the body:

Beta-carotene or vitamin A: May help protect against certain types of cancer. Keeps your hair healthy and is needed for good vision. In pregnancy, helps develop baby's skeleton, eyes, skin, hair, teeth, gums and glands. Fruits high in vitamin A include apricots, peaches, cantaloupes and watermelons. Vegetables include carrots, sweet potatoes, broccoli, greens, pumpkin and winter squash.

Vitamin C: Holds body cells together, heals wounds and helps body to use iron. In pregnancy, helps form the baby's bones, teeth and gums. Fruits high in vitamin C include oranges, grapefruit, strawberries, cantaloupe, tangerines, watermelon and tomatoes. Vegetables include broccoli, potatoes, green peppers and cabbage.

Folic Acid: (Also called folacin or folate in natural form) Helps the body make red blood cells which helps prevent anemia. The lack of folic acid may cause miscarriages or neural tube (brain) birth defects. Oranges are a fairly good source of folic acid; green leafy vegetables are an excellent source.

Iron: Makes hemoglobin, the part of blood that helps transport oxygen to cells. Found in leafy green vegetables and dried peas and beans. Needs to be combined with vitamin C source to aid absorption.

Potassium: Involved in fluid balance. Major sources are potatoes, prunes, oranges and bananas.

Fruits and vegetables are also an important source of fiber. Soluble fiber found in vegetables and fruits (like apples) have been shown to help lower blood cholesterol. Insoluble fiber aids regularity of bowel movements, often a problem for the elderly and during pregnancy.

The USDA Food Guide recommends 2 cups (4 servings) of fruit per day, including at least 1 serving of citrus fruit or juice. Participants should consume at least 2 servings, the minimum number. A serving size equals ½ cup of 100% juice, 1 medium apple, banana or other fruit; ½ cup fresh, cooked or canned fruit. (* Note – serving sizes are based on a 2,000-calorie eating plans)

The Food Guide recommends 2½ cups (5 servings) of vegetables; including at least 3 cups per week of dark green leafy, 2 cups per week of orange vegetables, 3 cups per week of legumes (dry beans), 3 cups per week of starchy vegetables, and 6.5 cups per week of other vegetables. A serving size equals ½ cup cooked or chopped raw vegetables, 1 cup leafy raw vegetables (like lettuce or spinach), one-half cup 100% vegetable juice.

The DASH Eating Plan recommends 2 – 2½ cups (4 – 5 servings) of fruits and vegetables, the only difference from the Food Guide is the juice equivalent. The DASH Eating Plan equivalent is ¾ cup of 100% fruit and vegetable juice compared to ½ cup according to the USDA Food Guide.

The Nine-A-Day Plan suggests that at least 2 cups (4 servings) of fruit and 2½ cups (5 servings) of vegetables should be eaten every day.

Tips to Stretch Your Food Dollar:

1. Compare prices of fresh, frozen or canned vegetables to get the best buy. One pound of fresh is about the same as 10 ounces of frozen or a 1-pound can. Don't buy bruised or wilted vegetables.

2. Fresh vegetables cost less in season. Find sweet potatoes at a better price in the fall; broccoli, spinach and cabbage in the winter. Look for summer squash and tomatoes in the spring and summer.

3. To save vitamins and minerals, cook in a small amount of water. Cook just until tender. Leave the skins on. Leave whole or cut in large pieces. Use a lid.

Veg out on Veggies!

If you don't like the bitter taste of some vegetables, don't overcook them. Also, leave the lid off for the first 5 minutes.

Eat an upside-down salad for better nutrition. Pile on the shredded carrots and other raw vegetables first. Add the lettuce last.

Snack on raw vegetables with a low-fat dip. Try sliced raw sweet potatoes, squash or turnips for a change.

Make a carrot and raisin salad. Or, cook carrots with canned pineapple. Thicken with a little flour or cornstarch.

Fitting in Fruits

Drink fruit juices instead of soft drinks. Add club soda if you like.

Dress up a canned fruit salad with low-fat cottage cheese or a sprinkling of grated cheese.

Carry a banana, apple or orange in your purse for a snack instead of a candy bar.

Spread peanut butter on apple slices or bananas.

Freeze grapes or bananas for a frosty summer snack.

Eat applesauce hot or cold.

Try dried fruit like raisins and prunes as a snack.

Whip up a smoothie using frozen orange juice concentrate and milk. Add a mashed banana, if you like.

Web Sites to Visit: - Click on Healthy Foods and Fun with Nutrition. - Click on All About WA Apples for apple information and recipes. - Click on Broccoli Institute, then Health and Nutrition, then Mann Nutrition Report and Health Articles. Also click on Mom's Kitchen for tips and recipes


3/24/2005 5:00:46 AM
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