Thursday, June 2, 2011

I Give the New USDA Dietary Guidelines a C Minus

While I applaud the USDA for trying to make their new dietary guidelines, which can be found at, much simpler for a “growing” population, I think this new approach is just too dumbed-down for my taste. In fact, it made me ask more questions:

1 – What size is the plate? 9 inches or 12 inches? Does it depend on the size, age and activity level of the person?

2 – Where do foods like nuts and dry beans fall? Should a starchy potato be considered a vegetable? And what about sweet corn? Technically it’s a grain, but most people treat it as a vegetable. Does a salad covered in cheese, bacon bits and Ranch dressing count as my “vegetable?”

3 – How much fat should you consume, and what types of foods should it come from?

4 – Are all of these foods really necessary three times a day?

My feeling is that this simple rendition of a “meal” could be misinterpreted by many people to “fit” what they like. It would be very easy to have a large plate filled with fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes, apple pie and a big scoop of ice cream. Based on the guidelines, this meal meets the criteria.

Therefore, as I am not the kind of person to just criticize without offering solutions, I am developing my own guidelines for myself and my family:

ALL of our calories should be guilt free! I will always feel confident in the food I provide my family. Treats are okay some of the time, and they should be enjoyed. We designate 1 day a week as “dessert day” and have something really yummy.

MOST of our calories should come from “whole foods,” that is foods that come as they are straight from nature. This leaves some room for breads, pastas, cereals (which I also try to make sure most are whole grain) and processed dairy like cheese and yogurt.

SOME of our calories should come from a variety of plant-based foods, and SOME of our calories should come from animal-based foods. I try to get a lot of variety in our diet. As far as plant foods, we eat foods every color of the rainbow and all kinds: grains, nuts, legumes, leafy, cruciferous, fruits, roots, etc. I also try to vary our meat choices. I will rarely cook chicken two days in a row. I’m an equal opportunity animal consumer.

FEW of our meals should come from restaurants. I want most of our food to be cooked and eaten at home, 1) because I know I can do better than most restaurants (at least the ones I can easily afford), 2) it allows us to better appreciate our food, and 3) I know the ingredients used.

Yes, this is also a simple approach and does not address age, activity level and dietary needs, but that is something people need to go over with a dietician or health care provider. I am convinced there is not a one-size fits all plan. Aside from talking with our doctor, it may come down to good old trial and error.

Again, I am thankful that our government is trying to watch out for our health, but I wonder if the MyPlate approach is really going to change the eating habits of those that need it the most. Good luck, Mrs. Obama.

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  1. I like...lots of great points raised here!

  2. Loving these points that you share! I completely agree and find our family in a very similar way.

  3. I absolutely agree with your assessment of the new guidelines! If you ever decide to post a sample of what you prepare for a week, I would really appreciate the ideas.

  4. Great post. If I were to guess, the MyPlate approach will get modified at some point to address some of the questions you raise.I think it's a step in the right direction and will at least get people thinking about portion size and what makes a meal. I'm glad I found your site! :)


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