The Food Guide Pyramid_KH_Parent

The Food Guide Pyramid

Current U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Health and Human Services (HHS) dietary guidelines, which provide practical advice on eating a healthy, balanced diet, recommend that kids eat more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains and get at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise each day.

The Food Guide Pyramid, now called My Pyramid, has been updated to help parents and kids understand these guidelines. The USDA's MyPyramid website offers personalized recommendations about the variety of foods a person should eat and how much. The new pyramid also is a reminder to be active every day, with its stairs representing easy ways to improve your family's health.

About the Pyramid

Inside the pyramid, six stripes represent the five food groups — as well as oils — that are part of a balanced diet:

  • Orange: grains
  • Green: vegetables
  • Red: fruits
  • Blue: milk, yogurt, and cheese (milk)
  • Purple: meat, poultry, fish, dry beans, and nuts (meat and beans)
  • Yellow: oils

The width of each stripe is different, reminding you to eat more from some food groups, such as vegetables and grains, and less from others, like meat and oils.

You'll also notice the stripes start out wider and get thinner as they approach the top. That's to show that not all foods are created equal, even within a healthy food group. Apples, for example, are packed with nutrients and would be in the wide part of the stripe because you can eat them every day. Apple pie, on the other hand, would be in the thin part because it has added sugar and fat.


The grain group includes any food made from wheat, oats, cornmeal, barley, or other grain. Bread, tortillas, cereal, rice, and pasta belong in this group.  

At least half of the grains kids consume each day should be whole grains, such as oatmeal, brown rice, and whole wheat. Whole grains contain dietary fiber that can help protect against constipation and may also help control weight. Eating a diet rich in whole grains also might decrease the risk of developing heart disease and diabetes.

They're different from refined grains, such as those in white bread and white rice, which have been processed and many of their nutrients removed. Most refined grains are enriched, which means that nutrients, except fiber, are added back after processing.

The new guidelines take into account a child's gender, age, and activity level. For example, for kids who get about 30 minutes of exercise per day, the USDA recommends:

  • 2- to 3-year-olds: 3 ounces  
  • 4- to 8-year-olds: 4-5 ounces
  • 9- to 13-year-old girls: 5 ounces
  • 9- to 13-year-old boys: 6 ounces
  • 14- to 18-year-old girls: 6 ounces
  • 14- to 18-year-old boys: 7 ounces

What's an ounce? Each of the following equals about 1 ounce:

  • 1 slice of bread
  • 1/2 English muffin or small bagel
  • 6-inch tortilla
  • 1/2 cup cooked rice or pasta
  • 1/2 cup oatmeal 
  • 1 cup ready-to-eat cereal


Vegetables provide many of the vitamins and minerals kids need for good health, and are naturally low in calories and contain fiber. The vegetable group is divided into five subgroups based on their nutrients: dark green, orange, dry beans and peas, starchy, and other vegetables. For best nutritional value, serve a variety of vegetables to your family each week. 

For kids who get about 30 minutes of exercise each day, the USDA recommends:

  • 2- to 3-year-olds: 1 cup
  • 4- to 8-year-olds: 11/2 cups
  • 9- to 13-year-old girls: 2 cups
  • 9- to 13-year-old boys: 21/2 cups 
  • 14- to 18-year-old girls: 21/2 cups
  • 14- to 18-year-old boys: 3 cups


Fruits have important nutrients like vitamin C, potassium, and fiber. Fruit juice retains the vitamins and minerals, but loses the fiber, so choose whole or cut-up fruits over juices. When serving canned fruit, choose fruit packed in juice rather than syrup.

For kids who get about 30 minutes of exercise each day, the USDA recommends:

  • 2- to 3-year-olds: 1 cup
  • 4- to 8-year-olds: 1-11/2 cups
  • 9- to 13-year-olds: 11/2 cups
  • 14- to 18-year-old girls: 11/2 cups
  • 14- to 18-year-old boys: 2 cups


This group includes milk and other dairy products that retain their calcium content, such as yogurt and cheese. Besides providing calcium, dairy products are important sources of vitamin D and protein. Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium and use it for healthy bones and teeth. Serve low-fat or nonfat milk and dairy products to kids over 2 years old.

For kids who get about 30 minutes of exercise each day, the USDA recommends:

  • 2- to 3-year-olds: 2 cups
  • 4- to 8-year-olds: 2 cups
  • 9- to 13-year-olds: 3 cups
  • 14- to 18-year-olds: 3 cups

Meat and Beans

This food group provides protein, which helps build, maintain, and repair body tissue. Foods in this group also have other important nutrients, such as B vitamins and iron.

For kids who get about 30 minutes of exercise each day, the USDA recommends:

  • 2- to 3-year-olds: 2 ounces  
  • 4- to 8-year-olds: 3 to 4 ounces
  • 9- to 13-year-olds: 5 ounces
  • 14- to 18-year-old girls: 5 ounces
  • 14- to 18-year-old boys: 6 ounces

An ounce of meat, poultry, or fish counts, of course, as a 1-ounce serving for this group. And in general, so do the following:

  • 1/4 cup cooked dry beans
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon peanut butter
  • 1/2 ounce nuts or seeds


Oils are fats that are liquid at room temperature, like the vegetable oils that are commonly used in cooking, such as olive oil, corn oil, canola oil, and sunflower oil. Oils can come from many different plants and fish.

Some foods are naturally high in oils, like nuts, olives, some fish, and avocados. Most oils are high in monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fats. These fats raise (good) HDL cholesterol, which seems to help prevent heart problems, and do not raise levels of (bad) LDL cholesterol, which can lead to heart problems.

Solid fats, like butter, shortening, and margarine, contain more saturated fats and/or trans fats than oils. Saturated and trans fats can raise LDL cholesterol levels in the blood and increase a person's risk for heart disease.

Oils contain essential fatty acids and are needed for good health. However, oils are high in calories and should be limited.

For kids who get about 30 minutes of exercise each day, the USDA recommends:

  • 2- to 3-year-olds: 3 teaspoons  
  • 4- to 8-year-olds: 4 teaspoons
  • 9- to 13-year-olds: 5 teaspoons
  • 14- to 18-year-old girls: 5 teaspoons
  • 14- to 18-year-old boys: 6 teaspoons

The goal of the Pyramid is to help adults and kids make healthy choices when it comes to nutrition and physical activity, so focus on serving your family a balanced diet with a variety of foods. Include lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and always choose lean meats and low-fat dairy products, while limiting fats and sugars.

Don't forget to keep portion sizes under control, and encourage kids to be active every day. By doing so, you'll accomplish the goals of MyPyramid without missing a step!

Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: November 2009

Related Sites

American Dietetic Association
Food Network

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