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Feature Articles: Food, Fitness and Eating Well


Uncovering the Secrets of the Food Guide Pyramid

Erin Bartels, Dietetic Student, University of Missouri

Candance Gabel, MS, RD, LD, Associate State Nutrition Specialist, University of Missouri

Everyone has heard of the food guide pyramid. It has been passed out at every health fair in the nation and it appears on all types of food packages. Do you know how to follow the Food Guide Pyramid? Are you able to use it as a guide to healthy choices?

Portion Sizes versus Serving Sizes

It may seem impossible for someone to have 6-11 servings of grain a day and too easy to have 2-3 servings from the milk group a day. But actually, most people are eating over the suggested amounts of breads and eating under the requirements for the milk group. This is largely due to the fact that serving sizes on the food guide pyramid do not always resemble our actual portion size. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) defines portion size as "the amount of food you choose to eat. There is no standard portion size and no single right or wrong portion size." While serving size is defined as "a standard amount used to help give advice about how much to eat or to identify how many calories and nutrients are in a food." For example, a portion of pasta is usually 1 cups of cooked noodles while only a cup of noodles is equal to one serving in the grains group. So, the 1 cups of pasta on a plate is three servings of grains for the day. This leaves most women 3 more servings and most men 6 more servings to total the amount of grains for the day.

It is important to realize what counts as a pyramid serving size. Below is listed the serving size from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) for each group in the food guide pyramid.



Grains Milk
  • 1 slice of bread
  • About 1 cup of ready-to-eat cereal flakes
  • cup of cooked cereal, rice or pasta
  • 1 cup of milk or yogurt
  • 1 ounces of natural cheese (cheddar)
  • 2 ounces of processed cheese (such as American)




  • 1 cup of raw leafy vegetables
  • cup of other vegetables (cooked or raw)
  • cup of vegetable juice
  • 1 medium apple, banana, orange, pear
  • cup of chopped, cooked, or canned fruit
  • cup of fruit juice

Meat and Beans

The pyramid recommends 2 to 3 servings for a total of 5 to 7 ounces. The following all count as 1 ounce equivalent:


  • 1 ounce of cooked lean meat, poultry, or fish
  • cup of cooked, dry beans
  • cup of tofu or 1 -ounce soy burger
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tablespoons of peanut butter
  • 1/3 cup of nuts




Example Day's Meal Plan

How do these servings work for a full day's meals? Here is an example of a meal plan for most women, it incorporates the suggestions from the USDA of six grain servings, three servings of vegetables, two fruit servings, five ounces of meat and two to three milk servings. While most men need nine grain servings, four vegetable servings, three fruit servings, six ounces of meat and two to three milk servings. For both women and men it is suggested to use fats and sweets sparingly. These suggestions are increased with a more active lifestyle.



(This is an example for most women.)
Breakfast Dinner
  • 1 cup of cereal (1 grain servings)
  • 1 cup of skim milk (1 milk serving)
  • 4 fresh strawberries (1 fruit serving)






  • 3-ounce pork chops (3 meat servings)
  • cup of wild rice (1 grain serving)
  • cup of green beans (1 vegetable serving)
  • cup of yogurt (1 milk serving)
  • 1 small whole-wheat dinner roll (1 grain serving)





Lunch Night snack
  • 2 ounces deli turkey (2 meat servings)
  • 2 slices of wheat bread (2 grain servings)
  • 1 tablespoon of mustard (free)
  • 3 slices of tomato (0.5 vegetable servings)
  • 2, 2-inch slices of yellow pepper (0.5 vegetable servings)
  • 15 grapes (1 fruit serving)



  • 2 small sized chocolate chip cookies (1 grain servings)
  • 1 cup of skim milk (1 milk serving)

Mid afternoon snack


Total for the day

  • 7 baby carrots (1 vegetable serving)
  • 2 tablespoons of low fat dip (1 fat serving)




  • 6-grain servings
  • 3 vegetable servings
  • 2 fruit servings
  • 3 milk servings
  • 5 meat servings (or 5 ounces)




Make it Fit You

No one person eats exactly like another. That is why the Food Guide Pyramid is a great tool for helping us eat healthy. Make it a goal each day to try to meet the amounts in each section. But remember, variety is good, so be adventurous and try new foods.







Last update: Tuesday, April 21, 2009




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