The Food Pyramid: Teaching Your Children About Nutrition

Eating healthy is a skill that constantly needs to be on the minds of both children and adults alike. However, it’s easy for little ones to develop habits that include cravings for junk food or even fast food, and when this happens a lesson on nutrition could be just the trick to lead them to a better understanding of wellness.

From the Pyramid to the Plate

The food pyramid has been a staple part of health classes for decades, but in the last few years the food plate has replaced this diagram as a means to teach children how to select proper portion sizes and foods that are healthy for every meal.

The United States Department of Agriculture has switched to this new symbol to promote the need to eat a variety of foods and to eat less of some foods and more of others. In fact, instead of the six vertical stripes representing the five food groups in the food guide pyramid, the new symbol – the plate – features only four sections, which include:

  • Vegetables
  • Fruits
  • Grains
  • Protein

A side order of blue symbolizes dairy.

According to the nutrition experts at Nemours KidsHealth, the big message is that fruits and vegetables take up half the plate, with the vegetable portion slightly larger than the fruit portion.

Just as the pyramid offered varying widths for categories of foods, the plate is divided so the grain section is bigger than the protein section. “Nutrition experts recommend you eat more vegetables than fruit and more grains than protein foods,” claim the experts at Nemours KidsHealth. “The divided plate also aims to discourage super big portions, which can cause weight gain.”

Teaching the Plate

Younger children may not always know the difference between a grain and a protein, so it is important to offer opportunities for them to learn. A show and tell session is an interactive way to help your children identify foods that should be on their plate.

Spend an afternoon in the kitchen lining up foods from each category to help your children differentiate between the food groups.

For example, proteins could include:

  • Beef, Poultry or Fish
  • Eggs
  • Nuts and Seeds
  • Beans and Lentils
  • Tofu or Veggie Burgers

Grains could include:

  • Bread
  • Cereal
  • Rice
  • Tortillas
  • Pasta

According to KidsHealth, whole-grain products, such as oatmeal, brown rice and whole-wheat bread should also be on display because they help you feel full due to the high fiber content.

Dairy could include:

  • Milk
  • Yogurt
  • Cheese
  • Soy Milk

Ask each child to select an item that would fill the plate with the correct portions of vegetables, fruits, protein and grains. Add a small side of dairy, too.

If a mess in the kitchen is not something you are ready for, consider launching a scavenger hunt in the grocery store with your children. Have your children make a list of items that would fall under each category on the plate and ask them to point out as many items on the shelves that are grains, proteins, fruits, vegetables and dairy. Make the game interesting by allowing each child to plan a healthy lunch or dinner and then buy the items needed to prepare the meal.

Knowing Nutrition

Beyond teaching your child what foods to choose to fill his plate, it also helps to provide him with knowledge about the benefits of these healthy foods.

For example, show him that carbohydrates, found in the Grains group, help our bodies gain energy. B vitamins and iron in grains also help keep their blood pumping, help them grow and nourish the brain – all necessary for a healthy development.

According to the health experts at, the vitamins in vegetables are healthy for teeth and gums, skin, hair, eyesight and brain function, while the fiber found in fruits is good for the heart and can help prevent heart disease and cancer.

Teach your child that milk helps them grow big and strong and that the calcium in dairy products, such as cheese and yogurt, can make their bones and teeth stronger.

Proteins not only help the blood flow but also repair body tissues when they need it. Proteins also help convert food to energy – something your child needs when playing sports or playing outdoors.

Providing clear-cut examples for your child and helping him learn about healthy food through games and activities will likely take the groans and moans away when it is time for dinner.

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