There are lots of problems with the Food Pyramid approach to eating.

  1. It’s too hard to keep track of how many servings you need (and then how many you actually eat) from each food group.
  2. Consumption needs are based on caloric needs, and that number changes. What happens if you’re active one day and sedentary the next? Or if you’re growing?  (And how do you know if your toddler’s fidgeting count for 30 minutes of cardio, or 30-60 minutes?)
  3. Serving sizes aren’t intuitive. For instance, 2 cups of leafy greens counts as 1 cup of vegetables.  (I get the logic: leafy greens are light and airy, but come on!)

I could live with these problems if they led to healthy eating, but they don’t.

Sure, I might have to start carrying around a notebook, scale, some measuring cups and ruler — how else would I know whether to eat one 4 1/2″ pancake or two 3″ pancakes to consume a single serving of grains?— but that would seem like a small price to pay.

The Food Pyramid fails because it encourages people to think of food in the wrong way.

Let’s say you’re a rare bird and you actually eat 5 servings of fruits and vegetables each day. That only leads to a healthy diet if you also eat the right number in the other food groups as well. Most of us don’t.

For example, if you eat a lot of salad but even more cheese, it doesn’t really count as a healthy diet.

It’s the proportion of fruits and vegetables to grains, to meat, to dairy and to sweets and treats that matters. You have to get the ratios right.

Read Slackers Rule and Why Nobody Needs Nutrition Labels for more on proportion.

Think ratios instead of servings and your kids will automatically start eating better.

The CDC has abandoned it’s 5 A Day campaign.  Instead, it’s advocating you fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables. Read more about the CDC’s Half–Your-Plate Concept.

Half-Your-Plate is a scary thought. You are probably convinced that your kids will starve if you try this approach.

Think of it this way though: Kids most willingly eat the foods they are exposed to the most.  That’s one reason why chicken nuggets and pizza go down so easily.

The more fruits and vegetables you serve, the more used to them your kids will be, and the more of them they’ll end up eating.

Here’s an even scarier thought: Figure out what currently constitutes half your kids’ plate. You might just find it’s pasta.

I’ve never endorsed a product before, but I’ve got to say, this one warms my heart.

This cool plate puts proportion front and center, and devotes half the space to fruits and vegetables.  Your kids will love it — even my 9 year old begged to use it when it came in the mail!—and it teaches the right habits.

For more information, or to buy a plate, go to Super Healthy Kids.

Of course, you don’t have to get the ratios right each time your kids eat because it’s the overall pattern that matters.

But if fruits and vegetables don’t dominate your kids’ days, try tipping the scale in that direction.  It won’t just help your kids eat better today, it will teach them habits for a lifetime of healthy eating.  Read Feeding Future Adults.

For ideas on how to “sell” more vegetables, read Feng Shui for FoodSalad Days and 10 Ways Improving Your Kids’ Snacking Will Improve YOUR Life.

~ Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits. ~