The New Dinner Plate

2011-06-03-MyPlategreen300x2731 The old food pyramid was too confusing, so Michelle Obama has introduced the Dinner Plate concept.

What do you think? 

Is there anyone on the planet who doesn't know that vegetables and fruits are good for them? I doubt that this new graphic will stop people from buying that Big Mac and instead encourage them to make their own plate of organically grown lettuce and kale. People need to know how to cook, they need access to supermarkets, they need time to cook, they need to eat enough salads to get used to the taste, they need good lunches at schools, they need enough money to make better food choices, and they need enough free time to plan a good meal. 

44 thoughts on “The New Dinner Plate

  1. I don’t know- I love vegetables. I find that, often enough, when people don’t like them, it’s because they don’t know how to cook, or mostly eat canned ones. I do think the “organically grown kale and lettuce” crack is both unhelpful and unwarranted, and I’m pretty sure that lots of people lack simple, easy to understand nutritional information. I don’t see how this hurts at all. Obviously enough, it won’t solve all the problems, but if it can make a marginal improvement, why not do it? It’s not as if it rules out working on the other problems, and of course those others are much harder to make progress on. So, complaining about or harping on this just seems counter-productive and a waste of time.

  2. I do like some vegetables, just not the ones that we’re supposed to eat more of. I think you could come close to hitting those proportion with pierogi and a banana, but I don’t think that’s what the USDA wants.

  3. Oh, don’t be cross with me about the “lettuce and kale” crack. You know that I can’t help myself, Matt.
    I do think that this food chart doesn’t really solve the bigger problems of time, money, and habits. This food chart is fine, but the bigger problems need to be addressed for any real change to occur.

  4. I was just talking this weekend about my difficulties in getting my family to eat vegetables.
    I live in a great neighborhood with tons of grocery shopping options; there is a Mexican fruit market right across from our big Anglo grocery store. I live within walking distance of Middle Eastern, Swedish, Guatemalan and Mexican bakeries/grocers. And yet, and yet.
    Between buying and cooking, I know how to procure and prepare only the following green veg:
    Broccoli
    Green beans
    Spinach (for use either cooked or in salad)
    Cucumbers (do these even count?)
    Salad greens: romaine and green/red leaf
    Peas – can never find these fresh, usually work with frozen and use as an ingredient
    Green peppers and celery, either as part of mirepoix or on a crudete plate, only eaten raw if served with metric tons of ranch dressing.
    No wonder everyone in my family hates what I make! How many nights can you face down steamed broccoli? At least I’ve learned some good light sauces for cukes and spinach from my Japanese cookbooks.
    Does anyone have any insights for me – any veg that can be easily procured and will thrill my kids if I just learn a couple of prep tricks?

  5. You have to look back at the old “food pyramid” to see how radical the change is.
    http://web.mit.edu/athletics/sportsmedicine/wcrfoodpyr.html
    Under the food pyramid, carbohydrates are the very base of the pyramid and you get 6-11 servings of them a day. It was easy to look at the fat base of that old food pyramid and think that it’s virtuous to eat starches all day long.
    I like the new plate. For one thing, it makes it easy to visualize appropriate portion sizes, which the pyramid did not.

  6. For one thing, it makes it easy to visualize appropriate portion sizes, which the pyramid did not.
    We have triangle-shaped dinner plates.

  7. What, exactly, is that problem that the four food groups/ food pyramid/ Dinner Plate is trying to address?
    I feel like at some point, the problem was “we need to make sure people are getting enough nutrition” so we came up with ideas to make sure that people wouldn’t eat the wrong foods and end up with scurvy or something.
    Now, though, all of the processed crap we eat is “enriched” and “vitamin fortified” and you can get 4 grams of protein and 15% of RDA of iron from a slice of wonder bread. These days, it takes a lot of hard work to be undernourished in America — just just get your nourishment along with 3,000 calories, and a lot of fat and sodium.
    So, if you define the problem as “too much junk,” then it seems like the answer should be something like (to make something up) “The 2,000 Campaign.” Tell people to eat 2,000 calories a day, and then require every supermarket apple and Friendly’s Happy Ending Sundae to clearly state how many calories it has.
    Last week I had lunch at Red Robin. Clearly I didn’t want the “Monster Burger” (1151 calories), so I go to the salad listings and pick the Fiesta Pollo Salad. That looks wholesome and tasty. I check it out later, and its 1,238 calories. I never would have gotten it if I knew it was about 2/3 of the calories I should be eating in a day. That’s information I can use — not that it was mostly vegetables, with some chicken and cheese.

  8. “I never would have gotten it if I knew it was about 2/3 of the calories I should be eating in a day.”
    Anytime you eat a substantial restaurant meal, it’s a good bet that it’s 2/3 of your daily recommended caloric intake.

  9. Amy — Generally true, but there are orders of magnitude here. Since I have the “Red Robin Nutritional Information” page up, a “Crispy Chicken Burger” is 929 calories, and a “Crispy Fish Burger” is 565 calories.
    Sure, there are both fried crap burgers, but I bet the proportions sold would change is people knew one piece of fried crap was 400 calories more than the other one.

  10. Given more money and time, many people will buy more beer and watch more sports.
    Processed food is cheap, it’s filling, and it’s much easier to prepare than veggies. It has marketing teams singining ist praises and current health benefits (low-cholesterol! low-carb! High Fiber! gluten-free!).
    Pundits love to bash Home Ec courses. A well-constructed Home Ec course could make a small difference. Our middle son had a great health course. The class read food labels. They calculated calories, nutrients and RDAs. They compared their diets. They kept food diaries. Some boys cheerfully admitted to eating only meat, milk, and soda.
    I really don’t think that “choosemyplate.gov” will make any difference in food choices. The only people who pay attention to government health advice are people who already eat a healthy diet. The people who pack cheetos and coca-cola for their children’s lunches aren’t fretting about their kale-free lifestyle.

  11. Around here switching to smaller plates helps, too.
    Vegetables — grilled eggplant made into babu ganush, zuchini in soup or quiche, spinach in palek paneer, lots of options. Huge salads.

  12. All that stuff about getting kids to eat vegies by watching you eat vegies: bullshit. My kids watch me and my husband eat delicious home-prepared vegetarian meals nightly, and then go eat their pasta and chicken nuggets. My son is finally getting a bit more adventurous, but my daughter is a lost cause, though I will say at least she is a vegetarian.
    We have to look at agribusiness and food companies, I think, to explain what’s been happening. Basic products like vegies and grains are cheap. What the businesses do is gussy up those cheap ingredients into fancy stuff that is cheaply made crap, then they sell it at a huge markup. And they make it taste delicious, with their gussying-up. So then people cannot face having the normal stuff. I mean, if my son has to choose between real chicken and McDonald’s chicken nuggets, he will choose McD’s every time. There is a science to making this stuff taste good, better than anything “natural.” And our kids have been trained by eating food that has all the “extra” stuff, and now they can’t develop a taste for anything else.
    I like the plate thing because it’s more intuitive. Who eats food shaped like a pyramid? I think the plate thing is much easier to teach kids about.

  13. “People need to know how to cook, they need access to supermarkets, they need time to cook, they need to eat enough salads to get used to the taste, they need good lunches at schools, they need enough money to make better food choices, and they need enough free time to plan a good meal.”
    Actually, if the government wants us to eat vegetables and lots of fiber, then it should go all Soviet on us: how about communal kitchens, funded by the government (think of the job creation!), serving organic food with several choices of entree and sides, where I can either stock up on frozen meals to be eaten at home and/or take my family to its restaurant part for mealtimes?
    Because I hate cooking. But I do it because it’s both the healthiest and leasst expensive option available.
    Delores Hayden has a great book, The Grand Domestic Revolution, on the 19th century feminists’ proposals for communal kitchens and apartment houses’ dining rooms. It makes me weep when I see what could have been…

  14. “Sure, there are both fried crap burgers, but I bet the proportions sold would change is people knew one piece of fried crap was 400 calories more than the other one.”
    Not to make you lose your faith in humanity, but I believe that where this has been tried, there’s a temporary change and then everybody goes back to doing what they were doing before.

  15. I don’t get the dinner plate. First, why have they jiggerd the fractions so that they don’t properly occupy the circle? How am I supposed to calculate the areas on this skewed plate? What is it supposed to tell me? Am I supposed to be eating about the same volume of fruits & proteins, and of grains & vegetables? Are we talking volume, or area?
    I was excited by the idea of a plate (which naturally translates to area), but very frustrated when I saw the actual plate, and, what’s more, found little explanation of it.
    Is there an explanation that I missed, in face of the cute graphic that you can customize to have different colored placemats?
    My theory about these PSAs is that they need to be constantly changing to have some effect. No, they won’t fundamentally alter behavior. But, will they alter it for 1 month? That’s a use, in and of itself.

  16. I got called up for serving duty at my parish’s Wednesday night dinner a couple of months ago (they do a free dinner before the evening classes). The main dishes were kind of horrifying (I think I spotted a cheesy tater tot casserole). I was dishing green salad (not very interesting–just lots of lettuce with bits of cucumber and tomato here and there). Interestingly, the green salad was very, very, very popular with tween and teen girls (and the occasional boy of the same age). Some would go for two or three servings. This is particularly interesting because the big kids in our parish are nearly all lower-middle to lower-lower-middle class.
    I’ve been really blunt with my almost 9-year-old, who a couple of years ago seemed to have an unlimited appetite for sweets. Rather than healthy diet blah blah blah, I’ve told her that if you eat too many sweets or too much period, you’ll get fat. That seems to have done the job. Our family rule is a maximum of 2 sweets a day (with occasional exceptions). The Wii weight charts were also helpful. I’ve had less luck with veggies, although I think I’ve done pretty well in establishing that some vegetable material will be consumed. The quantities consumed, however, are nominal. We have, however, established that it is possible to eat small quantities of baby carrots, baby spinach, lettuce, peas, corn and lima beans without dying.
    “Delores Hayden has a great book, The Grand Domestic Revolution, on the 19th century feminists’ proposals for communal kitchens and apartment houses’ dining rooms. It makes me weep when I see what could have been…”
    Even the Soviets never really followed through on that.
    As I’ve said before, I actually do live under communism. We mostly eat dinners at the excellent campus cafeteria for $4 a head (before our youngest turned 6, he ate free). As I told my neighbor, I’ve kind of forgotten what you do with that shiny black thing in the kitchen with knobs. But then the cafeterias close for a couple of weeks and then it’s time to re-learn.

  17. I really love the cheese and tater tots thing. I’m ashamed to make it, for reasons of social class and ethnic background.

  18. Christiana (and Amy P)
    The Chinese did communal kitchens for a few years right before the giant famine of the great leap forward (late 1950s). The kitchens in no way contributed to the famine, but due to negative association the government dropped them in the mid 1960s. One member of my committee studies women’s labor in Maoist China, and he’s been interviewing elderly peasant women about collectivization. According to him, many women said that even though the Great Leap Forward was pretty much a huge disaster, they did miss the communal kitchens and daycare after they were gone. In urban China most people ate in a cafeteria run by the work unit (danwei) like Amy P does, which provided reasonably nutritious food for really cheap.

  19. In Poland, there is an interesting institution called the milk bar (mleczny bar). If anybody has read Clockwork Orange (I haven’t) I believe that name appears. Anyway, in Poland, a milk bar was traditionally a sort of cheap meatless cafeteria (although Wikipedia says meat has appeared). They apparently originated under communism as a way to serve workers whose workplace was too small for an on-site cafeteria. They are currently subsidized.
    “They are popular among the elderly, the homeless, and also students and university professors.”
    “Despite being considered fast-food outlets, modern milk bars still serve traditional meals, which take a relatively long time to prepare, making them more an example of slow food bars.”
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bar_mleczny

  20. I think my husband’s (now deceased) Warsaw grandma got practically all her meals from a milk bar. Being from an aristocratic family and (in the communist era) a cardiologist’s wife, she never really learned to cook.

  21. My better half is on a red-eye to Warsaw tonight, but I don’t think the conference program includes bars mleczny.
    The transition had mostly killed them off when I biked around the northern part of the country in ’97; maybe they have made a comeback since?

  22. They were still around in Warsaw when my husband and I did our big Central European Adventure in 1999, but presumably less prevalent than before.

  23. To temper the Eastern European cafeteria nostalgia, I should mention that the worst meals of my life were eaten at the cafeteria at the St. Petersburg Mining Institute (study abroad, spring semester 1994). It is difficult to convey in print exactly how terrible it was, but imagine how you’d feel, sitting down to lunch in an icy cafeteria after a morning spent writing in an icy classroom in coat and gloves and finding that lunch was going to consist mainly of a chilly grey aspic. Our dormitory cafeteria (which mainly served us American students) was somewhat better, but early on, we learned the key to survival there–you must eat the food or it will keep on reappearing at dinner.

  24. I never appreciated fruits or vegetables so much as immediately after I came back from a semester in Moscow (fall 1987). Usually the only time I saw them in the cafeteria was as part of oily (though sometimes edible) soup; though on rare happy days I might be able to get a side dish chopped up scallions with a glob of smetana (sour cream). I almost cried when I saw a banana in the New York airport.
    So maybe we deprive people of them completely for a while and they will learn to appreciate them?

  25. Nothing like a winter in Central or Eastern Europe to disabuse people of the whole “eat only locally grown things, in season” notion.

  26. I had a job in China where our work provided lunch. Usually it was mushy rice with some salty, oily vegetables and egg or occasionally, “meat” (mostly fat). It was kind of gross, though in comparison to Eastern Europe, I can appreciate that at least there were lots of vegetables and it was fairly nutritious, and a fair amount of variety in the types of vegetables they over-salted. Also, I did enjoy the “nostalgia” value of eating off of a metal tray with a bent metal spoon.

  27. On how much people know about nutrition, it’s hard to know. I know more about nutrition than most people (studied it in HS bio class and a bit in college as well), grew up eating well and pretty healthily, and can cook pretty well, but I eat ice cream for dinner more times than I care to admit. A picture of what I’m “supposed” to eat isn’t going to do much, since I know ice cream is not a balanced meal but I’ll eat it anyways. Of course, when I do, I feel pangs of guilt for eating ice cream, and dinner with no vegetables feels kind of unhealthy rather than normal.
    I think that making fresh unprocessed foods cheaper and more available and giving people more time to cook would help a lot, but I also think there’s a disconnect between in theory knowing what is healthy and actually understanding that in practice. Like, plenty of people know things like chicken are healthy, but then don’t understand why chicken nuggets aren’t healthy, since it is chicken. I worked in a coffee shop for a bit, and it seemed like people had broad categories of food that were “healthy” or “unhealthy” that didn’t necessarily match the reality of what they ate. For example, I had lots of customers talk about how “healthy” and “low-calorie” coffee was, but then order a 20 oz white chocolate mocha with vanilla syrup. Somehow, that black coffee is 10 calories a cup = cup of milk, sugar, and partially hydrogenated vegetable oil (white chocolate powder) is also 10 calories a cup, when really it’s like 400. Similarly, a chicken burrito at Chipotle’s is about 1200 calories, but individually, chicken, beans, salsa, etc. all seems pretty healthy. It’s not that hard to eat “healthily” and still consume 4000 calories a day in the US and have no idea. I think pictures of portion size might be ultimately better.
    Secondly, I think at least among my generation (gen Y) cooking skills are abysmal. I have tons of friends who lack even basic cooking skills, and there’s a vast marketing apparatus designed to make cooking appear really difficult. There are plenty of packaged foods that take as long to prepare as stuff from scratch, but people who are used to eating out or just microwaving prepared foods don’t even think about the cooking as an option, or are totally at a loss to prepare ingredients in tasty way. Also, cooking has a steep learning curve, so people try it a couple of times and give up, and then assume cooking is always time consuming and disappointing, even though cooking even “unhealthy” stuff from scratch is usually still better for you than eating “healthy” processed stuff or restaurant food.

  28. “It’s not that hard to eat “healthily” and still consume 4000 calories a day in the US and have no idea.”
    That reminds me of a male relative of mine. I’m told that whenever he was rebuked about his diet, he just ate an extra banana. He’s since done a lot better, but it took well into his 50s.

  29. When I visited my sister in Dallas I was really floored at the US grocery store floor space. Here in Toronto the vegetable/fruit section is probably 1/5 or 1/6 of a regular store (one that doesn’t have a clothing/toys section) and something like pop would get 2/3 of one side of one aisle. In the store I was in in Dallas which I think was a Kroeger? Not sure – there was an ENTIRE aisle of pop, both sides, and the vegetable section was tiny. I have no idea if this is standard.
    I grew up eating hamburger helper. I definitely went through the learning curve. Now we eat tons of veggies and healthy meals (not always – all things in moderation).
    My son’s grown up with a weekly box of some sort – it was organic delivery and then we graduated to a farm CSA. It’s made a big different – he demands asparagus at the store. We treat the arrival of the box like Santa Claus.🙂
    I read a while ago that young kids tend to prefer the texture and taste of vegetables raw. That’s been true for mine. I suspect this might be true for adults who are trying to get used to eating vegetables.
    I don’t like processed stuff any more for the most part. Your taste buds adjust eventually.
    Jen – Your list seems reasonably comprehensive to me if you’re just talking green veg.🙂 But one thing I’ve found is sometimes people treat their vegetables like they have to be perfect – steamed or bust. We sautee some or put butter on ours from time to time. It’s not as healthy, but we keep loving them, y’know?
    Stir fries are great, and you can try bok choy or savoy cabbage. If you use a commercial stir-fry sauce it will taste like processed food, and that can be great for transitioning.
    I’d also suggest roasting or grilling. If you have a BBQ try marinating zucchini or asparagus in Italian salad dressing and grilling it; with the asparagus do skewers with tomatoes and red pepper and mushrooms or whatever.
    Our go-to roast vegetable thing is thinly sliced zucchini, eggplant, red pepper, onion, mushroom, all tossed in olive oil and oregano and salt and pepper, roasted in the oven in a big dish for 45 min or so. That’s a side dish, the basis for a grilled sandwich (add cheese), we toss them in omelettes and quiche, and throw over pasta or onto pizza. Can’t go wrong with a big batch of that in our house. A food processor makes it go really quickly.
    One simple way to up your fresh food count is just switch to fruit for dessert. Throw whipped cream on if necessary.
    That’s a novel…I think the plate is not that likely to help UNTIL people want to change and are looking for info. At that point though, a site that has recipes and video instructions and a massive list of ideas would probably help more.
    And it’s not going to help people who can’t afford fresh stuff, or perceive that they can’t, or live where they can’t.

  30. What’s behind the government’s love of milk? Dairy farmers?
    My kids call asparagus Despairagus. Each of them like (and hate) different vegetables. They agree on broccoli, lettuce, peppers, and raw vegetables. I sometimes serve raw vegetables on the side, and they eat them willingly. They’ll clamor for more raw carrots, but they all hate cooked carrots. None of them like butternut squash. They also hate couscous. My husband and I have a long list of things we can cook once the kids are out of the house.
    I’ve had success with dishes which feature a mix of vegetables, such as stir fries, casseroles, veggie pasta dishes, mixed salads.
    The grocery stores I frequent all have large produce sections. My mother hates to cook, and didn’t teach me to cook. She smoked cigarettes for decades, which may have made cooking less appealing. I had to do learn to cook the hard way, by reading cookbooks. OK, that’s not so hard, and quite within the ability of anyone who completed middle school.

  31. “In the store I was in in Dallas which I think was a Kroeger? Not sure – there was an ENTIRE aisle of pop, both sides, and the vegetable section was tiny. I have no idea if this is standard.”
    We live in Central Texas and our neighborhood store is a mixed low income/college student HEB. The proportion is probably 3 parts produce (fruit and veggie) to 2 parts soda (at least counting in linear feet). The produce section is nothing very special, as I remember each time I have an opportunity to go to the yuppie suburban HEB, which has 2-3X the variety of fruit and vegetables that we have in the city.

  32. I think there’s a biological urge to eat unhealthy — that our bodies were designed for short term living (i.e. until we reproduced), and our food desires are designed around that. So, carbs + fat + protein, and lots of it, especially when it’s easily available and doesn’t cost a lot of energy to get. A few occasional cravings for vegetables to ward off the short term problems of scurvy, rickets, etc.
    A healthy diet for long-term survival (health over 70, 80, 90, 100 years) is just not the biological imperative (to get enough food, first of all).
    In long term studies with primates, they’ve generally found that keeping them controlled at 80% of their free-foraging diets keeps them healthier (diabetes & heart health were measured). So, effectively, to remain healthy in the long term, we have to suppress our desire to eat, quite dramatically.

  33. I think grocery stores in different parts of the same city can actually be quite dramaticaly different (so, America can’t be judged by Texas, or Dallas, and Dallas can’t be judged by one store there).
    If you go into many decent CA groceries, I’m guessing you’d swoon at the availability of produce. Ours in the Pac NW are also pretty decent.
    (Mind you, that’s not true in any place when you go to certain poor neighborhoods, though that can be counteracted by ethnic stores that have veggies, like in chinatowns.)

  34. “I think grocery stores in different parts of the same city can actually be quite dramaticaly different (so, America can’t be judged by Texas, or Dallas, and Dallas can’t be judged by one store there).”
    “(Mind you, that’s not true in any place when you go to certain poor neighborhoods, though that can be counteracted by ethnic stores that have veggies, like in chinatowns.)”
    From my four years of shopping at a so-called “ghetto HEB” and looking at other people’s groceries at check-out, I’m pretty sure that some low-income demographics just don’t buy vegetables, aside from the very occasional bunch of greens, even when there is OK produce available.

  35. I finally found an old blog post of mine. I was in HEB a few years back and encountered an older guy doing a tour of the grocery store with some younger guys.
    For your enjoyment:
    “I was the grocery store today when I happened upon a couple of men with clip boards leading around a small group of college guys (student athletes?). The leader of the group had lots of earnest nutritional advice for the group. He was stressing the importance of eating fruits and vegetables and less-processed, less sugary food whose origin you can readily identify. “Hot dogs are not an animal,” he said. “Don’t eat ’em.””
    http://xantippesblog.blogspot.com/2008/12/at-grocery-store.html

  36. We just came back from some Asian fast-service place and I got to see C eat a bunch of varied veggies. The catch–they were all cut up small and deep fried inside a spring roll.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s