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Back to Basics: All About MyPlate Food Groups

Posted by Sarah Chang, MPH, RD, Nutritionist, Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion and Kristin Koegel, MBA, RD, Nutritionist, Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion in Food and Nutrition
Aug 03, 2021
MyPlate food guidance symbol
MyPlate food guidance symbol is used to teach nutrition in schools.

Do you remember learning about the food groups in school? You may have been taught using the Food Wheel, Food Guide Pyramid or MyPyramid depending on your age. Kids today learn about the food groups from MyPlate. Now that the back-to-school season is settling down, the nutritionists at MyPlate are offering a back-to-basics refresher lesson on the food groups.

The Five Food Groups
As the MyPlate icon shows, the five food groups are Fruits, Vegetables, Grains, Protein Foods, and Dairy. The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans emphasizes the importance of an overall healthy eating pattern with all five groups as key building blocks, plus oils. (While oils are not a food group, they are emphasized as part of a healthy eating pattern because they are a major source of essential fatty acids and vitamin E). Each food group includes a variety of foods that are similar in nutritional makeup, and each group plays an important role in an overall healthy eating pattern. Some of the food groups are broken down further into subgroups to emphasize foods that are particularly good sources of certain vitamins and minerals. For example, the subgroups within the Grains Group encourage whole grains, which provide more fiber, magnesium, and zinc than refined grains.

MyPlate food groups, subgroups, and sample foods table
MyPlate food groups, subgroups, and sample foods table. Click to enlarge the image

Purpose of Food Groups
As nutrition science has progressed over time, scientists have discovered vitamins, minerals, and other components that make up our foods, and surely, there are more yet to be discovered. Food groups simplify dietary recommendations by focusing on foods instead of nutrients. For example, it’s much easier to try to eat two cups of fruit a day than 75 milligrams of vitamin C and 25 grams of fiber. The USDA Food Patterns provide the recommended amounts of each food group and subgroup at 12 different calorie levels, ranging from 1,000 to 3,200. These patterns are developed using food pattern modeling. By eating recommended amounts, individuals can meet their nutritional needs without having to track dozens of individual nutrients.

Food Group Amounts
The USDA Food Patterns specify targets for each food group in cup equivalents (for Fruits, Vegetables, and Dairy) and ounce equivalents (for Grains and Protein Foods). Each pattern also includes a limited number of calories (8-19%) that can be used in other ways, such as small amounts of added sugars and saturated fats. Americans are encouraged to choose foods in their most nutrient dense forms as often as possible, to keep added sugars and saturated fat intakes each below 10 percent of total calorie intake.

Teaching the Food Groups offers numerous food group-based nutrition education resources, including tip sheets, videos, food group quizzes, infographics, and more. Plus, MyPlate offers audience-specific resources as well. For example, there are activity sheets, games, videos, and songs for children; activities for families; healthy eating on a budget resources; and MiPlato tipsheets and resources for Spanish speakers.

To learn more about MyPlate and to find out when new resources are available, follow @MyPlate on Facebook or Twitter and sign up for MyPlate email updates at

Sample MyPlate Plan
Sample MyPlate Plan available at and click to enlarge the image
Category/Topic: Food and Nutrition

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Lois Redican
Sep 27, 2017

Why do your food groups not correspond to the Nutrition Facts Labels on food packages which are Fats, Carbohydrates, and Proteins? There are 3 fat groups: saturated fat (from red meat, hard cheese, butter, sour cream, heavy cream, and lebne) , mono-unsaturated fat (from various nuts, peanuts, avocado, olive oil, canola oil), and polyunsaturated fat (from soybeans, walnuts) . There are 4 carbohydrate groups: grains and legumes (seeds), vegetables, fruits, and milk and yogurt. There are many foods that are mostly protein: red meat, poultry, eggs, pork, fish, shellfish, cottage cheese, Greek yogurt, and tofu. It is important for people to know that saturated fat is a secondary energy source and glucose rich foods (starch) are the primary energy sources. Excessive consumption of these foods lead to obesity.

Ben Weaver
Oct 05, 2017

@Lois Redican - The Nutrition Facts panel and the MyPlate food groups are both tools people can use to build a healthy eating pattern. The Nutrition Facts label can be used when purchasing foods and when comparing two different food products. It provides information about macronutrients (fat, carbohydrates and protein) as well as select micronutrients, including calcium, vitamins A and C, and iron. The MyPlate food groups are designed to help people build healthy eating patterns over time. To build a healthy eating pattern, choices within each food group should be nutrient dense, meaning that they are low in added sugars, saturated fat and sodium. MyPlate is an icon that can help you to easily visualize the components of a healthy eating pattern. In practice, you can use the MyPlate food groups to help build and plan meals, and when you go to the store to shop for ingredients, look at the Nutrition Facts panel to make sure that you are choosing foods that are lower in saturated fat and sodium.

Rebeca Novoa
Apr 02, 2018

it is interesting to me how eating more fruits and vegetables can make the different.

Pepita Longsheet
Dec 11, 2018

Fruit cannot be more important than vegetables… Please check it.

Jan 21, 2019

Dairy is not a food group! So many people are lactose intolerant and there are plenty of plant based calcium rich foods, like greens. Instead that food group should be just taken out completely. You could change it with fat if you want, but that should be a small percentage of our "plate".

Jewel Ahmed
Nov 23, 2019

Thank you for sharing.

Patricia Leary
Dec 30, 2019

Now that many proper scientific studies have been done showing that saturated fats are actually healthier for us than poly or unsaturated fats, why is the government still perpetuating this myth to our detriment?

Augustina Adegbeminiyi
Jan 07, 2020

This is very informative.

Ben Richardson
Jan 25, 2020

Good information to customize a personal meal plan

Margarita Ruiz
Feb 06, 2020

Although these are the recommended 5 groups it not realistic to eat this 3 meals a day. with busy work schedules, school, kids and a busy life its easier to buy out side or to just grab a frozen meal and microwave it.

Feb 26, 2020

I didn't realize that the "meat" group is now referred to as the "protein group." You do realize that beans - a plant/vegetable - has a ton of protein, yes? This whole plate is a misnomer as to what we should be eating. We don't need meat for protein and to call that a whole group on its own is misleading.

Mar 25, 2020

Your my plate should have 2 cups of fruit, 21\2 of vegies, 6 ounces of grain, 51\2 ounces of protein, and 3 cup's of dairy.

Avery Palumbo
Mar 27, 2020

I think food groups can be very important because if you don't follow the food groups sometimes your body can get weaker but if you do follow the food groups your body can get very healthy and strong.

Maia Dionisio
Mar 30, 2020

I think this article will help me and my family have a better and well-balanced meal when having breakfast, lunch, and dinner. :)

May 05, 2020

I have learned that fruits and vegetables are a very important part of a very balanced diet and can help you get through the day. dairy is good for you but in limited amou nts

Marciene Jackson
May 08, 2020

I think that it should tall more about the food fats and the carbohydrates on the food labels

Karen Jones
May 25, 2020

To encourage us to improve our diet, provide pdfs or copy-and-paste versions of MyPlate and the image before that in a font size that will be readable when printed out in landscape. Size 5 just doesn't cut it.

Sep 12, 2020

Dairy is not a food group. We do not need milk to get calcium. Calcium can be found if green food. Too much calcium intake makes our bones brittle

Moises Vergel
Jan 20, 2021

every single food in that plate is necesary to our body because we need proteins vegetables fruits and dairy

Andrew walker
Feb 11, 2021

these are healthy ways for a kid to eat.

Feb 16, 2021

Clearly no one is actually reading the myplate guidelines....this is meant as a guideline (what does a guideline mean? It means something to start from) if you cannot consume dairy or meat, then you will need to do more research on sources of calcium, protein, vitamin D, fats. It does say nuts and beans in the protein section as well as soy options in the dairy section. Those with allergies will need to do more research outside of this source. That is just a reality; you aren’t being picked on. This is a guideline source people. There are actually trans fats too so that would make 4 fats not three. Dairy is a food group bc of the specific vitamins contained in those products. There is nothing wrong with being lactose intolerant or gluten sensitive/celiac disease, etc. But you will have to research more to find recipes and substitutes which there are numerous sources outside this source. This is again a GUIDELINE to get people away from grabbing fast food, frozen meals and eating prepared snacks which make you obese and destroy your health. FYI SATURATED FAT is not a good fat...don’t say stuff unless you know for certain. It is ok in moderation but it contributes to raising LDL and heart disease which is bad. Unsaturated fat is the good fat. You can find saturated fats in meats which is why they recommend lean meats and fish. Trans fat is really not good and mostly found in artificial forms in prepared packed foods. Use this guideline people and use the internet to dig deeper. This is also a 2,000 calorie/day limit and that is also not for every body type. You have to adjust accordingly. ??‍♀️ EVERYTHING WILL NEVER INCLUDE EVERYONE. Guidelines are based on country averages...the average American needs x y z...

Lori Parys
Mar 12, 2021

USDA, you are getting there but still not enough adjustment for quality health on the food plate.
Money still talks and capitalizes the industry even after substantial evidence proves otherwise. Still a disappointed health teacher having to show this to my students.

Mar 18, 2021

i think having a balanced diet is important because if you don't get the right balance of food your body would not have the food to work properly.

Apr 19, 2021

I think mushrooms and edible fungi need to be recommended more.

Sep 27, 2021

I'm watching my daughter in law with gestational diabetes tackle a new way of eating and these are the basics which are actually keeping her blood sugar levels very low, it's all about combining the right amount of each with meals. Not all fruit for breakfast and all protein for lunch, it's all about balance, if you eat carbs you eat protein and dairy to offset etc. I watched her do it for a week and her blood sugar levels were perfect.

Oct 05, 2021

This is very informative. Thank you.