With childhood obesity on the rise in America, it has become increasingly important for parents and children to be aware of how much food to eat at meals and snacks. The USDA Food Guide Pyramid recommends a variety of foods from each of the five food groups every day. The five food groups (and some examples) are:
- Grains – breads, cereals, rice and pasta
- Vegetables – carrots, broccoli, and green beans
- Fruits – apples, oranges, and bananas
- Meats and Protein – chicken, beef, fish, beans, eggs, nuts, seeds, and tofu
- Dairy – milk, yogurt and cheese
Serving sizes do vary among the five food groups and also vary depending on gender. Please click on the links below to find out how much of these food groups you should eat daily:
- A serving size of grains is 1 oz.
- A serving size of vegetables is generally ½ cup cooked or 1 cup raw..
- A serving size of fruits is generally ½ cup.
- A serving size of dairy is 1 cup of milk or yogurt, or 1 ounce of cheese.
A serving size of protein is 2-3 ounces but is measured in 1 ounce units.An easy way to be sure you get the right amounts of the five food groups at meal time, called “balance,” is to divide the plate in such a way that ½ of the plate is covered with crunchy vegetables such as carrots, green beans or broccoli, while only ¼ of the plate is covered with starches such as rice, pasta, and starchy vegetables: potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn, peas, and other “mushy” vegetables. Beans such as kidney are also included in the starch category (they are higher in calories, so their intake needs to be limited.) The final ¼ of the plate should consist of lean meats, fish, poultry or other protein sources. If the meal is vegetarian and beans are the protein source, they can be moved to this quarter of the plate instead of the starches.
To determine how much you should eat of each food group daily depends on your age, sex, height, weight, and how much physical activity you engage in. Use this interactive tool from MyPlate.gov to determine how much your daily intake should be.
With school age children, usually the biggest challenge is getting them to eat their fruits or veggies. Here are some fun ideas that can help you ensure their needs are met:
- Start the day with a fruit smoothie by blending ½ banana, ½ cup frozen peaches, ½ cup 1% milk, and ½ cup 100% juice.
- Kids can make their own wraps or burritos with beans, tomatoes, cucumbers, avocados, hummus, shredded carrots, etc. Don’t forget to start off with a whole wheat tortilla!
- Take your kids to the grocery store or farmers’ market. Many times, if they can pick out the fruits and veggies themselves, they will be more likely to try them.
- Kids like being able to choose for themselves. Let them make their own fruit salad with cut up apples, blueberries, and strawberries served with a low-fat yogurt or a drizzle of honey. Yum!
- Dish up boiled edamame in the shell for a fun and healthy snack. Edamame is soy bean in the pod. The beans pop easily out of the pod making them fun to eat! They come fresh or frozen.
Do you have younger children who have adolescent or teenaged brothers or sisters who think they can eat the same portion sizes? Younger school-aged children have slower growth rates, and for this reason they should have less actual hunger. They also have smaller stomachs, which should limit hunger as well.
If they do begin to increase portions because they see their faster-growing teen siblings eating larger portions, some general nutrition tips may solve the problem. Explain to them that their siblings’ energy needs are much larger (1½ to 2 times more) than their own, and for this reason, portions should be commensurate (i.e., larger for the teenagers, smaller for them). One easy way to help them to understand portion sizes is to use the palm of their hand as a guide. The meat portions at lunch and dinner should be the size of their palm (hand minus the fingers) and starch portions should also be that size. If pasta or another starch is the main meal, its portion can be doubled to two palms of the hand. Finally, half of the plate should come from the crunchy vegetables.
Julie Seed, MEd, RD, LDN has been a nutritionist for 15 years. She worked at Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates for 4 years in Nephrology as a nutritionist, and then returned in December 2010 with the Nutrition Department. Her clinical interests are pediatric and adult weight management, diabetes management, adolescent and adult eating disorders, women’s health, and sport nutrition.