Happy birthday, MyPlate! MyPlate is 10 years old this year. It’s a good reminder to think about how MyPlate concepts can be incorporated into Cloverbud activities.
What is MyPlate? MyPlate is a nutritional food guide that was developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to help people become more aware of what they eat and to assist them in making better food choices. The MyPlate icon shows the five food groups: Fruits, Vegetables, Grains, Protein Foods, and Dairy. It features a simple picture of a plate, which offers a visual cue that is easy to relate to, with sections of a plate representing how much of each food group people should consume relative to the other groups.
The 2020–2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans emphasizes the importance of an overall healthy eating pattern with all five groups as key building blocks. 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.
Why emphasize healthy eating patterns? Because we know diets early in life can shape food habits into adulthood, our Cloverbud members are at the ideal age to foster good habits. However, recent studies show there is a cause for concern.
Current intakes show that from an early age, dietary patterns are not aligned with the Dietary Guidelines. Five- to 8-year-olds are generally within the range of recommended intakes for protein, fruits, and grains (although this is achieved with refined grains, not whole grains), but below in vegetables and dairy. Vegetable intake is especially low in children, and increasing vegetable consumption tends to be particularly difﬁcult. In addition, most diets exceed the recommended limits for added sugars, saturated fat, and sodium.
A recent study found that diets of children in the U.S. have improved modestly but remain poor for most. This improvement in diet quality is promising. However, another report found that more than a third of U.S. children and adolescents consumed fast food. Other researchers have examined sugar-sweetened beverages and junk foods. The results of these studies are cause for concern because fast food, sugar-sweetened beverages, and junk food have been associated with higher caloric intake and poorer diet quality. These dietary patterns contribute to overweight and obesity, as well as increasing the risk for chronic diseases later in life.
MyPlate Activities for Cloverbuds
4-H volunteers have the opportunity to help children meet guidelines for healthy eating by regularly incorporating healthy living activities into 4-H club meetings. If you’re looking for activities for Cloverbuds, the “Making Healthy Food Choices” in The Big Book of 4-H Cloverbud Activities (4-H 710GPM) is a great place to start. The Food and Nutrition Service has the Serving Up My Plate curriculum. The MyPlate website also contains activity sheets than can be downloaded. Here are some more to try.
Eat the Rainbow of Colors. Draw columns on a large sheet of paper labeled red, orange, yellow, blue, green, purple, and white. See how many fruits and vegetables the group members can name for each color.
Category Match. Divide the group into five smaller groups. Give each group one of the five food groups from MyPlate. Have the group members brainstorm as many foods as they can that fit into each category. Share lists with the whole group.
MyPlate Picnic. Have each person say their name, a food that begins with the first letter of their name, and the group it fits in. For example: “My name is Theresa, I’m going to bring tomatoes to the picnic, and they are in the vegetable group.
”What’s on Your Plate” Food Collage. Gather grocery store ads and old magazines. You will also need paper plates, markers, scissors, and glue sticks. Divide the paper plate to match the divisions on MyPlate. Cut out foods and fit them into the appropriate section of the plate.
Taste Test. Children may be reluctant to taste new foods, so taste testing can improve children’s dietary intake.
Eating the Alphabet. Use the idea from the book Eating the Alphabet (by Lois Ehlert): Name and illustrate a food for each of the letters of the alphabet. This activity can tie in with the “Planning a Community Art Exhibit” in The Big Book of 4-H Cloverbud Activities.
Read All About It. Build literacy skills while learning about the five food groups. Picture books can be effective when children are actively involved. Having them answer questions about the story exercises their critical thinking skills. There are several websites that feature selected children’s books. Here are a few to get you started.
- Food and Nutrition Service: Discover MyPlate and
- Utah State University: Food, Fun & Reading
- We Are Teachers: Books about nutrition and healthy eating habits
- Bookroo: Vegetable books
- Discover Explore Learn: 15 children’s books about fruits and vegetables
MyPlate Talking Points
MyPlate is not perfect–for one thing, the size of the plate matters. The specific amounts of food needed in each group vary by age, gender, and activity level; the Dietary Guidelines provides more detailed information on this topic. Some foods contain ingredients from multiple groups, making them difficult to classify.
The MyPlate icon focuses on incorporating healthful foods; however, all foods in a group are not the same. The key is choosing a variety of foods and beverages from each food group—and making sure that each choice is limited in saturated fat, salt, and added sugars, including cakes, cookies, ice cream, candies, sweetened drinks, and fatty meats like sausages, bacon, and hot dogs. Use these foods as occasional treats but not everyday foods (“sometimes foods”).
- Fruits – Make half your plate fruits and vegetables: Focus on whole fruits.
- Vegetables – Make half your plate fruits and vegetables: Vary your veggies.
- Grains – Make half your grains whole grains.
- Protein – Vary your protein routine. Choose protein foods like beans, fish, lean meats, and nuts.
- Dairy – Move to low-fat or fat-free milk or yogurt. Drink fat free or low-fat milk or water instead of sugary drinks.
4-H volunteer leaders working with Cloverbuds can encourage children to make healthy food choices. Developing healthy eating habits can go a long way to ensure a better lifestyle now and in the future.