Child and Adult Care Food Program

Pulling It All Together: The Food Guide Pyramid

Food Guide PyramidThe Food Guide Pyramid is an outline of foods to eat for a healthful diet. It is a general guide for choosing nutritious foods. The Food Guide Pyramid emphasizes foods from the five major food groups:

  • Grains
  • Vegetables
  • Fruits
  • Milk
  • Meat & Beans

You may notice that the food groups are categorized differently than the meal components in the CACFP. In the Pyramid, fruits and vegetables make up two separate groups. Yogurt and cheese, instead of being considered meat alternates, are grouped with milk in the dairy group. Despite these small differences in grouping, the Food Guide Pyramid can provide a healthful approach to meeting the requirements of the CACFP.

The Pyramid is based on proportion. Proportion has to do with the number of servings recommended from each food group. It recommends a higher number of servings from food groups at the bottom of the Pyramid and a lower number of servings as it narrows. You may recognize that the foods in the bottom three groups all come from plant sources. Because they come from plants, these foods provide all of the fiber and many of the vitamins and minerals that we need daily.

One of the primary messages of the Food Guide Pyramid is the importance of eating a variety of foods. Each food group provides some, but not all, of the nutrients that are needed. Foods in one group cannot replace those in another. No one food group is more important than another - for good health, all are needed.

The foods at the very tip of the Pyramid - fats, oils and sweets - are not part of the five food groups, but are "extras." Approximately 1/3 of the fat in our food and much of the sugar comes from these foods. These "drips of fat" and "cubes of sugar" can also be added to foods throughout the five groups. When choosing foods for a healthful diet, consider the fat and sugar in food choices from the five food groups.

What Counts as a Serving of Breads, Cereals, Rice, and Pasta for Preschoolers?

Breads, cereals, rice and pasta are at the base of the Pyramid. These foods are important sources of complex carbohydrates, fiber, and some vitamins and minerals. The Pyramid suggests 6-11 servings of these foods a day. The servings listed below are applicable to preschool children. Please consult the program guidelines for specific serving sizes for each age group.

  • 1/2 to 1 slice of bread
  • 1/4 to 1/2 of an English muffin
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup of cooked cereal, rice or pasta
  • 1/2 to 1 corn tortilla
  • 1/4 to 3/4 cup of ready-to-eat cereal
  • approximately 2 to 4 crackers

What Counts as a Serving of Vegetables for Preschoolers?

Vegetables provide vitamins A, C, and folate as well as minerals like iron and magnesium. They are low in fat and provide fiber. The Pyramid recommends eating 3-5 servings of vegetables every day.

  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup of cooked vegetables
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup of raw or leafy vegetables
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup of vegetable juice

What Counts as a Serving of Fruit for Preschoolers?

Fruits are important because they supply vitamins A and C as well as potassium. Like vegetables, they are low in fat and provide fiber. The Pyramid recommends eating 2-4 servings of fruits every day.

  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup of cooked or canned fruits
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup of fresh fruits
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup of fruit juice

What Counts as a Serving of Meat, Poultry, Fish, Eggs, and Dry Beans for Preschoolers?

Meat, poultry, and fish supply protein, B vitamins, iron and zinc. Dried beans, eggs, and nuts are also good sources of protein and supply many of the same vitamins and minerals found in meats. Dried beans are also low in fat and a good source of fiber. The Pyramid recommends eating 2-3 servings of these foods a day.

  • 1/2 to 2 oz. of meat, poultry or fish
  • 1/8 to 1/2 cup of dried beans
  • 1/2 to 1 egg

What Counts as a Serving of Milk, Yogurt, and Cheese?

Milk, yogurt and cheese are the best sources of calcium. They also supply protein, riboflavin and vitamins A and D. The Pyramid recommends having 2-3 servings from this group every day. Because the serving sizes for children are smaller, and calcium needs are high, the upper amount is advised.

  • 1/2 to 1 cup of milk
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup of yogurt
  • 1/2 to 2 oz. cheese

The Food Guide Pyramid is best used as a guide for those making food choices for children. The information presented by the Pyramid is too complex for preschool children to understand. Any direct teaching with children about the Food Guide Pyramid should be kept simple. For example, children might enjoy learning the difference between a triangle and a pyramid by comparing models of each. They may also understand the difference in foods that come from plants and those that come from animals. Teaching them the importance of eating foods from all of the groups daily will help them to begin at an early age to get a wide variety of foods in their diet.

Back to: Promoting Health