Navigating the Food Pyramid

The USDA's new dietary guidelines help you choose foods and servings sizes that are right for you.
By Maureen Callahan

It was good news when the U.S. Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services released the updated Dietary Guidelines for Americans in 2005.

First, the guidelines acknowledged that everyone has different dietary needs, depending on gender, age, weight, and physical activity. Second, they urged everyone to watch overall calorie consumption and eat more heart-healthy fats, whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and fat-free or low-fat dairy products.

That's great-dietary recommendations tailored to your personal needs. And to help people determine exactly what those needs are, the USDA introduced www.MyPyramid.gov, a free online food guide complete with interactive tools to help you learn what nutrition experts say you should eat and how your diet stacks up to their recommendations.

Navigating the Pyramid
Follow these steps to assess your own intake using the interactive Food Guide Pyramid online program.

1.) For a quick, individualized plan, go to www.MyPyramid.gov. Simply enter your age, gender, and physical activity level in the MyPyramid Plan box, and click on "Submit." Within seconds, you will have a breakdown of how many servings you should consume from each food category. You can also print a chart of your MyPyramid results, which includes recommendations for oils, discretionary calories, and physical activity.

2.) For a more detailed analysis, go to www.MyPyramidTracker.gov. You can input information for your food intake and physical activity. The more specific (and realistic) your data, the better the recommendations will be. Then analyze the results, comparing them to the general Dietary Guidelines or to your MyPyramid recommendations.

3.) The USDA's Target Center (202-720-2600) provides alternative media sources for the Food Guide Pyramid, including Braille, computer discs, and audio and videotapes.

Recipes to Get You Started

Breakfast

Citrus Waffles with Marmalade Compote
One serving of this simple breakfast contributes about 1/2 cup serving of fruit and about two ounces grains.

Lunch

Mozzarella Chicken Sandwich
This sandwich provides two grain servings from the ciabatta, a little more than two servings of meat from the chicken, and half a dairy serving from the cheese. Serve with orange wedges and baked chips.

Ham and Cheese Toasted Sandwich
This quick and tasty sandwich packs nutrition for breakfast or lunch. This would equal two ounces whole grains, one ounce meat, about 70 discretionary calories (from the cream cheese and cheddar cheese), and about 1⁄3 cup of dairy servings.

Eggplant Parmesan
Japanese eggplants are thinner and longer than the globe eggplants found in most grocery stores. Look for this variety at an Asian market if your supermarket does not carry it; substitute two (one-pound) globe eggplants if the Asian variety is not available. One serving of this Italian classic constitutes about two cups of vegetable allotment-most of your vegetables for the day.

Creamy Spinach and Tofu Spaghetti
This heart-healthy pasta dish blends tofu and spinach to create a creamy sauce for the pasta. The whole wheat pasta also provides a serving of whole grains.

Snacks

Edamame Dip
You won't need encouragement to eat your veggies when you serve this hearty, nutty dip with a variety of crisp vegetables such as jicama, bell pepper strips, steamed sugar snap peas, and carrot sticks.

Dinner

Five-Spice Tilapia with Citrus Ponzu Sauce
One serving of this fish provides almost all five ounces of meat recommended for those on an 1,800-calorie meal plan.

Chicken with Balsamic-Fig Sauce
This recipe yields about four ounces cooked meat from one chicken breast and 3⁄4 teaspoon oil-about 3⁄4 of an average woman's daily meat and 15 percent of oil allowance per MyPyramid recommendations.

Roasted Pepper and Goat Cheese Pasta
Pureeing the roasted peppers into a sauce is an easy way to add a generous vegetable serving to a meal. To make this a vegetarian dish, substitute vegetable broth for chicken broth.

Pineapple Teriyaki Salmon
You can round out the meal with sautéed haricots verts and quick-cooking couscous.

Pecan White and Brown Rice Pilaf
Using part instant white rice and part instant brown rice can help make the switch to whole grains easier.