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Food Groups

Child Nutrition Basics


Updated June 11, 2011

Vegetables are an important food group in the new MyPlate nutrition campaign.

Vegetables are an important food group in the new MyPlate nutrition campaign.

Photo courtesy of the USDA

The food pyramid has long encouraged kids to eat foods from each of the food groups each day, but that only worked if you and your kids understood what the food groups actually are.

If left up to some kids, the food groups might end up being candy, chips, cookies, ice cream and soda.

And for some parents looking for quick and easy foods to feed their kids, the food groups may be pizza, cheeseburgers, macaroni and cheese, french fries and juice boxes.

Fortunately, the real food groups provide a much healthy and balanced diet.

Although it has been replaced with the new MyPlate logo, which advises that we should make half of our plates fruits and vegetables, it doesn't change actually anything about the food groups. The MyPlate messages, including that you encourage your kids to avoid oversized portions, vary your vegetables, make at least half of your grains whole grains, and drink fat-free or low-fat milk, were all key messages of the food pyramid too.

Food Groups

Surprising to some parents and kids, most (but not all) of the above foods fit into one or more food groups. The foods that don't fit into a food group, like soda and candy, count as discretionary calories. Other foods, even pizza and french fries, fit into one or more of the five primary food groups:

  • Grains - grains, especially whole grains, are good sources of fiber, iron, magnesium, selenium, and several B vitamins, including thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, and folate. Refined grains, such as white bread, white rice, non-whole grain pasta do not have as much fiber as whole grain varieties. Grains include foods made with wheat, rice, oats, cornmeal, and barley, etc., such as bread, pasta, breakfast cereal, popcorn, tortillas, and oatmeal.

  • Vegetables - Vegetables are usually a good source of fiber, potassium, folate, vitamin A, vitamin E, and vitamin C. Keep in mind that kids should eat a variety of vegetables from each of the 5 vegetable subgroups:
    • Dark green vegetables
    • Orange vegetables
    • Dry beans and peas
    • Starchy vegetables
    • Other vegetables

  • Fruits - most kids like fruits, which are usually a good source of potassium, fiber, vitamin C, and folate. Although 100% fruit juice counts as a fruit in this food group, remember that it is almost always better to eat whole foods.

  • Milk - this food group is important because it provides kids with calcium, potassium, vitamin D, and protein in their diet. It includes milk, cheese, yogurt, and milk-based desserts, such as ice cream, frozen yogurt, and pudding made with milk. In general, parents should choose low-fat milk products that do not have added sugar. For example, 2% milk would be better than whole milk with chocolate flavoring.

  • Meat and Beans - in addition to meat and dry beans, this food group also includes poultry, fish, eggs, and nuts (including peanut butter), which are usually a good source of protein, iron, vitamin E, zinc, magnesium, and several B vitamins, including niacin, thiamin, riboflavin, and B6. Unless you choose lean or low-fat meat and poultry, food from this food group can also be a source of extra fat.

  • Oils - although not a real food group, oils and fats are an important part of your diet - both because you need to eat some of them and because you don't want to overdo it. In general, your kids should eat mostly polyunsaturated or monounsaturated oils and fats, avoiding saturated fats, trans fats, and cholesterol.


United States Department of Agriculture. Food Groups.

United States Department of Agriculture. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010.

Related Video
USDA Food Pyramid Explained

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