Happy Birthday and Many More, MyPlate!

On its second birthday, we take a look at how helpful the MyPlate icon is

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What do you buy for someone who already has everything? The U.S. Department of Agriculture's MyPlate campaign is celebrating its second birthday this week. How time flies! It seems like just yesterday that we left that perplexing Food Pyramid to the Pharaohs and transitioned to this icon of a compartmentalized dish. MyPlate represents how Americans should fill their own plates, as first revealed by the dynamic duo of First Lady Michelle Obama and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

Although some would argue that MyPlate is too simple, perhaps here, less is more. This dish could be analogized to the foundation of a house: The bricks and mortar may be very basic, but they provide the strength and structure needed to enable you to then decorate. Whether infant or elderly, we all eat on plates. The minimalism of this icon is what makes it both fabulous and flawed. It's up to us to figure out that grains should be whole grains, protein should be lean, plants should prevail, and fats, albeit missing here, should be healthy types and portioned properly. (At first glance, it appears fat is the black sheep of the family that's not invited to the party.)

[See How to Eat for Your Age.]

No one asked me … but I would not have called this symbol MyPlate. I prefer "MyPlacemat," so perhaps some silverware could have been shown. For example, there ought to be a spoon holding some oil, along with a cup of milk.

In any event, this icon was meant to be used as a sidekick to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, highlighting our need to balance calories; eat less; fill half our plates with fruits and veggies; ditch whole milk and switch to fat-free or low-fat milk; shrink sodium intake; and healthfully hydrate with water instead of sugar-laden beverages.

[See Unusual Uses for Avocados.]

What I like about these recommendations is that, for the most part, they're realistic and actionable, and they're not overwhelming. It's also nice to finally hear advice to "eat more" of something. Veggies – and, to a certain extent, fruit – afford us the luxury to say, 'Go ahead, knock yourself out and fill half your plate with them.'

But unless you're 5 years old or don't like when your foods touch each other, most of us don't eat the way MyPlate is illustrated. We eat mixed dishes. So if you need help understanding how to fit your preferences and ethnic creations onto your plate, visit choosemyplate.gov. You'll find quick tips on how to fill each section in a way that will please your palate, your waist size and your wallet.

MyPlate may not be perfect, but it started conversations. Consumers need modest and positive messages – they don't go to the supermarket to buy what they shouldn't eat. People want to know what they should drop into their carts. No matter what your plate looks like, remember that even the finest China is worthless if it doesn't carry a healthy meal. Have you stepped up to the plate yet?

[See Video: Top Chefs Talk Healthy Eating.]

Hungry for more? Write to eatandrun@usnews.com with your questions, concerns, and feedback.

Bonnie Taub-Dix, MA, RD, CDN, has been owner of BTD Nutrition Consultants, LLC, for more than three decades and she is the author of Read It Before You Eat It. As a renowned motivational speaker, author, media personality, and award-winning dietitian, Taub-Dix has found a way to communicate how to make sense of science. Her website is BetterThanDieting.com.