Choose My Plate

Daily recommendations

The percentages, called Daily Values, do not provide accurate information for children. They are the percentage met of these nutrients but are based on higher calorie diets. Concentrate on calories, fat, sodium, fiber, and cholesterol.

Nutrient Recommended Amount
Total Fat < 50 grams
    Saturated Fat   < 12 grams
    Trans Fat Minimize as much as possible
Sodium < 2000 milligrams
Fiber 25-30 grams
Cholesterol < 200 milligrams


The basics

  • Enjoy your food but eat smaller portions
  • Increase vegetables and fruits – no limits on fruits and vegetables
  • Eliminate sugar-sweetened beverages. This includes regular soda, juice (even 100% fruit juice), and chocolate, strawberry, or flavored milk
  • It is ok and good for kids to get hungry between
  • Do not keep junk food in the home
  • Dietary changes should include the entire family
  • No single food provides all of the nutrients we need, so it is important to eat a wide variety of

 Fruits and vegetables

Eating fruits and vegetables each day is important for long-term health since they contain nutrients that most other food groups don’t have. These nutrients, including antioxidants and phytonutrients, fight against diabetes and heart disease every day. If there is a shortage of these nutrients in the body due to a poor intake of fruits and vegetables, then the body won’t be equipped to fight against these chronic diseases that are threatening the body, even at a young age. Aim for 5 or more servings every day!

Shop Smart:

  • Buy fresh fruits and vegetables that are in season
  • Go to your local Farmers Market
  • Canned and frozen vegetables and fruits can be less expensive and just as healthy. Look for options that have “no added salt”
  • Prepare and freeze vegetable soups/stews in advance
  • Use frozen produce or over-ripe produce in smoothies
  • Have kids pick out produce for their snacks

Fit Fruits and Veggies in wherever possible:

  • Keep fruit out on the counter or in an easily accessible refrigerator spot so it is the first thing you see
  • Cut up fresh veggies when home from the store so they are ready-to-eat
  • Add color to your salad by using red peppers, shredded radishes, chopped cabbage, or carrots
  • When eating out, ask to substitute a side of vegetables for the typical fried side dish


  • Cutting back on sweets is key
  • No sugar-sweetened beverages!
    • No soda
    • No juice - not even 100% juice
    • No sports drinks unless exercising for > 1 hour
    • Read labels - some “flavored waters” have sugar
  • Water is best but can use some sugar-free alternatives such as Crystal Light, sparkling waters, diet sodas in moderation
  • Sweets should be treats – NOT every day foods
  • Make fruit the fallback dessert
  • Instead of dessert, go for a 15 minute walk or play a game as a family. Your family will have the double benefit of less sweets and more exercise. By the time you are done, you won’t feel like you need dessert.
  • Savor sweets on special occasions like birthdays and holidays
  • Order 1 dessert and several forks at restaurants
  • Avoid using foods as rewards

 What about fat?

Your body needs some fat for energy, cell growth, hormone production and for the absorption of some nutrients.

All types of fat have the same amount of calories – 9 calories per gram – which is over twice that of protein and carbohydrates.

The most important thing is to maintain a healthy weight and lifestyle. Eating a diet low in the bad fats and moderate in the good fats can also help your cardiovascular health and blood cholesterol panel.

Types of fat:

Bad fats: Saturated fats (animal fats, butter, full-fat dairy) and trans fats – a.k.a. partially hydrogenated vegetable oil (found in purchased baked goods and deep-fried foods)

  • Raise the bad cholesterol levels in the blood
  • Just because a label says “trans fat-free” does not mean the food is healthly

Good fats: Monounsaturated fats (fish, nuts, seeds and vegetable oils) and polyunsaturated fats (oily fish like salmon, trout and herring, nuts and seeds)

  • Improve cholesterol levels when eaten in moderation

 Reading a nutrition label

Reading the label helps you become a smarter shopper and eater.

What to look for:

Calories and serving size
If you are trying to lose or maintain your weight, the number of calories you eat counts. To lose weight you need to eat fewer calories than your body burns. Remember to check the serving size listed on the label. If the serving size is 1 cup and you eat 2 cups, you need to double everything.

Total fat
Total fat tells you how much fat is in a food per serving. It includes fats that are good for you such as mono and polyunsaturated fats, which help to lower your cholesterol and protect your heart, and fats that are not so good such as saturated and trans fats, which can raise your blood cholesterol and increase your risk of heart disease. Fat is calorie-dense. Although some types of fat are healthy, it is still important to pay attention to the overall number of calories that you consume to maintain a healthy weight.

Sodium does not affect blood glucose or cholesterol levels. Too much salt is linked with high bood pressure, which increases risk of stroke and heart disease. Many people eat much more sodium than they need. Reading labels can help you compare the sodium in different foods. You can also cook with herbs and spices instead of adding salt.

Total carbohydrate
Look at the grams of total carbohydrate. Total carbohydrate on the label includes sugar (lower is better), complex carbohydrate (some is good), and fiber (more is better).

Fiber is the part of plant foods that is not digested, or for some types, only partially digested. Fiber helps you feel full and slows the release of the sugars from the food.

Cholesterol is found in products of animal origin or in products made with ingredients of animal origin. Cholesterol can add up, so keep an eye on the total amount you get within the day.

List of ingredients
Ingredients are listed in descending order by weight. Try to avoid foods that list hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oil in the ingredient list or foods that list a form of sugar (i.e., corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, dextrose, sucrose, maltose, maltodextrin, fruit juice concentrate) as one of the first ingredients.


Breakfast is the most important meal of the day – it might be 12 hours or more since you last ate. A nutritious breakfast gives you energy for your day, and has been proven to improve school performance. Your breakfast can set a healthy tone for the rest of the day. A fiber-rich breakfast can help prevent midmorning hunger pangs, while a breakfast of processed foods that are high in sugar or bad fats does not provide this benefit.

Planning breakfast

Mornings in most homes are hectic. Plan ahead so that a healthy breakfast is an easy choice. Aim for a balance of healthy carbohydrates, fat and protein.


  • Oatmeal topped with fruit and nuts
  • Yogurt with cereal or fruit
  • Hard-boiled egg and piece of fruit
  • Peanut butter on a whole grain bagel
  • Tortilla spread with peanut butter and wrapped around banana
  • Lean ham and cheese on an English muffin
  • Whole grain cold cereal with milk and fruit

In a pinch, grab one of these on the way out of the door: banana, yogurt cup, handful of almonds, oatmeal bar, glass of milk, any piece of fruit, or a handful of dried fruit.


Make snacks part of a healthy diet by choosing nutrient-rich foods. Beware of snacking out of boredom or eating high calorie snacks. Aim for 200 calories (300 calories for very active kids).

200 calorie snack examples:

  • Tbsp of peanut butter on an apple or banana
  • Celery sticks (unlimited) dipped in 1 Tbsp peanut butter or almond butter
  • 2 cups of fresh (or try frozen!) grapes
  • 1 oatmeal cookie
  • Pepper strips or broccoli (unlimited) dipped in 2 Tbsp of hummus
  • 3 cups of air-popped popcorn with spray butter and salt
  • Bowl of carrots/peas/ peppers dipped in 2 Tbsp veggie dip
  • 1 cup of whole grain cereal in skim milk
  • 1 oz whole grain crackers with 1 oz sliced cheese
  • Cup of low-sugar yogurt with 1/4 cup granola

Healthy snacks need to be available. Junk food should not be an option. Do not depend on the child (or adult!) to make a healthy snack decision if faced with unhealthy options and no supervision. Make the healthy choice the only choice.

Summary of healthy eating

Lower salt intake:

Diets that contain no more than 1200 milligrams of salt for 4-8 year olds, and 1500 milligrams of salt per day for older children, may help to decrease blood pressure. Most children take in much more than this. Highly processed foods often contain large amounts of salt.

Lower saturated fat intake:

Saturated fats are unhealthy fats that come mostly from animal products and generally raise LDL cholesterol levels. To help lower LDL to an acceptable range, your child should consume 12-15 grams of saturated fat per day. That means limiting consumption of animal products, such as red meats and pork, whole milk dairy products, cheeses and butter, the skin of poultry, coconut oil, palm oil, palm kernel oil and cocoa butter. Healthy replacement fats include olive oil, canola oil, avocado, and nuts.

Zero trans-fatty acids:

Trans-fatty acids are artificial fats created in the 1990s by scientists looking for a cheap alternative to butter. These include hydrogenated oils, which have no health value. In fact, in addition to increasing LDL cholesterol, trans fats decrease HDL levels. Unfortunately, trans fats are found in many packaged snacks, such as crackers and cookies, as well as in the oils used to cook deep-fried restaurant foods. Food manufacturers are required to list trans fats on food labels, but you should double-check ingredients and avoid foods that contain anything “hydrogenated” or “partiallyhydrogenated”.

Lower cholesterol intake:

Cholesterol intake should be reduced to less than 200 mg of cholesterol per day. The four largest sources of cholesterol are liver, egg yolks, squid (calamari) and shrimp.

Increased dietary fiber:

Dietary fiber can be found in fruits, vegetables, whole grain foods, beans, and legumes. Soluble fiber in oats can even help decrease cholesterol absorption. Experts recommend at least 25-30 grams of fiber per day.

Reduced caloric intake:

Strategies for limiting calories include reducing portion sizes and removing high-calorie snacks and junk foods from the home. Children with elevated triglycerides are advised to decrease intake of simple sugars and refined carbohydrates such as white breads, rice and potatoes, pasta, and sweet foods.