This is my fifth column in a row writing about food, groceries and the USDA’s MyPlate guidelines. If you’re sick of reading about MyPlate, think about my poor husband who’s taken to nodding his head and mumbling “Is that so?” whenever I bring it up.
But the reason the topic fascinates me both as a mother and an American is because the price of food impacts everyone. We eat 1,095 meals a year. If there are USDA home economists analyzing how to shave costs and improve nutritional value, then I want to know what they recommend. But are their guidelines trustworthy?
Here’s what a 2,000 calorie MyPlate day from their sample two-week menu plan includes: 6 ounces of grains, 2½ cups of vegetables, 2½ cups of fruit, 3 cups of dairy, 5½ ounces of protein and 6 teaspoons of oil.
MyPlate also suggests eating 8 ounces of seafood and 1½ cups of dark green vegetables a week. It has no weekly goal for fruit juice, but allows ¾ cup a day of the fruit quota to be fulfilled with juice.
Does the average American child want to eat two servings of fish per week? Is only 1½ cups of leafy green vegetables per week enough for optimal health? Should reconstituted apple juice count as a replacement for eating an apple? These are serious questions I have, along with the big one: What about people with food allergies?
MyPlate offers a paltry 378 words of help for people with allergies and other medical conditions. Food allergies are a big deal, and MyPlate barely mentions them. If you can’t handle copious amounts of dairy, gluten and eggs, then their sample two-week meal plan would be useless.
Why don’t they have sample meal plans for people with allergies? Or alternative nutritional guidelines for people with food intolerances? My guess is this is an example of MyPlate being unduly influenced by the political forces that surround it.
MyPlate is one piece of a larger puzzle that includes the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, the National School Lunch Program and the Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018 (also known as the 2018 Farm Bill).
According to Northwest Harvest, 1 out of every 8 Washingtonians relies on food aid, and half of those people are children. Americans should analyze MyPlate because hungry children are counting on those guidelines being nutritionally sound.
Last month’s USDA Cost of Food at Home chart said that the average American family of four spent between $149.90 (the thrifty budget) and $298.30 (the liberal budget) per week on food. MyPlate offers easy-to-follow ways to shave costs and improve nutrition. However, its reliance on potential allergens like dairy, bread and eggs don’t work for everyone.
I wish there really were unbiased home economists in a food lab studying ways to help me save money, but that seems like a fantasy. When it comes to food, everyone has an agenda, and MyPlate is no exception.
Jennifer Bardsley publishes books under her own name and the pseudonym Louise Cypress. Find her online on Instagram @the_ya_gal, on Twitter @jennbardsley or on Facebook as The YA Gal. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read Jennifer Bardsley’s original MyPlate on My Budget articles from 2013:
Explore resources available from the USDA: