The Food Guide Pyramid

The U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Guide Pyramid of daily dietary recommendations divides food into six groups. Recommendations are for children ages 3 and older.

Food pyramidAt the top of the pyramid are foods you should eat only sparingly. As the pyramid gets wider toward the bottom, the suggested number of servings increases. As you go up, it does not mean the foods are more important or somehow better. Being higher on the pyramid simply means you should eat fewer servings of that type of food each day.

The recommended amount of daily servings reflects adult-size servings. For example, a serving size for a 3-year-old might be a quarter or half of a serving for an adult. Check the USDA Web site for more information about age-appropriate servings. Also, keep in mind that daily serving recommendations are guidelines, and on some days you may eat more or less of a certain food group.

Different foods within the lower five food groups have varying combinations of nutrients, so be sure to choose food combinations that utilize more than one group.

Bread, Cereal, Rice, and Pasta

BreadsThe Bread, Cereal, Rice, and Pasta group is at the base of the pyramid because these foods should provide the majority of the energy a person needs each day.

These foods are high in complex carbohydrates, which are the body's favorite fuel. After carbohydrates are digested, energy in the form of glucose is circulated in the blood. The liver and muscles also store glucose for later use during physical activity.

This food group also provides other important nutrients such as vitamin B-complex (folate), which helps your child's body form DNA/RNA and red blood cells and aids the body in using proteins. Whole grains add necessary bulk to the digestive tract to aid in elimination of wastes.

6-11 servings daily 1 serving =

1 slice of bread 1/2 cup cooked rice or pasta 1 ounce cold cereal 1/2 bagel 1/2 English muffin


VegetablesVegetables provide many of the vitamins and minerals kids need for good health. Because vegetables contain many different vitamins and minerals, it is important to have a variety of them in your child's diet. Vegetables also provide fiber to aid in elimination of body wastes.

Be sure to scrub vegetables before cooking. Ideally, vegetables should be steamed, microwaved, or eaten raw. Occasional stir-frying is acceptable. Boiling vegetables is OK, but some of the vitamins and minerals will be lost to the cooking water.

3-5 servings daily 1 serving =

1/2 cup chopped vegetables (raw or cooked) 1 cup raw leafy vegetables


FruitFruits are especially good sources of important vitamins like A and C. This food group also adds minerals such as potassium and fiber for proper elimination of wastes from the body.

Be sure to scrub fruits before eating. It is best to eat fruits raw. Avoid peeling or slicing fruits until just before use.

2-4 servings daily 1 serving =

1 medium-sized piece of fruit 1/2 cup cooked or canned fruit 1/2 cup fruit juice

Milk, Yogurt, and Cheese

MilkThis food group is an important source of vitamin A, vitamin D, calcium, and protein.

Vitamin A is important for healthy eyes, skin, and hair. Vitamin D helps your child's body absorb calcium and use it for healthy bones and teeth, along with muscle and nerve functions.

Protein in the body is made from the building blocks called amino acids. Protein's main functions are to repair and maintain body tissues, produce hemoglobin to carry oxygen to the cells, and produce antibodies and enzymes. Some of the amino acids in protein are produced by the body; others must be obtained in the diet. Excess protein is converted to fat in the body and stored.

2-3 servings daily 1 serving =

1 cup milk 1 cup yogurt 1 1/2 to 2 ounces cheese

Meat, Poultry, Fish, Beans, Eggs, and Nuts

MeatProtein, an important part of your child's diet, can be found in this food group.

Foods in this group also provide vitamin B-complex, which helps your child's body form DNA/RNA and red blood cells and aids the body in using proteins. And iron helps build strong bones and teeth and support muscle and nerve functions.

2-3 servings daily 1 serving =

2 to 3 ounces lean meat, poultry, or fish 1 egg, 2 Tbs. peanut butter, or 1/2 cup cooked dried beans counts as 1 ounce of lean meat

Fats, Oils, and Sweets

FatsFats and oils are essential nutrients to maintain body function but should be used sparingly. Fats help the body absorb vitamins A, D, E, K, and beta-carotene. They help slow sugar's release into the bloodstream and are important for the formation of cell membranes.

Aim for fat intake of 30% or less of total daily food intake. Saturated fats (butter, beef fat) should be limited to 10% or less of the fat total. Unsaturated fats (safflower and corn oil) and monounsaturated fats (olive and peanut oil) are healthier choices. That means that a child who needs 2,000 calories a day can safely have about 60 grams of fat each day in combination with a varied diet.

Fats shouldn't be restricted in children under age 2. The developing brain and other organs of the young child need a certain amount of fat for proper development. Many people don't realize that breast milk, nature's favorite infant formula, is 50% fat.

Sugars, which are simple carbohydrates, are easy to digest and are quickly absorbed into the bloodstream where they provide quick energy. Sugars provide some nutritive value, but they should be eaten sparingly because they are often consumed as excess calories and lead to weight gain.

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APA Reference
Tracy, N. (2009, January 5). The Food Guide Pyramid, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 13 from

Last Updated: January 14, 2014

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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