A Brief History of USDA Food Guides

A Brief History of USDA Food Guides

Download as PDF PDF 

Many individuals remember the Pyramids – the Food Guide Pyramid and MyPyramid – USDA’s food guidance symbols before MyPlate, but not many people realize just how long USDA’s history of providing science-based dietary guidance to the American public actually is. Starting over a century ago, USDA has empowered Americans to make healthy food choices by providing a number of publications, food guidance symbols, and, more recently, a suite of interactive online tools. Explore the history of USDA’s food guidance on the timeline below.

"Food for Young Children" and "How to Select Food"

1916 to 1930s: "Food for Young Children" and "How to Select Food"

  • Established guidance based on food groups and household measures

  • Focus was on “protective foods”


A Guide to Good Eating

1940s: A Guide to Good Eating (Basic Seven)

  • Foundation diet for nutrient adequacy

  • Included daily number of servings needed from each of seven food groups

  • Lacked specific serving sizes

  • Considered complex


Food for Fitness, a Daily Food Guide

1956 to 1970s: Food for Fitness, A Daily Food Guide (Basic Four)

  • Foundation diet approach—goals for nutrient adequacy

  • Specified amounts from four food groups

  • Did not include guidance on appropriate fats, sugars, and calorie intake

Hassle Free Daily Food Guide

1979: Hassle-Free Daily Food Guide

  • Developed after the 1977 Dietary Goals for the United States were released

  • Based on the Basic Four, but also included a fifth group to highlight the need to moderate intake of fats, sweets, and alcohol


Food Wheel

1984: Food Wheel: A Pattern for Daily Food Choices

  • Total diet approach - Included goals for both nutrient adequacy and moderation

  • Five food groups and amounts formed the basis for the Food Guide Pyramid

  • Daily amounts of food provided at three calorie levels

  • First illustrated for a Red Cross nutrition course as a food wheel


Food Guide Pyramid

1992: Food Guide Pyramid

  • Total diet approach—goals for both nutrient adequacy and moderation

  • Developed using consumer research, to bring awareness to the new food patterns

  • Illustration focused on concepts of variety, moderation, and proportion

  • Included visualization of added fats and sugars throughout five food groups and in the tip

  • Included range for daily amounts of food across three calorie levels


2005: MyPyramid Food Guidance System

  • Introduced along with updating of Food Guide Pyramid food patterns for the 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, including daily amounts of food at 12 calorie levels

  • Continued “pyramid” concept, based on consumer research, but simplified illustration. Detailed information provided on website “MyPyramid.gov”

  • Added a band for oils and the concept of physical activity

  • Illustration could be used to describe concepts of variety, moderation, and proportion


2011: MyPlate

  • Introduced along with updating of USDA food patterns for the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans

  • Different shape to help grab consumers’ attention with a new visual cue

  • Icon that serves as a reminder for healthy eating, not intended to provide specific messages

  • Visual is linked to food and is a familiar mealtime symbol in consumers’ minds, as identified through testing

  • “My” continues the personalization approach from MyPyramid

For more information:
Welsh S, Davis C, Shaw A. A brief history of food guides in the United States. Nutrition Today November/December 1992:6-11.
Welsh S, Davis C, Shaw A. Development of the Food Guide Pyramid. Nutrition Today November/December 1992:12-23.
Haven J, Burns A, Britten P, Davis C. Developing the Consumer Interface for the MyPyramid Food Guidance System. Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior 2006, 38: S124–S135.