It remains to be seen if the transition from the pyramid to the plate may also be a source of confusion, particularly for students who have already studied MyPyramid, although the two can certainly be taught congruently. “One of the drawbacks now is that I feel like I have to teach both,” said Rucklose. “The pyramid is still relevant, it’s still in a lot of our [curricula].” For teachers who may find value with using the MyPyramid icon, especially for older students, the Choose MyPlate website provides resources for using the two side-by-side. “Since the school year hasn’t started yet, I don’t know if that’s going to create confusion or not,” added Rucklose.
The Boys & Girls Club of Hilton Head Island has found a creative use for MyPlate during their summer program. Those enrolled in the program have been using computers to do activities that are designed to teach them about using technology and healthy eating. “We’ve previously talked to everybody about the food groups and the pyramid,” said Abi Fidler, the Technology Coordinator. “This summer, when they announced the MyPlate Icons and activities, we realized that it’s a chance to not sit and tell them these things, but I did really like the idea that it starts with choosing your plate.” Fidler adds that their program aims to help kids feel empowered to make healthy eating choices.
At the club, younger students are given a blank MyPlate icon that can be filled with pictures of foods that match each category. Older students took a more in-depth look at their own food habits, by looking at how their meals that day fit onto the plate. They also compare the messages being conveyed by commercials with the reality of nutrition labels. “One of the things I’m very passionate about is the idea of media literacy,” said Fidler. “We’re making sure that they understand that not all information is created equal.”
Teaching students the basic fundamentals behind good nutrition is important, but getting them to take these ideas home is also part of a program’s success. After all, MyPlate is part of the national campaign to fight obesity. “The whole point is how the adults use the model in the kids’ lives,” said Saunders. “A lot of parents are very successful if they do educate what the model is all about.”
The educators DietsInReview interviewed have different strategies aimed at getting kids to talk about healthy eating at home. The Boys & Girls Club of Hilton Head Island has a handout that kids can take home to their parents. Rucklose explains that she assigns kids activities to do at home with their parents. “For example, I challenged them to go home and pull out all the different kinds of cheeses in their refrigerator,” she said. “Just so they can see what they have and doing a tasting so that they can compare them.” This activity is accompanied by a lesson about how to get a serving of dairy and its appropriate portions. She has also done tastings in the classroom, bringing in healthy foods for kids to try.
Litterell says that demonstrating recipes has been a big success when teaching both adults and children, picking items that are both simple to make and healthy. “I find that’s one of my most popular tools, because I can show them what the portion size is on that plate, show them how to make it, and they get to taste it.” She also described using everyday objects to represent portion sizes, such as a deck of cards to represent a portion of protein.
Changing behavior and promoting healthier eating habits is the ultimate goal of MyPlate, which can make measuring success a challenge. For many teachers, getting feedback from kids, parents and other teachers is one of the best ways to know if a program is working. Fidler said she knows the program is successful when it sparks a child’s interest. “They want to know more,” she said. “When they get their lunch they want to look at how much of my food groups there are.” Many of these strategies may not be new in the field of nutrition education, but teachers are showing how MyPlate can be used to refresh programs and re-energize the subject.