What’s on your plate?

Realizing which food groups you are eating (and how much you need of each group) can help you get the right balance of nutrition your body needs for optimal performance. And yes, this includes your brain tooFood groups include grains, proteins, fruits, vegetables, dairy, oils.  Many diets include the # of portions you can eat each day or week, so if you are dieting, it’s important to learn about each group to be sure you are still getting the nutrition you need at your next meal. Be sure to read our article: Good Nutrition and Why You Need It.

There are 7 Basic Food Groups:

 7 Basic Food Groups

Yes, you’ll see the number of food groups vary from 3 to 6 with 5 being the most common. Oils and Solid Fats and Added Sugars are often not considered a food group but discussed as it pertains to other foods.  For this article, we’ll take a closer look at all 7 groups.


Any food made from wheat, rye, rice, oats, cornmeal, barley, or another cereal grain is a grain product. In addition to bread and pasta, there is cereal, rice, grits, tortillas, even popcorn. Because these foods can be processed and stored easily, these foods are readily available and many people find it easy to eat more grains than needed.

Advice: Look for grain choices that are low in saturated and trans fat and low in added sugar when possible. But be careful to read the label because low-fat baked goods can be high in added sugar.

Try to choose grain products made from whole grains. Make sure the first food on the ingredients list contains the word “whole,” such as whole wheat, whole oats, or whole grain. Other whole grains include popcorn, brown rice, wild rice, buckwheat, bulgur, and quinoa. Whole grains can help you add fiber to your diet.

Grain Options
Here are examples of a one ounce (1 oz.) or an ounce-equivalent of grain:

  • Slice of bread
  • Small (2-1/2-inch) muffin
  • Cup flaked cereal
  • Half cup cooked rice, pasta, or cooked cereal
  • Three cups popcorn
  • 6-inch corn or flour tortilla

Here’s what these grain examples look like on your plate:

One Ounce Grain Options
Photo: National Institute on Aging / Health Information



Sometimes, vegetables get a bum rap. That’s a shame because delicious vegetables come in a wide variety of colors and flavors. Dark green vegetables include broccoli, collard greens, spinach, and kale. Some red and orange vegetables are acorn squash, carrots, pumpkin, tomato, and sweet potato. Starchy vegetables are foods like corn, green peas, and white potatoes. Other vegetables include eggplant, beets, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, celery, artichokes, and onions. Beans and peas (not green peas) include black beans, garbanzo beans (chickpeas), lima beans, soybeans, and tofu.

Did you know?: Some vegetables can also be counted in the protein foods group.

Vegetable Options

Here are examples of a half ounce (1/2 oz.) or an ounce-equivalent of vegetables:

  • Cup of uncooked leafy vegetables
  • Six baby carrots or one medium carrot
  • Half a large baked sweet potato
  • Five broccoli florets
  • Half of a large (3 x 4-inch) red pepper
  • Half cup cooked green beans

Here’s what these vegetable examples look like on your plate:

Vegetable Options
Photo: National Institute on Aging / Health Information



Like most Americans, older people generally do not eat enough fruit. Yet, there are so many choices – citrus fruits like oranges and grapefruits; different kinds of berries; fruits that grow on trees such as apricots, cherries, peaches, and mangoes; and others like figs, raisins, and pineapples.

Advice: Try some fruits that you haven’t eaten before. Fruits with skins like apples and pears provide extra fiber that promotes regularity.

Fruit Options
Here are examples of a half-cup (1/2 cup) of fruit:

  • Small piece of fruit such as a 2-inch peach
  • Quarter cup dried fruit
  • One-eighth of a medium cantaloupe
  • Four ounces of 100% fruit juice
  • Half a medium grapefruit
  • Sixteen grapes

Here are what these fruit examples look like on your plate:

Fruit Options

     CheckMark  Snacking

When you are out and about and need a snack, don’t be tempted by a candy bar. Instead, take along some fruit or raw vegetables in a plastic bag.



It can be a surprise to find out how often you eat more than the suggested amount of protein. But, simply cutting back on other food groups to keep your calories in line won’t solve the problem because you’ll be missing out on the nutrients those food groups give you.

In addition to watching how much food with protein you eat, try to choose lean or low-fat foods. Higher-fat choices count as added fats and oils. Try to eat seafood instead of meat at least twice a week to balance your proteins. Small fish, like sardines or trout, or farm-raised fish (check the label) contain less mercury than large fish, like tuna. Mercury can be harmful.

Fruit Options
Here are examples of a one ounce (1 oz.) serving of protein:

  • 12 almonds or 7 walnut halves
  • Tablespoon peanut butter
  • Half cup lentil or bean soup
  • Quarter cup tofu
  • One Egg
  • Two tablespoons hummus

Here’s what these protein examples look like on your plate:

Protein Options



Are you confused about whether beans, peas, and foods made from soybeans should be counted as a vegetables or protein serving?

Well, It’s up to you. Here’s an example: if you eat ½ cup of baked beans with dinner, you get to choose whether to count the beans as ½ cup of vegetables or 2 ounces of protein, depending on what else you’ve eaten during the day.



Most adults do not get enough dairy products. For your heart health, always try to pick from the many low-fat or fat-free choices in the dairy products food group. Choosing fat-free or low-fat milk and yogurt, rather than cheese, gives you important vitamins and minerals and less sodium and fat.

One cup of milk is the same as:

  • 1 cup or 8 ounces yogurt
  • 1-1/2 ounces hard cheese, such as cheddar, mozzarella, Swiss, or Parmesan
  • Third cup shredded cheese
  • 1 cup calcium-fortified soy beverage
  • Two cups cottage cheese
  • 1 cup of pudding made with milk

Here’s what these dairy examples look like on your plate:

Dairy Options



Oils are high in calories, but they are also an important source of nutrients like vitamin E. If possible, use oils instead of solid fats, like butter, when cooking. Measuring your daily oils can be tricky – knowing what you add while cooking or baking is one thing, but be aware that oil is naturally part of some foods.

How much oil is in:

  • Half a medium avocado has three teaspoons (3 tsp.) of oil
  • Four large ripe olives have half teaspoon (1/2 tsp.) of oil
  • Tablespoon of peanut butter has two teaspoons (2 tsp.)  of oil

Oil Options

Solid Fats and Added Sugars

For most people, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food Patterns allow extra calories every day for solid fats and added sugars (SoFAS) in the processed foods they eat.

Choosing foods that are low in fat and without added sugar whenever possible might just leave you with some extra calories left over each day. These extra calories can be used as you like. So you could ‘cheat’ a little but you’ll still want to count the calories and watch your SoFAS limits. Otherwise you might be wondering why your pants are getting a little snug when you just had a few ‘extra’ calories every day.

Added Sugars
With both the USDA Food Patterns and the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) Eating Plan, added sugars mean more calories without more nutrients. For some people, added sugars can lead to higher levels of fats in the blood, raising their risk of heart disease.

Read the ingredients label to see if the processed foods you are eating have added sugar. In addition to other updates, food labels will now include “Added Sugars” on the Nutrition Facts label to inform consumers of their sugar intake. Look for these key words on the label:

Added Sugars: Words to Know
•  Brown sugar •   Glucose •  Malt syrup
•  Corn sweetener •   High-fructose corn syrup •  Molasses
•  Corn syrup •   Honey •  Raw sugar
•  Dextrose •   Invert sugar •  Sucrose
•  Fructose •   Lactose •  Sugar
•  Fruit juice concentrate •   Maltose •  Maple syrup

For More Information on Healthy Eating

USDA Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion

USDA Food and Nutrition Information Center    
National Agricultural Library

Thank you for visiting with us today, we hope you found this article informative and helpful. Wishing you the best of health!

PS. Please visit our affiliate Amazon for their fantastic nutrition book selections [simply tap here] – thank you!

Source: Know Your Food Groups

Author: Joan E Wilder

We provide information and motivation focused on the importance of physical activity to our quality of life. It is our hope to help people invest in themselves by staying active throughout their lives. It's that important.

15 thoughts

    1. Thank you Christy! I hope there are some good takeaways for everyone. It’s funny how the older you get, and better at the things you do, you become more curious about those you want to learn more of. Wish there were more hours in the day! Thank you so much for visiting and I hope you had some valuable takeaways too!

    1. Thank you Otto, I hope you found it useful. Don’t forget, exercise is a vital part of staying healthy and active. We have to be diligent in taking care of our bodies so they take care of us as we age (gracefully, of course) :). We hope you take advantage of our exercise pages (each exercise is separately printable – write your progress on the back) – tap here… Thank you for stopping by – we hope to see you often!

    1. Thanks AOC, I was so glad Ed did this for us, I hadn’t realized that you actually have to watch how much you eat. I thought it was Carbs that you had to watch! Thanks again AOC!

    1. Hi da-AL – I know, especially the tasty ones… Like yellow squash, cauliflower, wax beans (can’t find them anymore – they are yummy!), broccoli rabe (favorite!). What vegetables do you like?

    1. And thank you for visiting with us Jennifer. Let me know if you’d like to try our motivation suggestion. Just 31 days to see if it works – and you can even do 10 minutes a day – as long as you stick to plan. It can be fun – trying to think of what you’ll do with the money you didn’t have to give away :) !
      I enjoy your website too – thanks again for visiting!

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