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Before you eat, think about what and how much food goes on your plate or in your cup or bowl. 

Over the day, include a variety of foods from all 5 food groups using MyPlate as your guide to assure you get the nutrients you need:

  • Vegetables & Fruits: Make half your plate vegetables and fruits
  • Grains: Make at least half of your grain servings, whole grains
  • Dairy: Move to low fat or fat free milk and yogurt
  • Protein: Vary your meats and use dry beans, nuts, or fish
MyPlate Food Guide:
Vegetables Fruits Grains Dairy Protein Foods
Eat more red, orange, and dark-green veggies like tomatoes, sweet potatoes, and broccoli in main dishes. Use fruits as snacks, salads, and desserts. At breakfast, top your cereal with bananas or strawberries; add blueberries to pancakes. Substitute whole-grain choices for refined-grain breads, bagels, rolls, breakfast cereals, crackers, rice, and pasta. Choose skim (fat-free) or 1% (low-fat) milk. They have the same amount of calcium and other essential nutrients as whole milk, but less fat and calories. Eat a variety of foods from the protein food group each week, such as seafood, beans, peas and nuts as well as lean meats, poultry, and eggs.
Add beans or peas to salads (kidney or chickpeas), soups (split peas or lentils), and side dishes (pinto or baked beans), or serve as a main dish. Buy fruits that are dried, frozen, and canned (in water or 100% juice), as well as fresh fruits. Check the ingredients list on product labels for the words “whole” or “whole grain” before the grain ingredient name. Top fruit salads and baked potatoes with low-fat, plain yogurt. Twice a week, make seafood the protein on your plate.
Fresh, frozen, and canned vegetables all count. Choose “reduced sodium” or “no-salt-added” canned veggies. Select 100% fruit juice. Choose products that name a whole grain first on the ingredients list. If you are lactose intolerant, try lactose-free milk or fortified soymilk. Choose lean meats and ground beef that are at least 90% lean.
Trim or drain fat from meat and remove skin from poultry to cut fat and calories.
For a adult 2,000-calorie daily food plan, you need the amounts below from each food group. To find amounts personalized for you, go to
Eat 2 ½ cups every day Eat 2 cups every day Eat 6 ounces every day Eat 3 cups every day Eat 5 ½ ounces every day
What counts as a cup? What counts as a cup? What counts as a ounce? What counts as a cup? What counts as a ounce?
1 cup of raw or cooked vegetables or 100% vegetable juice; 2 cups of leafy salad greens 1 cup of raw or cooked fruit or 100% fruit juice; ½ cup dried fruit 1 slice of bread; ½ cup of cooked rice, cereal, or pasta; 1 cup of ready-to-eat cereal 1 cup of milk, yogurt, or fortified soymilk; 1½ ounces natural or 2 ounces processed cheese 1 ounce of lean meat, poultry, or fish; 1 egg; 1 Tbsp peanut butter; ½ ounce nuts or seeds; ¼ cup beans or peas

All foods made from meat, poultry, seafood, dry beans and peas, eggs, processed soy products, nuts, and seeds are considered part of the Protein Foods Group. Select a variety of protein foods to improve nutrient intake and health benefits.

  • Meat and poultry choices should be lean or low-fat.
  • Include at least 8 ounces of cooked seafood per week. Young children need less, depending on their age and calorie needs. The advice to consume seafood does not apply to vegetarians. 
  • Vegetarian options in the Protein Foods Group include dry beans and peas, processed soy products, and nuts and seeds.

Health Benefits of Protein Food Group

Meat, poultry, fish, dry beans and peas, eggs, nuts, and seeds supply many nutrients. These include:

  • Proteins function as building blocks for bones, muscles, cartilage, skin, and blood. They are also building blocks for enzymes, hormones, and vitamins. Proteins are one of three nutrients that provide calories (the others are fat and carbohydrates).
  • B vitamins found in this food group serve a variety of functions in the body. They help the body release energy, play a vital role in the function of the nervous system, aid in the formation of red blood cells, and help build tissues.
  • Iron is used to carry oxygen in the blood. Many teenage girls and women in their child-bearing years have iron-deficiency anemia. They should eat foods high in heme-iron (meats) or eat other non-heme iron containing foods along with a food rich in vitamin C, which can improve absorption of non-heme iron. See the Key Nutrient: Iron for more information. 
  • Magnesium is used in building bones and in releasing energy from muscles.
  • Zinc is necessary for biochemical reactions and helps the immune system function properly.
  • EPA and DHA are omega-3 fatty acids found in varying amounts in seafood. Eating 8 ounces per week of seafood may help reduce the risk for heart disease.

10 Tips to Vary Your Protein Routine

We all need protein—but most Americans eat enough, and some eat more than they need. How much is enough? Most people, ages 9 and older, should eat 5 to 7 ounces* of protein foods each day.

*What counts as an ounce of protein foods? 1 ounce of meat, poultry, or seafood, 1 egg; ¼ cup cooked beans or peas; 1 tablespoon of peanut butter; or ½ ounce of nuts or seeds can be considered as 1 ounce-equivalent from the Protein Foods Group.

  1. Vary your protein food choices: Eat a variety of foods from the Protein Foods Group each week. Experiment with main dishes made with dry beans or peas, nuts, soy, and seafood.
  2. Choose seafood twice a week: Eat seafood in place of meat or poultry twice a week. Select a variety of seafood — include some that are higher in oils and low in mercury, such as salmon, trout, and herring.
  3. Make meat and poultry lean or low fat: Choose lean or low-fat cuts of meat like round or sirloin and ground beef that is at least 92% lean. Trim or drain fat from meat and remove poultry skin.
  4. Have an egg: Depending on the size of the egg, 1 egg is 1/3 to ½ of a serving of protein for an adult.
  5. Eat plant protein foods more often: Try dry beans and peas (kidney, pinto, black, or white beans; split peas; chickpeas; hummus), soy products (tofu), nuts, and seeds. They are naturally low in saturated fat and high in fiber.
  6. Nuts and seeds: Choose unsalted nuts or seeds as a snack, on salads, or in main dishes to replace meat or poultry. Nuts and seeds are a concentrated source of calories, so eat small portions to keep calories in check.
  7. Keep it tasty and healthy: Try grilling, broiling, roasting, or baking — they don’t add extra fat. Some lean meats need slow, moist cooking to be tender — try a slow cooker for them. Avoid breading meat or poultry, which adds calories.
  8. Make a healthy sandwich: Choose turkey, roast beef, canned tuna or salmon, or peanut butter for sandwiches. Many deli meats, such as regular bologna or salami, are high in fat and sodium—make them occasional treats only.
  9. Think small when it comes to meat portions: Get the flavor you crave but in a smaller portion. Make or order a smaller turkey burger or a “petite” size steak.
  10. Check the sodium: Check the Nutrition Facts label to limit sodium. Salt is added to many canned foods — including soups, vegetables, beans, and meats. Many processed meats — such as ham, sausage, and hot dogs—are high in sodium. Some fresh chicken, turkey, and pork are brined in a salt solution for flavor and tenderness.


Nuts & Seeds

Eating peanuts and certain tree nuts (i.e., walnuts, almonds, and pistachios) may reduce the risk of heart disease when consumed as part of a diet that is nutritionally adequate and within calorie needs. 

Because nuts and seeds are high in calories, eat them in small portions and use them to replace other protein foods, like some meat or poultry, rather than adding them to what you already eat. In addition, choose unsalted nuts and seeds to help reduce sodium intakes.

Dry Beans & Peas

Dry beans and peas (such as kidney beans, pinto beans, black beans, lima beans, black-eyed peas, garbanzo beans (chickpeas), split peas and lentils) are unique and can be considered part of the Vegetable and Protein Food Groups.

Dry beans and peas can reduce the cost of a meal. They provide more protein for your money, cost less than meat, and can replace meat in recipes.

They are a great source of nutrition, providing:

  • Complex carbohydrates and fiber 
  • Great source of protein
    • Protein supplies the substance needed to build and repair body tissues. 
    • A “complete” protein contains certain kinds of amino acids. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. Dry beans do not contain all of the essential (or necessary) amino acids. Serving beans with grains or small amounts of meat, eggs or cheese makes the bean a “complete” source of protein.
    • About 1 cup cooked beans provides the same amount of protein as two ounces of cooked meat.
  • Good source of thiamine, folate, iron and calcium
    •  See the Key Nutrient: Calcium; Folate; and Iron sections for more information.
    • Iron is vital for pregnant women and children. One cup of beans meets half a woman’s daily iron needs. Half a child’s iron need is met in a one-half cup serving. 
  • No cholesterol and limited fat and salt.

How to cook dry beans (not canned)

Wash and sort: Remove damaged beans and any foreign materials, then rinse beans in cold water.

Soak: For each pound (2 cups) sorted, washed, dry beans, add 10 cups hot water in a pot large enough for beans to expand. Boil 2-3 minutes, cover and soak 4-12 hours. Drain off the soak water and rinse beans.

Quick Soak Method

  • Cover beans with water (enough to completely cover beans). 
  • Heat to boiling. Let boil two or three minutes. 
  • Set aside for at least one hour. The longer the soaking time the better. Longer soaking time allows more sugar to dissolve, making beans easier to digest. 
  • Rinse and cook as instructed below.

Stovetop cooking

  • Put soaked, drained and rinsed beans into a 3-4 qt pot with 6 cups hot water, 2 Tablespoons vegetable oil, and 2 teaspoons salt. 
  • Boil gently until desired tenderness is reached (usually 1 to 2 hours, depending on variety). 
  • Cooking time and desired tenderness will depend on what you want to use the beans for. Beans are better firm if they are to be used in a salad. If you want to mash the beans, cook until soft. 
  • Taste-test often while cooking.

Microwave cooking

  • Put one pound of beans in a 5-quart pan with eight cups of water. 
  • Cover and cook at full power for 8-10 minutes or until boiling. 
  • Let stand for one hour or longer, drain. 
  • To cook the beans, add 6-8 cups fresh hot water. Cover and cook at full power for 8-10 minutes or until boiling. 
  • Reduce power by 50% and cook another 15-20 minutes or until beans are tender.

Pressure cooking

  • After soaking beans and putting them into the cooker with water and seasonings, adjust the lid and heat to boiling.
  •  Let steam escape for one minute. 
  • Put on pressure control or indicator, and over low heat, bring pressure up slowly 15 pounds. 
  • Start counting cooking time. Most beans require 3-5 minutes of cooking per cup. Navy beans and pinto beans may require up to 10 minutes. Peas, lentils and small lima beans usually are not pressure-cooked. 
  • Remove cooker from heat to let pressure drop gradually.

Tips for cooking beans

  • 1 lb dry beans = 2 cups dry beans = 5 cups cooked beans
  • 1 16oz can (drained) = 1 2/3 cup beans
  • Dry beans expand to about 2½ times their original size when soaked.
  • To avoid broken or mushy legumes, boil gently and stir very little.
  • Lentils and split peas do not need to be soaked.
  • At high altitudes beans will take longer to cook.
  • Taste test beans often for desired tenderness.
  • Foods containing acid such as tomatoes, chili sauce, lemon juice, vinegar or catsup will slow the cooking and softening of beans. Add these items last so they will not prolong cooking time.
  • Freezing Beans:  Slightly undercook beans you will freeze. Cool quickly, uncovered, seal and freeze. When thawing, beans will keep their shape better if thawed slowly. Cooked beans will keep from 4 to 6 months in a freezer, one year in a deep freeze (0°C), or up to one week in a refrigerator.
  • Flavoring Beans:  Salt may be added at any time during cooking. Add about one teaspoon salt per cup of dry beans if no other salty food is being added. For “savory” beans add one teaspoon oil, two teaspoons onion salt, ¼ teaspoon garlic salt, one tablespoon chicken stock base and ¼ teaspoon white pepper for each pound (2 cups dry) beans.

Why should meat and poultry be lean or low-fat?

Saturated fats

  • Diets that are high in saturated fats raise “bad” cholesterol levels in the blood. The “bad” cholesterol is called LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol. High LDL cholesterol, in turn, increases the risk for coronary heart disease. 
  • Some food choices in the protein food group are high in saturated fat. These include fatty cuts of beef, pork, and lamb; regular (75% to 85% lean) ground beef; regular sausages, hot dogs, and bacon; some luncheon meats such as regular bologna and salami; and some poultry, such as duck. To help keep blood cholesterol levels healthy, limit the amount of these foods you eat.


  • Diets that are high in cholesterol can raise LDL cholesterol levels in the blood.
  • Cholesterol is only found in foods from animal sources. Some foods from this group are high in cholesterol. These include egg yolks (egg whites are cholesterol-free) and organ meats such as liver and giblets. To help keep blood cholesterol levels healthy, limit the amount of these foods you eat.


  • A high intake of fats makes it difficult to avoid consuming more calories than are needed which can cause excessive weight gain.

Why is it important to eat 8 ounces of seafood per week?

Seafood contains a range of nutrients, notably the omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA. Eating about 8 ounces per week of a variety of seafood contributes to the prevention of heart disease. Smaller amounts of seafood are recommended for young children.

Seafood varieties that are commonly consumed in the United States that are higher in EPA and DHA and lower in mercury include:

  • Salmon
  • Anchovies
  • Herring
  • Sardines
  • Pacific oysters
  • Trout
  • Atlantic and Pacific mackerel (not king mackerel, which is high in mercury)

The health benefits from consuming seafood outweigh the health risks associated with mercury, a heavy metal found in seafood in varying levels.

This post was last updated on January 13th, 2022 at 4:02 PM

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