Harvard’s Healthy Eating Plate

Mastermind Weekend 1/16

Hey there!

I'm Tina

I’m the owner of Carrots ‘N’ Cake as well as a Certified Nutrition Coach and Functional Diagnostic Nutrition Practitioner (FDN-P). I use macros and functional nutrition to help women find balance within their diets while achieving their body composition goals.


An in-depth, 4-week reverse dieting course for women who feel like their metabolism has slowed down, think they might have hormonal imbalance and can’t lose weight no matter what they do.

Good morning! Happy Thursday! Let’s get right to it!


While I waited for dinner to cook last night, I snacked on some raw veggies with hummus, which I’ve decided is the best I-need-food-ASAP-snack ever for me. It’s nutritious, delicious, satisfying, and quick! Every time I cut up a (crunchy) vegetable for a recipe/meal/snack, I add the extra pieces to my veggie Tupperware container, so I constantly have fresh ones to snack on. It works great.

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On the menu for dinner: a grilled Dr. Praeger’s veggie burger.

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And sweet potato fries with ketchup.

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For dessert, I enjoyed four Cherry-Walnut Almond Flour Cookies. Mmm! I love these cookies so much!

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Healthy Eating Plate

Remember last June when the the USDA reshaped the food pyramid into a circle, calling it MyPlate? The plate was divided into four sections (fruits, grains, vegetables, and protein, with a separate circle for dairy) and was designed to help Americans build a “healthier” plate. I blogged about MyPlate in early June and most of you guys agreed it wasn’t the best guide to healthy eating.

Well, Harvard researchers also questioned the USDA’s idea of “healthy” eating and created their own Healthy Eating Plate.


The Healthy Eating Plate is based off “the best available scientific evidence and was not subjected to political and commercial pressures from food industry lobbyists.” It emphasizes a plant-based diet focused on vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats, and healthy proteins.

The plate is divided into six sections: vegetables, fruits, whole grains, healthy proteins, healthy oils, and water (which includes tea or coffee), and each of these categories offers specific recommendations.

Harvard addresses specific shortcomings in each category of MyPlate including the fact that the grain category doesn’t specify that whole grains are healthier than refined grains, the protein section doesn’t value healthier proteins over red and processed meats, and potatoes count as a veggie. Additionally, the USDA recommends dairy with every meal, doesn’t include advice on healthy fats, and fails to warn against sugary beverages [source].

The Department of Nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health created a great side-by-side comparison of the Healthy Eating Plate vs. the USDA’s MyPlate. It lays it all out nice and neat.

Question of the Day

What do you think of Harvard’s Healthy Eating Plate? Is it better/easier to understand than the USDA’s MyPlate?



  1. i think there’s never going to be one right answer here… it is impossible to find a succinct and universal way to show everyone how they should eat. but i do like the inclusion of water and specification of whole grains. the explanations, too, are useful — for example, french fries don’t count!

  2. I don’t mind it, I think if they used actual cartoon images of food in the plate sections it would make it really easy for young kids. A small bunch of grapes, a piece of chicken, a pile of veggies, and a portion of rice all on the plate. Plus I did like the old “2-3 servings” type thing where they gave you an idea of how much to try to get in each day. A lot of people do better with quantifiable information rather than visual.

  3. I like this much better because the dairy isn’t emphasized as a must-have at every meal! When working with out-patient RDs, I noticed they use MyPlate A LOT to show how to structure a plate and focus on whole grains, healthy protein, and half the plate non-starchy veggies. It really helps people understand to have an actual visual.

  4. hmmm I don’t completely agree with either to be honest. I like to do my own research and self experiments with what works for me. I don’t really follow any sort of guidelines personally.

    1. @katie @ KatieDid: I agree with you here, Katie. I think the plate is a good starting point for which foods should comprise the majority of our diets, but some days you can’t manage your hunger based on a plate diagram. There’s no single clear-cut way to eat that’s going to work for everybody…but I do still support the plate as an indicator of BASIC proportions and food groups.

  5. Definitely like the plate version but I still find it sad that so many don’t understand this concept. I hope the new model helps. I am lucky my parents valued veggies growing up 🙂

  6. I really like that Harvard Plate! The only thing on it I question is why potatoes don’t count – french fries, I totally understand…but a boiled or baked potato? Especially with the skin and if it is one of the red or blue/purple ones? I think that should count! I love boiled “smashed” potatoes with a drizzle of olive oil, lemon, and thyme!

  7. I still don’t know if I “trust” this plate!

    I think as an athlete you need to think about where you want your calories to come from. I guess if everything went up proportionately it would make sense…but I like to eat more fruits than vegetables, for instance, when I’m training if it means I’ll actually eat the extra calories/carbs. I don’t know! I guess you can take suggestions and make em work for you!

    I do trust my belly, and it’s telling me to copy you and make sweet potato fries for dinner tonight 🙂

  8. I really like Harvard’s healthy eating plate actually – and it’s pretty much the way that I eat. I feel like MyPlate had a great premise…they just didn’t think it through all the way!

  9. I definitely like it better than MyPlate; however, I always have trouble with the dairy. I have nonfat milk in my latte, often a greek yogurt with lunch, and usually some cheese with lunch AND dinner. Maybe this is just too much? According to the Harvard study, it definitely is. That being said, I’m a vegetarian and rely on dairy for a lot of my protein intake. I like to think of greek yogurt, for example, as being a healthy protein AND a dairy product. Is that wrong? (I guess I should cut down on the cheese…)

  10. I like the plate concept in general.

    I especially like that Harvard excluded dairy from the mix. You know that that must have been lobbied into the USDA version.

    Here in Canada there’s a big push from Canadian Dairy Farmers for 3 servings of dairy a day. Clearly that’s too much.

  11. I love how it specifies between healthy and not-so-healthy. Someone could easily sit down with a fatty burger, french fries, a milkshake, and fruit snacks and call it a healthy meal with the gov’s My Plate. I think Harvard has the right idea!

  12. Harvard’s “Plate” is definitely better by giving more details, but I think for a kid or someone going from unhealthy to healthy eating that “My Plate” is a really good start. Especially compared to the Pyramid. At least the My Plate is giving a picture of serving sizes and is simple to decode.
    I do like that Harvard’s is free from lobbying, etc. and gets down to the nitty gritty 🙂

  13. I like Harvard’s image better. It can actually help someone who is clueless on how to eat healthy and provides important information on the imagine instead of making you go find it. Definitely going to share this with some family and friends that need the help.

  14. If you look at the typical American this is a great idea. Most people do not know how to eat healthy and they use the old school food pyramid. This might not be best for some people but for the majority I think it’s great.

  15. I agree with what Kathleen said in the earlier comments – there is never going to be one plan that works for everyone. But it is a good idea to have a general direction for people to go in, especially those who are not well-versed in healthy eating. I think this one looks like a good plan, and seems pretty easy to understand.

  16. This is definitely an improvement from MyPlate! I like the emphasis on veggies and the fact that the dairy was replaced with water. Take that National Dairy Council!! 🙂

  17. As a health teacher, I’ve used the MyPlate symbol to show my students what a “balanced” meal looks like. While I agree that there is no right answer on this subject, I feel that the two symbols serve different purposes. The MyPlate symbol has been a great visual that I use in my classroom to support lessons on portion size and dietary requirements. I also like MyPlate because it recommends a plate size (9 inches). Harvard’s Healthy Eating Plate is a better resource for adults who want to learn more about improving nutrition and controlling portions, since it presents advice on whole grains, healthy fats, etc. Plus, dietary guidelines recommend that middle and high school students consume more dairy than the healthy eating plate suggests. That being said, I like BOTH symbols because I feel that they both create an easy-to-understand image that serves as a reminder to eat well.

  18. I think Harvard’s insistence that their plate is “without influence” is utter bunk. And the backlash against the dairy industry continues to shock and dismay me. I think if you follow what your body tells you and understand that eating “junk” food at every meal is going to have an unhealthy impact on your body, you’re better in the long run. Of course, the people who follow a blog like this are more likely to make healthy choices and have the means to make healthy choices. The people at Harvard aren’t necessarily taking into account those who live at or below the poverty line. Healthy food, especially organic fruit, vegetables and whole grains, often cost more than unhealthy food like potatoes and white rice. Perhaps everyone advocating a “cheap, healthy lifestyle” should live poor for a bit?

  19. Do you ever make your own hummus? If you have a food processor, a big batch comes together in ten minutes. It’s also far more cost effective. The most expensive ingredient is the tahini, but that’s going to last awhile, and most other ingredients you probably have on hand! 🙂 The homemade stuff is usually tastier, too. I find that the store-bought kind tend to go overboard with the citric acid.

    Here’s a basic recipe: http://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/2010/01/hummus-recipe-chickpeas-dip.html

  20. Generally speaking, everyone reading a blog like yours is already interested in food and health and we know basics about what we should or shouldn’t eat (although doing it may be a different story). I wonder how/if “the plate” visuals have been tested in classroom and low-income communities. Does the USDA version have less writing to avoid confusion with these populations? And does providing this information (in either model) actually effect how people eat? If the final message establishes understanding and action, then they both succeed. Perhaps the best way to use them is to build on one another – in school you don’t usually learn fractions before you figure out how to add and subtract.

  21. It’s funny to think back to when I was younger and was learning about the food Pyramid. A few years back they decided to add ‘exercise’ to the pyramid and drew on some stair to the side. But in my opinion this food plates is a lot healthier, and not only shows you the different kinds of food, but shows you which kinds of food you should be eating to maintain a healthy lifestyle. As obesity, and childhood obesity, continue to increase in this country we need things like this to help lay out easy to use guides, so people don’t get overwhelmed with the idea of changing their “quick and easy” routines. The healthy eating plate lays out the healthiest options for each food category, which I think help better in what they are trying to achieve.

  22. I don’t know a lot about the USDA my plate (we’ve got something different in Canada), but I do like the Harvard version, especially how it says to load up on veggies…which I love. I think it could be more specific though in a few areas…like how many servings of whole grains, and when it says to limit dairy to 1-2 servings a day…does that mean we need them or can skip them totally if we want to?

  23. Great plates! Your dinner looks simple and satisfying, and I’m also digging that Harvard plate. I’m going to send a copy to the hubby, who has recently been asking me more nutrition questions. I find it very interesting (and cool) that they don’t include processed cold cuts as healthy lean protein.

  24. Also being an MPH, I think this is great! Like someone said before, the ‘My Plate’ doesn’t really apply to most of the blog readers since we are pretty well versed in healthy eating. However, it’s great for the ‘general population’ who are, for various reasons, not exposed to good nutrition information on a regular basis. I think Harvard’s slightly more in-depth explanation is great. One thing I wish they had included is more examples of whole grains, because there are so many good ones, like oatmeal, barley, quinoa, etc.

    Also, Tina – great discussion topic! I really enjoy when bloggers can bring some researched discussion into their posts instead of just bfast/lunch/dinner/workout.

  25. I also went to HSPH and I really respect Walter Willett and his take on nutrition, in general, so I thought this was a huge improvement when it came out. It seems to be based on sound science alone, which is what it should be based on. Of course, there’s no one fit solution for everyone because of people’s complex needs but this is a good global guideline, I think!

  26. I really like the Harvard Healthy Eating Plate – especially because it specifies what each component is, how much you’re supposed to eat, etc. I’m sick of people trying to justify certain foods – like schools now calling pizza a vegetable because of the sauce? Um, right.

  27. I think the Harvard version is better because it does provide more info. I’m totally turning into a food conspiracy nut – anytime the government tells me what to eat I wonder who paid for it 🙂

    The more information we have, the better.

  28. first of all, that cookie looks so amazing!

    And I’m really not sure in regards to these visuals….I think that the Harvard one helps me see it better, but like some people said, not everything works for EVERYONE. Some people just can’t handle grains! So naturally, the grains wouldn’t work for them. But it seems like there are so many ‘theories’ and research out there, it’s getting a lil tough to know which one is the right one. Interesting thoughts, Tina!
    ps: BUT! This plate seems wayyy better than the food pyramid

    1. @Ellie@Fit for the Soul: I agree with you 110%. The claim that the USDA is funded by the dairy industry might be true but there is also research out there that a diet with lean protein and good fats sans complex carbohydrates is the best you can do for your body, especially if you’re obese or on the verge of diabetes – this plate from Harvard ignores that research completely, meaning someone is still pushing their agenda.

      Overall, teaching the impoverished about good food choices is really important. Even more important is making sure they have the means to buy good food and that good food is available. Why is it we always assume that with food, it’s all about willpower and not about other factors, anyway?

  29. The Harvard researchers are SPOT on. They are definitely not biased towards certain industry giants (milk, dairy, cough cough*), so they legit designed a plate based off of facts and research. LOVE it!

    I love those veggie burgers–sooo tasty!

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