Food and Nutrition through the 20th Century: Government Guidelines

Food for Young Children (1916)

Source: National Agricultural Library, Agricultural Research Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture

Written by nutritionist Caroline Hunt, the first USDA food guide focused on the nutritional needs of children. Foods were classified into five groups: cereals, fruits and vegetables, meat and milk, fats and fatty foods, and sugar and sugary foods.

How to Select Foods (1917)

Source: National Agricultural Library, Agricultural Research Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture

The USDA published "How to Select Foods" a year later in 1917. This pamphlet focuses on nutrition for families, and includes sample meals and cost estimates. Read the full-text of this pamphlet at Archive.org

The Basic Seven (1943 - 1955)

Source: National Agricultural Library, Agricultural Research Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture

The Basic 7 food guide offers the first suggested daily servings for each food group, but didn't define a serving size. With seven food groups, this guide was considered too complex. Fun fact: butter is a food group.

The Basic Four (1956 - 1979)

Source: National Agricultural Library, Agricultural Research Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture

Because of the complexity of the Basic 7 food guide, nutrition recommendations were simplified to create the Basic 4 guidelines, which would last for twenty years. The focus of this guide was still on nutrition adequacy; soon it would be changed to make sure people weren't eating too much.

The Hassle-Free Food Guide (1979 - 1984)

Source: National Agricultural Library, Agricultural Research Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture

The Hassle-Free Daily Food Guide was developed after the 1977 dietary guidelines were released. It is similar to the Basic Four, but adds a new category "Fats, Sweets, & Alcohol." This category was to be consumed in moderation. 

The Food Wheel (1984)

Source: National Agricultural Library, Agricultural Research Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture

The Food Wheel was a collaboration between the American Red Cross and the USDA. It features five food groups, and the daily amounts of food based on three calorie levels. This food guide was the basis for the well-known Food Pyramid.

The Food Pyramid (1992 - 2005)

Source: National Agricultural Library, Agricultural Research Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture

The Food Pyramid graphically represents a food group's serving size based on its size in proportion to the pyramid. This is a total diet approach, emphasizing both nutrition adequacy and moderation. This food guide was critiqued on its emphasis on bread products, and grouping of both good and bad fats in the "use sparingly" peak.

My Pyramid (2005 - 2011)

Source: National Agricultural Library, Agricultural Research Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture

MyPyramid was released along with the 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. It is a simplification of the Food Pyramid. Changes include a band for oils, and the concept of physical activity.

My Plate (2011 - Now)

Source: National Agricultural Library, Agricultural Research Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture

MyPlate was based on the food patterns in the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The icon is visually different than the former food guides, and represents a practical take on healthy eating rather than specific messages.

Additional Resources

Support Research, Teaching, & Learning - Give to the HSL