Understanding the Five Food Groups for Kids

Various food groups
Maximilian Stock Ltd. / Getty Images

The food pyramid had long encouraged kids to eat foods from each of the five food groups each day, but that only worked if you and your kids understood what foods are included in each of the food groups.

Kid-Friendly Food Groups

Although the pyramid has been replaced with the MyPlate system, which provides a more practical visual on what percentage of each meal or plate should come from each food group, it doesn't change anything about the food groups.

Many MyPlate messages—including encouraging kids to vary their vegetables, make at least half of their grains whole grains, and drink fat-free or low-fat milk—were all key messages of the food pyramid, too.

Understanding the Five Food Groups

Most foods fit into one or more of the five major food groups. The foods that don't fit into a larger food group, like soda and candy, count as discretionary foods, or foods that don't contribute to nutrition but that can still be enjoyed. Some foods—like pizza, vegetable-noodle soup, and sandwiches—fit into more than one of the five primary food groups:

  • Grains: Grains, especially whole grains and enriched grain products, are good sources of fiber, iron, magnesium, selenium, and several B vitamins, including thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, and folate. Refined grains, such as white bread, white rice, and products made with refined flours, do not have as much fiber as whole-grain varieties but still count as servings from the grain group. Grains include foods made with wheat, rice, oats, cornmeal, barley, and any of the other many grains that exist, such as bread, pasta, breakfast cereal, popcorn, tortillas, and oatmeal. Aim for at least half of the grains your kids eat to be whole grains in order to help them get enough fiber and nutrition.
  • Vegetables: Vegetables are usually a good source of fiber, potassium, folate, vitamin A, vitamin E, and vitamin C. Just like all food groups, variety of foods usually means more variety of nutrients, so encourage kids to eat from each of the five vegetable subgroups:
  • Dark green vegetables
  • Orange vegetables
  • Beans and peas
  • Starchy vegetables
  • Other vegetables
  • Fruits: Most kids like fruits, which are usually a good source of potassium, fiber, vitamin C, and folate. Although 100% fruit juice counts as a fruit in this food group, continue to offer whole fruit (fresh or frozen) as well as it contains more fiber than juice.
  • Dairy: This replaces the old milk food group, now that calcium-fortified soy milk is in this group. The dairy group is important because it provides kids with calcium, potassium, vitamin D, and protein in their diet. It includes milk, cheese, yogurt, and milk-based desserts, such as ice cream, frozen yogurt, and pudding made with milk. In general, opting for unsweetened milk products helps reduce added sugar intake.
  • Protein Foods: In addition to meat and dry beans, this food group also includes poultry, fish, eggs, and nuts (including peanut butter), which are usually a good source of protein, iron, vitamin E, zinc, magnesium, and several B vitamins, including niacin, thiamin, riboflavin, and B6.
  • Oils: Oils and fats are an important part of your diet—both because they help add flavor and texture to other foods (like roasted vegetables) and because you need fat to absorb fat soluble nutrients like vitamins A, D, E and K. Aim to use oils like avocado, olive, and sunflower oils most often when cooking and preparing meals.
Was this page helpful?
Article Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.