A month ago, I was considering writing a post on the old (now “old, OLD”) food pyramid – you know, the one we all grew up with – and the new (now “old”) food pyramid, unleashed in 2005. It would be about area of triangles and trapezoids and Geometry and possibly graphic design.

See, here’s my tweet about it:

I was all set to contest that the new (“old”) food pyramid, adopted in 2005, was garbage mathematically and visually. And the challenge was for students to come up with a better, more mathematically accurate, food pyramid.

Then the United States government dropped the new MyPlate diagram in my lap.

Visually, and graphic design-ally, I think it’s miles better than the new (“old”) food pyramid, where you had no idea what each of the 137 slivers meant and exactly how much area was each of the 137 slivers. Also, it was unclear why it was a triangle at all? Why is that person climbing that pyramid of food? Are you supposed to eventually eat less and less until you eventually eat nothing?? Not sure if it’s mathematically better. Area of a sector of a circle whose vertex doesn’t meet in the exact center? Now THAT’s a mathematical investigation!

So I think, without having done any calculating, the new MyPlate is better. But you know what? That’s probably something for the students to decide, right?


Food Pyramid #1 (Classic)

Food Pyramid #2 (Post-modern?)

MyPlate (2011)

Guiding questions

  • Which of these government sponsored food diagram is the “best” and why?
  • So, how much of each food group are we supposed to eat again?

Suggested Activities

  • I would start by hosting a class discussion on what would make a diagram the “best.” Have students develop a rubric before you even begin. Potential categories: mathematical accuracy, ease of understanding, etc.
  • Have students find the area of each piece of each diagram and report back what the heck it means. You might want to assign different groups a different diagram, or not.
  • Have students attempt to craft their meals according to the three food diagrams for a week. You might want to assign different groups a different diagram to emulate, or not.
  • Compare the diagrams to each other: are they trending in a healthier or unhealthier direction?
  • The areas are representative of a 2,000 calorie diet. What if you had a 2,500 calorie diet? How would we dilate the pieces of the diagram?
  • Have students use their local and regional produce to create a meal based on the MyPlate (and contrast it with the Food Pyramid?).*

There are lots of different ways I think you could go with this as far as guiding questions and activities, but invariably it will come back to the area of these shapes. And tasks that have several entry points and investigation/exploration opportunities for students that require a mathematical understanding are always worth the time. 

How else might we use the Food Pyramids and MyPlate diagrams to better math understanding?


* Update: Commenter Sneha suggested this activity. I love the idea. Connection to Geography, anyone?

6 thoughts on “So, what exactly am I supposed to eat? The new MyPlate icon vs. the classic Food Pyramid vs. Geometry.

  1. I thought about this MyPlate thing when it came out. I went to the site and was disappointed to learn that the report you get from them doesn’t customize the “plate”. You just get back a table and text-based information.

    I was fired up to do some measurement on that plate (using integral calculus to find the areas of those not-quite sectors), but was disappointed.

    You’ve written a lovely set of questions here. Nice work.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Christopher. I think one day, when I have more time, like when I retire maybe, I’ll post an attempt at a solution, measuring pixels and whatnot.

  2. this is a great hook and a great set of questions. Would you be interested in seeing and commenting on work done by my students in a school in rural India based on this activity? ( I plan to start with your questions but then add some local ‘flavour’ by comparing their diets with the recommended American diet)

    1. That would be great! I’d love to give feedback any way I can. I love the idea of students adding their own local flavor. I’m going to add that in to the Guiding Questions.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s