Drink your Milk! A History of USDA Guidelines

With Thanksgiving behind us and having eaten our filling, let’s take a look at the history of the U.S. government’s dietary guidelines. To reflect the time period and new knowledge, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) releases new messages about what we should eat more of and eat less of.

In the 1800’s Dr. W.O. Atwater, known for studying food intake and giving us our knowledge basis on calories, created dietary guidelines only for the American male. In the 1920’s, children were heavily focused on, with milk marketed as a focus on protective foods for kids. Protein rather than fruits and vegetables, was important to pack on energy, especially for factor workers. The U.S. government educated the American family in advertisement messages:

During World War II, new messages of eating nutrient rich foods emerged. With the depression, children were not getting an adequate intake of foods. The war promoted gardening and canning to make sure troops were getting the food they needed across seas:

For the 40’s, the Basic 7 Food Guide was created to reflect the food groups needed, but lacked serving sizes.

The USDA in the 50’s and 70’s then changed to the Basic 4, noting a Daily Food Guide, but did not give caloric intake or the appropriate number amount of fats and sugars. After the first Dietary Food Guide was released, in 1979 guidelines were modified to highlight the need for moderate intake of sweets, alcohol and fat.


In 1984, the American Red Cross created the food wheel, the basis for the food pyramids seen in the 1990’s and early 2000’s:

In 2011, the USDA released its new guidelines in a streamlined approach; its MyPlate symbol is not intended to provide specific messages but reflects the proportion of food that should be eaten:

Although what we think we need to eat has changed over time, the government releasing guidelines promotes the importance of making sure families and children get the adequate nutrition they need.

Information taken from the USDA’s ChooseMyPlate.gov webpage: http://www.choosemyplate.gov/food-groups/downloads/MyPlate/ABriefHistoryOfUSDAFoodGuides.pdf