I wish I could subsist on red-velvet cupcakes and Twix bars, but I’m a “grown-up,” and grown-ups can’t do things like that. So, I try to keep certain truths in mind: my body feels best on limited dairy and gluten; always eat ample fruits and vegetables; keep sweet treats modest — piece of dark chocolate, scoop of light ice cream — or else, declare a “cheat day” (and no, every day cannot be a cheat day).

I also know the basics about calories, nutrients and food groups, and how they all work to fuel the body. I may not be a nutrition aficionado, but I am not illiterate, so I thought eating by the food pyramid for a day would be an easy-peasy challenge. Right?

Ha. Ha. Ha. Joke’s on me.

First off, meal-planning SUCKS. Making a menu that covers all food groups — 5 ounces of grains (half of which are whole grains), 2.5 cups of vegetables, 1.5 cups of fruit, 3 cups of dairy and 5 ounces of protein in each — is a time-consuming nightmare. But the end result looked a little somethin’ like this:

Coffee (1 cup)
• ½ cup almond milk
Oatmeal (2/3 cup)
• ½ tbsp. peanut butter

Turkey (3 slices)
American cheese (1 slice)
Butternut Squash Soup (1 cup)
• 7 whole-grain crackers

Low-fat cottage cheese (1 cup)
• ½ cup pineapple
Popcorn (3 cups popped)

Apple-chicken salad
• 3 oz white-meat grilled chicken
• Medium apple
• Romaine lettuce, red bell pepper, cucumber, tomato, celery, broccoli, carrots
• Honey-mustard dressing
Vanilla bean frozen yogurt (1 cup)

Cream of Wheat (1 packet)
• ½ cup almond milk
Vanilla Almond Wheat Flakes
Mixed-nut trail mix

One major difficulty was figuring out what fits where. I had to look up stuff like whether almond milk could count as dairy (thank heavens it does) and what the correct veggie measurements were per cup (2 cups romaine lettuce = 1 cup vegetables… who knew?).

For anyone looking to get healthier, the USDA (which follows more of a “plate” system now, as opposed to a strict “pyramid”) will help based on your size and daily calorie requirements. Another problem was – I don’t really enjoy every single food group, and it was a little jarring going from zero to 60, one day to the next.

So, how’d the challenge go? I’ll break it down.


Photo by Jenna Birch

Dairy: As a soy and almond milk devotee, I forgot how I feel on dairy products. After downing a whole cup of cottage cheese for an afternoon snack, I remembered why I gave most of them up. Yuck.

Grains: I don’t eat a lot of gluten either — no buns, no crusts, no breads, no bagels — so getting enough grain also felt like an OD, especially since it’s the base of that food “pyramid.” I was pretty much over it by the time I made it to the Cream of Wheat.

All that said, at least including more dairy and grain into my life for a day gave me license to chow down on these:


Photo by Jenna Birch

Silver linings. Now, onto the easier part of the challenge.


Photo by Jenna Birch

Vegetables: Wouldn’t have gotten all the veggies into my diet if not for the big ol’ salad at dinnertime. That being said, I eat big ol’ salads a lot (and actually like them), so this category was not hard. However, it would be for the produce-haters out there.

Fruits: Shockingly easy category. I ate my apple, half cup of pineapple and popped some more purple grapes throughout the day. There’s no excuse for not getting enough fruit, people.

Protein: Did you know the average American eats way more protein than needed? Fact. Since most of us overdo it anyway, myself included, this was a virtual cinch, too.

Empty calories: You get around 100-200 of these, based on your needs. Sadly, I was so grossed out by all the dairy I forced myself to consume, I didn’t even feel up to downing a bag of pre-Halloween Whoppers or M&M’s. What’s that about?

All in all, this challenge assured me I’ll probably never be a food pyramid devotee. I’ll trade in the measuring, meal-planning and dairy-overloading for a soy chai and a Reese’s peanut-butter pumpkin any day, thankyouverymuch.