How to eat a balanced diet and limit calories at the same time.

For an overall snapshot of what a balanced diet looks like, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)’s “MyPyramid” recommendations are a pretty good start. They divide foods into recognizable groupings, provide standard serving sizes for foods within each group, and suggest a range of servings you can aim to eat daily.

The food groups are fairly straightforward: grains and other starches, vegetables, fruits, milk products, meats and beans, oils and “discretionary calories,” or extras. The whole USDA Pyramid is now meant to be viewed online ( and is a highly visual depiction of one way to approach healthful eating.

However, unless you read a lot of fine print in the MyPyramid guidelines, you might not get a clear sense of what it all means if you’re trying to limit calories too.

Just to keep things simple, let’s think of your calorie goal as a daily budget to work with. And, while you can spend your budget any way you want, it makes sense to get the best value for your “money” by choosing the widest selection of items—that is, eating from all the food groups. Let’s take a closer look at the kinds of foods you can choose from each day and—importantly—how much you might choose from each major group.

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