Dear Food Speak: My family is curious to know what you think about the new MyPlate symbol.

F.N.

Fairfield

Right now, MyPlate looks half empty to me.

A few months ago, First Lady Michelle Obama unveiled the U.S. Department of Agriculture's new MyPlate symbol, which aims to translate the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans and replaces two decades worth of food-guide pyramids. With more than one-third of children and more than two-thirds of adults in the United States overweight or obese, the updated guidelines emphasize reducing portions and increasing physical activity.

The MyPlate graphic depicts a plate separated 50 percent with vegetables and fruits and 25 percent each with starches and protein. Beside the plate is a cup representing dairy products.

MyPlate holds promise for making America healthier because it's much more user-friendly than the food guide pyramid. After all, we eat from a plate, not a pyramid.

One client of mine found MyPlate so helpful she laminated a color copy of it to be used as a placemat for her young child. Another client photocopied images of MyPlate into her food journal as a reminder to keep healthier dinner portions.

Another positive feature of MyPlate is that it focuses more on balance than on calculating difficult-to-remember serving sizes. That frees America up for learning more effective appetite-control strategies like mindful eating.

I see MyPlate's fork place setting as a symbol for sitting down to a meal -- a ritual far from the American way of wolfing down meals in cars, at work desks or in front of the television.

While the genius of MyPlate lies in its simplicity, its lack of detail prevents it from being used to its fullest potential. For one, I think consumers would feel more confident following MyPlate's concepts if they could view some real-life menu samples on the symbol's website -- www.MyPlate.gov.

Fortunately, Oldways, the nonprofit organization most known for creating the Whole Grain Stamp and the Mediterranean Diet Pyramid, is developing a library of MyPlate menus to capture different cultures from around the world. Check out Mediterranean-inspired plates like grilled salmon with pasta, spinach and chickpea salad at www.oldwayspt.org.

My wish list for MyPlate.gov also includes providing valuable nutrition lessons omitted by MyPlate.

After all, the USDA has promised a redesign of its website with new interactive tools by this fall.

I would like to see consumers log on to MyPlate.gov and be able to click on each of the symbol's sections to learn more about smart choices.

Under the protein section, consumers could be encouraged to look beyond red meat to more healthful protein sources like fish and legumes. A click on the starch section could educate consumers on how to use food label reading to distinguish nutrient-dense whole grains from less healthy refined starches.

Somewhere on the site should also be a lesson on how plate size can trigger overeating and knowing the difference between unhealthy and healthy fats. Stay tuned and you'll be sure to discover more ways to use MyPlate to the fullest.

Courtney Sansonetti is a medical nutrition therapist and certified diabetes educator for Rehabilitation Associates Inc. Her Food Speak column appears monthly. Email your questions to c.sansonetti@rehabassocinc.com.