Make Every Bite Count: The Newest Dietary Guidelines for Americans 

The USDA and the Division Health and Human Services (HHS) recently published the latest Dietary Guidelines for 2020 to 2025. It features dietary recommendations and observations of key age groups. “This is the first time the Dietary Guidelines has provided guidance by stage of life.” In this blog, we’ll walk you through some of the main updates, key takeaways, and issues that apply to our K-12 students.

What’s New In This Edition? 

While the details in this 9th Edition of Dietary Guidelines remain largely consistent to previous releases, it does take into consideration new scientific information and has evolved in the following ways:

  • It recognizes that diet-related chronic diseases, such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, and some types of cancer, are widespread among Americans and pose a public health problem
  • It has a focus on dietary patterns. Nutritional experts understand that nutrients and foods are actually consumed in various combinations over time, their eating pattern, and the food and beverages they consume work together to affect a person’s overall health. 
  • It takes a lifespan approach. This edition highlights the importance of encouraging healthy dietary patterns at every life stage from infancy through older adulthood. For the first time since the 1985 edition, the 2020- 2025 Dietary Guidelines includes recommendations for healthy dietary patterns for infants and toddlers, which includes pre-school age children.

What does it teach us and what can we gain from it? 

There are 4 Key Takeaways that the Dietary Guidelines wants Americans to keep in mind when choosing their meals:

  1. Follow balance eating habits at every life stage. By utilizing these guidelines, people of all ages can help meet their nutrient needs, achieve or maintain a healthy body weight, and reduce the risk of developing a chronic disease. Of course, these dietary recommendations are overarching and people with serious health conditions should follow the diet recommended by their doctor or dietitian. 
  2. Customize and enjoy nutrient-dense food and beverage choices to reflect personal preferences, cultural traditions, and budgetary considerations. There’s no one-size-fits-all as long as people consume nutrient-dense foods. 
  3. Focus on meeting food group needs with nutrient-dense foods and beverages, and stay within calorie limits. The core elements that make up a healthy dietary pattern include: • Vegetables of all types • Fruits, especially whole fruit • Grains, at least half of which are whole grain • Dairy, including fat-free or low-fat milk, yogurt, and cheese, and/or lactose-free versions and fortified soy beverages and yogurt as alternatives • Protein foods, including lean meats, poultry, and eggs; seafood; beans, peas, and lentils; and nuts, seeds, and soy products • Oils, including vegetable oils and oils in food, such as seafood and nuts. 
  4. Limit foods and beverages higher in added sugars, saturated fat, and sodium, and limit alcoholic beverages. The dietary guidelines don’t say you have to remove this altogether, but we should definitely be mindful to limit the amount of nutrient-less foods and beverages consumed so that it doesn’t become part of our typical daily diet. 

What are some identified issues specific to children and adolescents?

It’s important to look at the specific issues that affect our K-12 students, including health risks, food preferences, and how federal programs can fill in their nutritional gaps. The information provided in the Dietary Guidelines is even used to create and implement health policies and programs like the National School Lunch Program.

  • For school age children, “school meal programs can provide nearly two-thirds of daily calories, and therefore play an influential role in the development of a healthy dietary pattern.” This is why federal programs and other resources, like SNAP, WIC, CACFP, NSLP, SBP, and SFSP exist, as they provide an essential role in the growth and development of children.
  • Certain genetic and cultural factors may also put our children at risk for health issues. “In the United States, 41 percent of children and adolescents are overweight or have obesity, and the prevalence is higher among Hispanic and non-Hispanic Black children and adolescents as compared to non-Hispanic Asians and Whites.” 
  • This edition of Dietary Guidelines also presents “how different age groups’ consume different food groups and compares it against their dietary recommendations” over age groups. This data could be a great source of knowledge for K-12 menu planning.

It Takes a Village

Research shows that the “average American diet scores a 59 out of 100 on the Healthy Eating Index (HEI), which measures how closely a diet aligns with the Dietary Guidelines.” It’s no surprise that our nutritional choices are often influenced by our communities and organizations that surround us. “Health professionals, communities, businesses and industries, organizations, government, and other segments of society all have a role to play in supporting individuals and families in making choices that align with the Dietary Guidelines and ensuring that all people have access to a healthy and affordable food supply” including our school age population.  

These latest dietary recommendations further emphasize the importance of national school meal programs in the lives of children and adolescents, and how they play a vital role in their nutrition, wellbeing, and health education. We wholeheartedly believe in the power of school meals. In our previous blog we highlight the Top 5 ways that school meals impact our children and their nutritional choices for the rest of their lives.


U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025. 9th Edition. December 2020. Available at