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Editors’ note: In April the U.S. Department of Agriculture released a new food pyramid, which recommends what you should eat based on your age, sex, height, weight and activity level. We challenged the L.A. Youth teen staff to eat healthy for one week by following the new pyramid, which emphasizes fresh fruits and vegetables, low-fat meats, dairy and whole grains. Here are two students’ experiences with the "healthy eating challenge."

Seven cups of vegetables?!?

By Marc Mouallem, 16, Crespi Carmelite HS (Encino)

"I’m hungry, what you got to eat?" a friend asked me one day when we were at my house.

"Potato chips, burgers, Slim Jims, hot dogs …" I answered.

Like most teenage guys, those foods are my normal diet; so when I heard about the healthy eating challenge I though it might be a chance to start eating better. I thought I’d just pick some veggies from the fridge instead of potato chips. But it proved to be much more of a challenge than I originally thought.

When I first entered my age, height, weight and physical activity (I swam two hours a day, five days a week for my swim team) on, the site told me to eat 3,572 calories a day. This was cool because I’m a big eater and was probably already eating that much. But as I read further and saw how many vegetables I was supposed to eat, the first thing in my mind was that this is not possible. According to the chart on the Web site, I needed to eat six to seven servings, which was about seven cups a day. Usually I ate no more than the lettuce on my burger. I also needed more grain and dairy than I usually ate.

One great thing about the new food pyramid is that you can log onto and enter what you ate that day and get an update of how you are doing. It was a little complicated to enter how much food I ate, because the site asked for specific measurements. But I found it worked well just to estimate the amount of whatever I ate.

The real challenge for me was the variety. I like certain foods, like burgers and toast, but hate others, like veggies. And some things could not be substituted. I thought, "More vegetables, fine I’ll have a big chicken Caesar salad for lunch." Well that works for light green veggies but not dark green. The dark greens included bok choy, broccoli, collard greens, dark green leafy lettuce, spinach—all disgusting, well for me. I tried to include them knowing I needed those foods, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it.

The grain was not too bad. I just ate a big bowl of cereal, which was a change from my usual breakfast of orange juice and coffee. The meat and fruit sections were easy, since I eat burgers and drink fruit juice. The dairy was pretty easy. I already ate lots of cheese, so all I had to do was drink some milk during the day and in the evening. I even continued drinking milk after I stopped my pyramid diet.

Pushing myself to eat from all the food groups was the real challenge, but it was worth it. Maybe it was just psychological, but I felt a lot better during my workouts, lighter with more energy. The challenge was hard, but it’s not like I didn’t get a reward.

I held my nose to finish my milk—yuck!

By Victoria Imtanes, 14, Fairfax HS (Los Angeles)

One week was the challenge’s length. One month was what it felt like.

I can only say that I am proud of myself for surviving four days. Every day I had to eat eight ounces of grains, three cups of vegetables, two cups of fruits, three cups of milk, and 6.5 ounces of protein or beans! I was constantly worried if I was eating too much or if I needed to eat more. I mean, every time I ate something I would have to stuff it into my measuring cup to make sure I was eating the right amount. Most of the time I had to eat twice as much as I normally ate!

I had trouble eating the right amount of vegetables and dairy. No one could follow this new pyramid for their whole life. At first I had thought it would be a breeze. I mean my parents feed me healthy food, right? Wrong! Not all the food my parents give me—like spaghetti, and chicken and rice—meets my daily requirements. I always enjoyed dinner time, but while on the challenge I dreaded dinner because I had to measure EVERYTHING I ate. I mean, I don’t know how many cups of vegetables a salad has! And when I went out to Norms I wasn’t going to stick my hamburger in a cup! Most of the time I didn’t know what was in my food so I was helpless. If you are thinking about doing this, I have just two words for you, GOOD LUCK.

Some tips that helped me were filling up a HUGE glass of milk, holding my nose and gulping it down without stopping. And there you go, you’ve got most of your dairy for the day. To get most of my fruits and vegetables, I made a smoothie with cantaloupe, strawberries, carrots, blueberries, celery, cucumber, and tomato and orange juice. It wasn’t that bad. I covered up the taste of the vegetables by overloading on the fruits, which helped a lot.
Although the eating challenge was tough, it still influenced me to eat more vegetables. I knew I wasn’t eating all that I needed, but until I tried the challenge, I didn’t realize how many vegetables I was missing. So now I do try to eat healthier. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll never give up my hot Cheetos, but once in a while I’ll substitute them with a few pieces of cantaloupe. But hey, nobody’s perfect. Just the other day my mom called to say that she got me those baby carrots with ranch that I wanted, and … some yummy Chicken McNuggets.