In 1943, the USDA released this chart detailing the “Basic 7,” designed to help people plan nutritious meals despite the food rationing and shortages of World War II. Circular shape aside, the Basic 7 bear little resemblance to the new MyPlate. Potatoes are a vegetable, “butter and fortified margarine” warrant their own food group, and serving size is never mentioned. (Eating fruits and veggies of different colors to get a variety of nutrients, however, is still recommended today; in detailing the MyPlate food groups, USDA suggests you “vary your veggies.”)
And in contrast to modern dietary guides, which try to reign in calorie count, not just advise on nutrients, a note at the bottom told consumers that the guidelines were just for starters: “In addition to the Basic 7… Eat any other foods you want.”
In 1956, with rations lifted, the USDA changed the Basic 7 to the Basic Four: milk; meat; fruits and vegetables; and grains. Like the Basic 7, these guidelines focused on getting enough important nutrients rather than avoiding unhealthy foods.