MUST READ: Food pyramid out, 'My Plate' in for healthy eating

WASHINGTON -- There's a new U.S. symbol for healthful eating: The Agriculture Department unveiled ''My Plate'' on Thursday, abandoning the food pyramid that had guided many Americans but merely confused others.

The new guide is divided into four slightly different-sized quadrants, with fruits and vegetables taking up half the space and grains and protein making up the other half. The vegetables and grains portions are the largest of the four.

Gone are the old pyramid's references to sugars, fats or oils. What was once a category called ''meat and beans'' is now simply ''proteins,'' making way for seafood and vegetarian options like tofu. Next to the plate is a blue circle for dairy, which could be a glass of milk or a food such as cheese or yogurt.

Some critics, including congressional Republicans, have accused the Obama administration of overreaching on regulation, especially when it comes to new rules that tell schools what children can eat on campus.

But the plate is supposed to be a suggestion, not a direction, said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

''We are not telling people what to eat, we are giving them a guide,'' he said. ''We're not suggesting they should not have a cookie or dessert, that's not what it's about.''

Vilsack said the new round chart shows that nutrition doesn't have to be complicated. After almost 20 years of leaders preaching good eating through a food pyramid the department now says was overly complex, obesity rates have skyrocketed. He showed off the new plate with first lady Michelle Obama, who has made healthful diets for children a priority.

''Parents don't have the time to measure out exactly three ounces of protein,'' Michelle Obama said as she introduced the new graphic. ''We do have time to look at our kids' plates.''