Tea and the Food Pyramid

Most people have heard of the government version of a food pyramid. To that we say “Tish tosh!” (translation: “Utter nonsense”) We know better and, being devoted to tea, wanted to correct this chart with our own version. You will see some additional benefits to this scheme besides enjoying more tea: slimming down and relaxing.

The purpose of a food pyramid was a visual guide for your food choices, how much to have of this and that during a typical day. The ideas behind this have been shown over the years to be less than accurate. And the omission of tea is a rather serious one. Small wonder that those in other countries where drinking tea is regarded much more ardently see us in the U.S. as a bit uncouth and/or behind the times.

Tea in This Food Pyramid

The key to this pyramid is meal size and time. Start out hearty and substantial and then taper off into evening. That can apply to tea, too, where you start with a heavier tasting tea such as CTC Assam, switch to Darjeeling First or Second Flush for midday, and go to a lighter tea for evening, such as an oolong or a white tea.

Tea is mainly water, and we humans need a lot of water. So having tea several times a day assures getting a goodly amount. It also helps digestion, and we find that a cup or two at night keeps us from wanting to nibble when it’s too close to bedtime.

Speaking of nibbling on things, having a tea time between meals tends to help you avoid grabbing that bag of snack chips, full of grease, and chomping them all down.

The side benefit from all this is not just a better appreciation for tea but a somewhat slimmer figure, even when eating foods that many weight loss gurus warn you against. The amounts shown in our food pyramid diagram are rather small, but you will find them quite sufficient, especially with a potful or two of tea.

Tea Times in This Food Pyramid

We lead busy lifestyles for the most part, so you needn’t have tea at each of these times. Just choose which work for you.

  • Elevenses – usually around 11 AM, thus accounting for the name – Dating from the early 19th Century, this tea time consists of a cup of tea and a biscuit (what we in the U.S. call a “cookie”) or a piece of cake. This had become such a part of English life that fictional characters such as Winnie the Pooh and Paddington Bear took elevenses. In our more modern times, though, people rarely take the effort to stop and enjoy a respite, but we’re thinking that it would do the world a lot of good if they did.
  • Afternoon Tea – usually around 4 PM – This is the biggee, the one most folks in the U.S. know about. This tea time tradition began during the 1840s in England. It bridged the gap between breakfast and dinner (for the lower classes since they only ate two meals a day) and lunch and dinner (for the upper classes since they got up later and had dinner much later). Afternoon tea can range from a small meal (similar to an elevenses tea time menu) to those typical English tea offerings(finger sandwiches, cakes, pastries, etc.). This tea time has sadly also declined in frequency and shifted to a fancy service at hotels and teashops.
  • Light Dinner (aka High Tea) – usually around 5-6 PM – Not so much a quick tea break as it is a large, early evening meal usually consisting of traditional British meat dishes (fish and chips, Shepherd’s pie, ham salads, and so on), giving it the nickname of “meat tea.” The British lower classes considered this their dinner and had it when they would most likely just be getting home from work. In the U.S. many tearooms, though, have turned this into a fancier version of Afternoon Tea.

Foods in This Food Pyramid

Unlike that other food pyramid, this one doesn’t go by food type but by time of day when you consume that food as well as general portion percentages. Note that most of the “meals” shown in our Food Pyramid contain some amount of fat. This helps you feel not necessarily full but, more importantly, “satisfied.” That is, you will think the amount you’ve eaten is sufficient, and so you will find yourself eating less.

Basic guidelines:

  • Eat heaviest meal at breakfast.
  • Portions should be no more than about 4 ounces of a protein source, and include a bit of fat in this to help give you that satisfied feeling, plus equal amounts of some carbohydrate and some fruit/vegetable serving.
  • Have a light tea and snack break between meals.
  • Lunch should be a little less food than breakfast but in about the same proportions (1/3rd of each type of food).
  • Stop eating about 3-4 hours before your usual bedtime.

Features of a Proper British Tea Time

Tea being a key part of the proper food pyramid means that you might want a proper British tea time. Of course, you can enjoy whatever tea in whatever way you choose. Again, the point is for you to feel satisfied.

Some items to include:

  • Black tea – Even with things changing with regard to tea drinking in the UK, black tea reigns supreme, being served up by the potful at tea time.
  • A pot of tea – That potful is a key ingredient here, just one cup is often insufficient. If you have guests, you may even need to steep up a second potful.
  • Time away from work – No matter when your tea time is, getting away from your work or other tasks is part of it.
  • Foods – Fresh is best, but pre-made snacks and cakes such as that perennial favorite Jaffa cakes are fine. A British brand is best here.
  • Congeniality – No fist fights or sharp-tongued barbs, please.

Hope you find this helpful. Enjoy!

My food pyramid

© 2016-2020 A.C. Cargill photos and text

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