The plate is split into four sections, for fruit, vegetables, grains and protein. A smaller circle sits beside it for dairy.
Officials said they planned to use the plate in a campaign to communicate essential dietary guidelines to consumers, emphasizing one message at a time for best effect.
The first part of the campaign will encourage people to make half their plate fruit and vegetables. Later phases of the campaign will instruct consumers to avoid oversize portions, enjoy their food but eat less of it and to drink water instead of sugary drinks.
Nutritionists often criticized the food pyramid, which was first released in 1992, for being either misleading or hard to understand. They gave the plate cautious praise.
“It’s better than the pyramid but that’s not saying a lot,” said Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition at New York University.
She praised the plate for being generally easy to understand, but she said that labeling a large section of the plate “protein” was confusing and unneccesary, because grains and dairy also are important sources of protein and most Americans get far more protein than they need.
But she said the emphasis on fruits and vegetables was a significant step.
“Americans aren’t used to eating this way so this is a big change,” Ms. Nestle said.
The plate was created by the Department of Agriculture with input from the first lady’s anti-obesity team and federal health officials. The agriculture department said that it conducted focus groups with about 4,500 people, including children, as they developed the new icon. Developing the icon and creating a Web site and other educational materials to go along with it cost about $2 million. That money will also help pay for an educational campaign centered on the plate icon over the next year, officials said.