When the government introduced the new Dietary Guidelines late last year, a chorus resounded: "I can't eat that much!"

Yet if you want balanced meals, plugging into the suggested servings in the five food groups provides an excellent chance to get the nutrients you need. That's not to say you don't have to use common sense.For example, you won't be able to douse vegetables in butter or indulge in high-fat meats and pretend you're eating right.

Exactly how much is "that much?"

For some, not enough. Americans are generally hearty eaters and our idea of a "serving" doesn't always jibe with the guidelines.

For example, the U.S. Department of Agriculture envisions one serving of fruit as one-half of a large banana; most people would eat the whole thing.

Six to 11 servings of grains don't seem impossible once you consider that one serving is half a bagel, half an English muffin, half a slice of large-loaf Italian bread.

A serving of juice is 3/4 cup - not an 8-ounce glass - and a serving of meat is a thin, palm-sized hamburger patty, or one chicken breast. Add a leg or thigh to a chicken dinner and that's two servings - the whole day's worth.

The guidelines' few changes from the 1985 version reflect recent research. Americans are now advised to reduce the amount of fat in their diets to 30 percent of total calories.

One way the guidelines help is by increasing complex carbohydrates, such as breads, fruits and vegetables, and reducing animal products (a good source of protein that most Americans get plenty of), which contain saturated fats.

So the servings of meat, poultry, fish and alternatives (eggs, dry beans and peas, nuts and seeds) remain at two to three; milk, cheese and yogurt are now usually two servings, instead of the original two to four, although the number still depends on age.

To balance these reductions, the number of servings of bread, cereals, pasta and rice have been increased to six to 11 a day (they were four to six).

Fruits and vegetables have been divided into separate categories, with two to four fruits required and three to five vegetables. They used to total four to six servings.

Our chart gives you a chance to mentally munch your way through a day in the life of a Dietary Guidelines diner. We also have suggestions for men and teens. They generally would eat the intermediate to maximum number of servings, while women might eat the minimum. Pregnant women and nursing mothers should add foods from all groups.

Because many dietitians suggest eating five small meals a day, we have planned breakfast, mid-morning snack, lunch, mid-afternoon snack and dinner. (Midnight snacks are best left to Dagwood.)

The menu - it may look like diet fare to some - gives the woman 100 percent of the Recommended Daily Allowances for every major nutrient.

On this day, she chose bran flakes, a cereal high in iron, a nutrient women often lack. For lunch she made her sandwich with whole wheat bread.

The day's meals put our Dietary Guidelines man in the moderate calorie range and give the woman a respectable 2,500 mg of sodium and 169 mg of cholesterol. Most interesting is that within her 1,469 calories, the woman has only 24 percent of calories from fat, falling well below the recommended 30 percent.

We give her the option of spreading a teaspoon of butter or cream cheese on her English muffin, a tablespoon of mayonnaise on her sandwich, a tablespoon of low-calorie dressing on her salad (if it contains salt, the sodium rises to 3,000 mg) and she can top off dinner with Apple Brown Betty. These put her into the 1,600-to-1,800-calorie range. She also could choose whole milk, rather than 2 percent.

A day in the life of a healthy eater (or How the Dietary Guidelines work)

BREAKFAST:

1 ounce ready-to-eat breakfast cereal with 1/2 cup of milk and 1/2 large banana.

1/2 bagel or English muffin.

1/2 cup orange juice.

Coffee/low-cal beverage.

(A man or a teenage girl would eat a whole English muffin. A pregnant or nursing mother would also add 1 egg, and a teenage boy would eat 11/2 muffins.)

MIDMORNING SNACK:

8 ounces of yogurt, plain or with fruit.

(A teenage boy would also eat 1/4 cup dried fruit.)

LUNCH:

1 sandwich (2 slices whole grain bread with 2 ounces chipped ham and one lettuce leaf, or 4 tablespoons peanut butter.

3 carrot sticks and 3 celery sticks (1/2 cup total).

1 cup milk.

(A man or teenage girl would also eat an apple and 1/2 cup of coleslaw for lunch. A teenage boy would also eat an extra sandwich and 1 cup coleslaw.)

MIDAFTERNOON SNACK:

1 cup popcorn, buttered and salted.

(Teens: make that 2 cups popcorn lightly buttered. A teenage boy would also drink 1 glass of milk for a snack.)

DINNER:

4-ounce chicken breast

Tossed salad (1 cup leafy raw vegetable) with 1 tablespoon low-calorie dressing.

1/2 cup rice.

1/2 cup green peas.

1/2 slice Italian bread.

1/2 cup Apple Brown Betty.

(A man and teenage boys would also eat 1 cup of rice, a whole slice of Italian bread and a chicken leg. Teens would drink a glass of milk.)

The Dietary Guidelines:

Breads, cereals, and grains: 6 to 11 servings

Fruits: 2 to 4 servings

Vegetables: 3 to 5 servings

Meat, poultry, fish and alternates (eggs, dry beans, and peas, nuts and seeds): 2 to 3 servings

Milk, cheese and yogurt: 2 servings