Meal Planning – The Basics
Meal planning refers to the act of thinking ahead and identifying what you will eat and drink for a defined period. In the Caribbean, we categorise most foods (excluding beverages, sweeteners, spices and condiments) into 6 food groups. The images below from the Pan American Health Organization illustrate what the 6 food groups are.
Legumes and Nuts
Foods from Animals
Fats & Oils
Foods are grouped based on the type and quantity of key nutrients, so to have an adequately varied diet, combining them appropriately is key for nutritional balance. A diet refers to what an individual eats on a daily basis, not necessarily eating in a specific way to achieve a nutrition goal. The requirements for a balanced diet will vary from person to person but in general it includes a daily eating pattern that provides a variety of food groups in the right proportions to meet the body’s needs. An excellent approach to combining foods to provide nutritional adequacy is the multi-mix principle.
The multi-mix principle is very helpful as it allows for increasing variety based on the type of foods available, including where there are budgetary constraints. Please note that all the food groups do not need to be present in the same meal. In addition, Fats & Oils are not required in large amounts in most diets and are therefore not included as a category for meal planning. Not everyone eats all of the food groups for varied reasons. Or if they do, some persons may not eat from all the food groups every day. The multi-mix principle is helpful for meal planning as it allows for varying levels of nutritional adequacy based on the number of food groups typically consumed.
Combing Food Groups for Nutritional Adequacy for General Diets
2-Mix Meal Combinations: Staple + Food from Animals
Staple + Legumes or Nuts
3-Mix Meal Combinations: Staple + Food from Animals + Vegetables
Staple + Legumes or Nuts + Vegetables
Staple + Foods from Animals + Legumes or Nuts
4-Mix Meal Combinations: Staple + Food from Animals + Vegetables + Fruits
Staple + Legumes or Nuts + Vegetables + Fruits
Combing Food Groups for Nutritional Adequacy for Plant-Based Diets
There is overwhelming research that points to the benefits of plant-based eating for most individuals. However, for the body to fully benefit from a plant-based diet, the focus should be on minimally processed options combined appropriately to provide nutritional adequacy. In addition, there is one vitamin (Vitamin B12) which is not present in plants and so must be consumed via fortified foods, supplements or yeast flakes for persons who do not eat animal based foods.
For vegetarians or vegans, the following combinations are recommended to ensure that needs for protein and Vitamin B12 are met:
- Legumes + seeds and nuts
- Legumes + grains and cereals
- Legumes + milk products
- Grains and cereals + milk products
- Seeds and nuts + milk products