Although every member of the human race requires pretty much the same basic set of nutrients, no two people really eat the exact same foods every day. There are just too many factors influencing what we choose to eat. So instead of trying to mimic someone else's plate, individualize your meal plan so you can get the nutrients you need to maintain your best health and well-being. Although it sounds complicated, creating such a plan can be simpler than you think.
First, consider the factors that influence what you buy at the market and what you put in your mouth at each meal:
Flavor. How food tastes, smells, looks, feels and even sounds when you chew it can influence whether or not you're likely to eat it. Consider okra: Some people hate it because they feel the texture is too slimy, while others absolutely love it.
Cost. Many people can't afford to purchase 100 percent organic food. If, however, you choose to buy organic, you need to decide where to spend your organic dollar.
Convenience. Some markets around the country do not carry certain foods, especially specialty foods that may not be in high demand (think matcha powder or chia seeds).
Nutritional content. You may check the nutrition label to determine if the foods' ingredients or nutritional content meets your standards.
Culture. Where you live and where your family's from can influence how often you eat a food, which foods are considered delicacies versus scraps, when you eat certain foods and what you enjoy for special occasions. Think about a child's birthday party: Which foods are typically consumed in the U.S.? What about at the movies? Or at a baseball game? Believe it or not, the answers aren't the same in every culture around the world.
Demographics. Age, educational level and income also influence food selection. Some older adults may not be as open to trying new foods as some of the younger generations. Some folks may have $500 to spend on a fancy jar of caviar, but most people do not.
Health. If you are allergic to peanuts, you won't be buying jars of peanut butter for a PB&J sandwich. And, if you have heart disease, experts recommend a diet is that is calorie-controlled and low in total and saturated fat.
Sustainability. You may also be concerned about how food is grown or raised, and how it affects the environment. You may choose to eat local, GMO-free foods or grass-fed meat.
Social influence. How children and young adults eat can be especially influenced by peer pressure. My adolescent son loves a certain "wrap and go" place in our neighborhood because all of his friends eat there. Teenage girls may choose to eat salads every day because they think salads are the healthiest choice.
Emotions. Think what you eat when you're sad, happy, stressed or bored. How you feel can impact what you eat.
The media.News reports can scare you or make you feel like you should (or shouldn't) be eating a certain food. This past week, the media hyped up a report that red meat causes cancer, scaring the public and perhaps even turning some people off from eating their beloved bacon or other red meat. However, there is no one food that is the cause or cure of a disease.
These factors influence people in different ways. As such, all of our meal plans should be individualized so we can take in essential nutrients from each food group, including lean protein, whole grains, fruits, vegetables, dairy and healthy fat.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Dietary Guidelines for Americans is a long list of recommendations that is updated every five years. These guidelines are a guide to help you maintain a healthy and well-balanced diet. However, translating these guidelines into what you should have on your plate is not that easy. That's where "MyPlate" comes in. It's a simple picture that shows how your plate should look – no matter which foods you choose to eat. One-quarter of your plate should be lean protein, one-quarter should be filled with whole grains and the remaining half should include fruits and vegetables. Luckily, there are a wide variety of foods that fit into each area of your plate. As such, no matter what type of foods you like, or must avoid, you can achieve a healthy diet.
Still need guidance? No problem! Log onto ChooseMyPlate.gov, a free website that has many tools to help you eat a well-balanced diet. If you still need more assistance, a registered dietitian nutritionist can help. He or she will look at your medical history, likes and dislikes, lifestyle and other factors to help you develop an individualized meal plan that's right for you. To find a dietitian in your area, go to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics' website.
Copyright 2015 U.S. News & World Report
RELATED: Click through to read 5 tips on how to get your family to eat right
5 tips to get your family to eat right during the busy school year
1 diet doesn't fit all
Eat Good Fats
"Fat is back, fat is in, fat is good," television personality and nutrition expert Joy Bauer shares. "It helps steady your blood sugar, it helps flavor your food [and] it keeps you satiated so that you don’t overeat at lunch or at dinner." While good fats are beneficial, Joy points out that you do have to watch the amount you're eating so that it doesn't backfire and cause weight gain.
So, which fats should you consume? "There are plenty of good fats," Joy says. "Avocado, which is great, because you can use it as a spread on toast, you can make yummy guacamole, and then it can be a vehicle for getting your kids to eat more vegetables."
Joy also recommends nuts and seeds, whether you incorporate them into trail mixes or add them on top of parfaits. "Sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds are really becoming mainstay again," she says.
Joy also recommends getting buttery spreads into your diet. "A lot of people automatically clump margarine with buttery spreads, and they’re totally different," she says. "The buttery spreads are made with plant-based oils." With so many people looking to cut calories and watch their weight, Joy likes the fact that buttery spreads like Country Crock can give you that creamy, buttery taste with few calories. "I do a lot of things with that, [like] sautéing apples with brown cinnamon and [putting] them in parfaits with non-fat Greek yogurt," she says.
Photo credit: Getty
Joy points out that you don't have to spend a whole lot of time and energy in the kitchen to come up with really delicious, kid-friendly options. She suggests something as simple as taking a whole grain tortilla, layering it with some lettuce, sliced tomato, turkey and Swiss cheese, rolling it up and cutting it into pinwheels. "I think that parents are brown bagging and putting more thought into what they’re making, which is really cool," Joy says.
Photo credit: Getty
Make Energizing Snacks
Adults and kids alike can always use extra energy in the afternoon, and Joy says the best type of snack to eat is one that combines protein and fiber to help stabilize your blood sugar and give you that extra boost you need.
While she admits that "nothing can beat a good cup of coffee," Joy also suggests green and black teas, which have half the caffeine as a cup of coffee. "So for parents who have trouble falling asleep at night, it’s the perfect gentle boost of caffeine, versus having a full cup of coffee and tossing and turning," she shares.
In terms of snacks, Joy recommends things like nutrition bars and low-sugar tail mixes -- which you can make yourself. "[Grab] a handful of whole grain cereal for the fiber, a handful of nuts for the protein and for the fiber, and then some dried fruit (one or two tablespoons). If you want to get fancy, sprinkle in some dark chocolate. [You've] got to love those flavonoids for brainpower and blood pressure control."
Joy also likes to make energizing smoothies. "The ultimate energizing smoothie for a mom would be to take some sort of frozen fruit, like frozen mango chunks for fiber, and non-fat Greek yogurt for protein, and then for the liquid, use a half a cup of brewed green or black tea. So then you get the caffeine, the protein and the fiber. That’s a perfect energizing smoothie," she shares.
"Also, I like anything with peanut butter," Joy recommends. "For kids, what’s really good is that if you take a banana, slice it lengthwise, and put a little bit of nut butter in the middle. Close the top, cut it into wheels and put it in the freezer for a couple of hours. Then you have this really yummy frozen peanut butter banana treat. Again, it has the protein, it has the fiber, and it takes a while to eat, which is really nice."
Photo credit: Getty
Nail Down Healthy Go-To Dinners
Joy stresses that families are so overscheduled today that it's easy to get into a funk when it comes to dinner. Rotating through the same three unhealthy meals, like tossing chicken nuggets into the oven or making a box of macaroni and cheese, is not the way to go if you want to put your family on a healthy path. "If you just take the time to come up with a short list of five super simple healthy recipes that you can whip together in under 15 minutes, you would be so far ahead of the game" Joy shares. "For me, I can whip up a grilled, un-breaded chicken parmesan in 15 minutes flat. I do the chicken in oil spray on the pan, and then I put marinara sauce and reduced fat mozzarella cheese [on top]. While it’s under the broiler I open up a bag of mixed greens and [pour] a little light salad dressing on top, and you have this unbelievable meal that you just put together very fast."
Joy also suggests making turkey tacos or turkey burgers, sautéing vegetables in Country Crock buttery spread and pairing it with chicken or fish, or making omelets for dinner. "I do omelets all the time," she says. "I pick one whole egg with two to three egg whites, and I’ll put in the kitchen sink. Leftover vegetables, a sprinkling of reduced-fat cheese, and then you just serve it with a couple slices of whole grain toast."
Joy also points out that it doesn't have to be a gourmet meal every night. "You have to come up with your five go-to meals and make sure you have the ingredients for at least a couple of all of them on hand at any time during the week, and then you’re good to go."
Photo credit: Getty
Make Dessert Nutritious
"I always say that when it comes to sweets, if you can ensure a little nutrition comes along with the sugar rush, then you’re in good shape," Joy says. There are a bunch of ways dessert can play double duty as nutrition as well.
TODAY Show anchor Natalie Morales once dared Joy to get her kids to eat greens, so Joy came up with her Purple Power Pops. "I made these ice pops and I added spinach, and they did not detect a thing. They just thought that they were amazing ice pops, and they’re so easy to make!"
If you try simple tricks like Joy did with her ice pops, you don't have to feel bad giving kids a treat, and they won't feel dessert-deprived. Even if you buy prepared desserts, Joy points out that opting for something like pudding at least has the benefit of calcium. If you're giving your kids ice cream, she suggests tossing some fresh fruit on top. As she told us, it's a great way to get your kids to consider fruit as a dessert.
Photo credit: Getty
Check out some of Joy's recipes for your whole family to enjoy below.