Why the plate method

Many countries have unique food plans created by governments or nutrition authorities to help their citizens ensure they're getting adequate nutrition. Each country's food plan is slightly different, but the overall guidelines are generally the same. Usually with emphasis on adequate fluids, fruits, vegetables, grains, as well as protein, fat and calcium sources.

The following is an example of the recommended number of food servings per day, as can be found in Canada's 2007 Food Guide, depending on an individual's age and gender.

Now, this food guide is a wonderful tool to provide a detailed overview of the needs of the average individual, but many people find it overwhelming. Some ask,

"Do I need to keep track of how many servings of each food group I eat every day?"

The answer put simply is: no. It might help to do it for a day or two to see what areas can be improved, but generally speaking, most people aren't counting the total servings of grains or vegetables they consume each day. So what's an easier way of trying to ensure our meals are nutritionally complete? Here's how!

The basics

The Plate Method is a wonderful and effective tool that allows for simple visualization of how to organize food groups. The Plate Method below simplifies the portion sizes and outlines general food groups that we can include for nutritionally balanced meals.

Vegetables and fruit, grains and starches, and protein are the 3 major food groups on the plate. Fats, plant-based dairy, and additional supplements are the 3 pillars to support a balanced meal.

Other Plates

This isn't the first time a plate method has been used to compose a nutritionally balanced meal. It's a visually appealing tool, so many organizations have adopted the method. Here are some great examples that we've adapted for PUL's plate.

Breaking it down: the plate

Fruits and/or vegetables: ½ the plate

Vitamins, minerals, fibre, antioxidants, reduced risk of chronic disease, the list goes on for the benefits of enjoying fruits and vegetables. Any fruit or vegetable would do, but we also recommend including some green and orange veggies each day. If it's difficult to shop for fresh produce, frozen ones work great for those busy days when we're looking for something quick. 

Pro tip: if possible, aim for slightly more servings of vegetables than fruit. General guidelines are about 3-4 servings of fruit and 4-6 servings of vegetables daily.

Grains: ¼ the plate

Grains are a fantastic source of sustained energy to get us through the day. Whole grains being a source of fibre also promotes regular digestion. Oatmeal, rice, whole grain bread, wheat tortilla, whole grain pasta, barley, millet, and buckwheat are just a few examples.

Pro tip: aim for at least half of daily grain servings to be whole grains for the added benefit of fibre and additional nutrients!

Plant-based proteins: ¼ the plate

In addition to protein, plant-based proteins also provide fibre to keep us feeling fuller for longer. Some delicious examples include tofu, tempeh, edamame, seitan, green peas, chickpeas, lentils, split peas, and most veggie meat replacements. Other sources that are both protein and fat sources are anything in the nut and seed categories. This includes hemp seeds, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, walnuts, almonds, peanuts, and all forms of nut and seed butters.

Pro tip: if we're pressed for time, we use canned beans and lentils to speed up meal prep time. Lentils also take less time to cook from scratch than beans, so that might be an additional way to save time. Another quick way we can add more protein is to top off nourish bowls and salads with nuts and seeds.

The pillars

We developed these "three pillars," calcium, fats, and supplements, to ensure that in addition to the plate, we're getting an adequate variety of necessary nutrients for optimal health. If we don't get a chance to include them with each meal, not a problem! We can enjoy them on the side or as a snack too.

Calcium

Whether it's a vegan or omnivorous lifestyle, calcium-rich foods are often overlooked. Calcium is critical for the growth and maintenance of our bone health throughout the lifespan. As with other nutrients, food sources are recommended before supplements. 

We recommend having at least 2 servings of calcium-fortified plant-based milk and/or yogurt a day. Smoothies, oatmeal and breakfast parfaits are all ways we enjoy plant-based milk or yogurt. Soy milk is often recommended because it provides 7-8g of protein per cup, which is similar to cow's milk, whereas other plant-based milks don't offer this much protein. When enjoying plant-milks other than soy, we can include more protein-rich foods with meals and snacks to make up for the lower protein content in these kinds of milk. 

There are other foods beyond fortified plant-based dairy products that provide calcium, such as leafy greens, tahini, and beans. These sources aren't very rich-sources, but they're still wonderful to include as they provide additional vitamins and minerals! To learn more about calcium recommendations and how to meet our needs, see our calcium article.

Fats

Fats have an important role in health promotion and are essential to many functions in the body. Here at PUL, we try to consume healthy fats from whole food sources where possible, as these also offer fibre, vitamins and minerals. Oils can also be used to meet our fat needs, but it's generally best to enjoy oils in moderation. Whole food fat sources include avocados, nuts, seeds, nut or seed butters, olives, coconuts flakes, coconut milk, and coconut meat. Essential omega-3 fatty acids are usually found in these whole food fat sources as well. To learn more about meeting our omega-3 needs, read our omega-3 article

Supplements

Vitamin B12 is rarely found in plant-based food products. Due to this, those of us following eating plant-based likely need to get vitamin B12 from fortified foods and/or supplements. See our vitamin B12 article to learn more about meeting our needs on a plant-based lifestyle. 

Vitamin D is another nutrient to be mindful of, depending on where we live. If we live in an area that doesn't get a lot of sunlight, it's often recommended to consume fortified foods and/or supplement with 600-800 IU/day. This applies to both vegans and non-vegans. Learn how to get enough of this vitamin in our vitamin D article.

The bottom line

By developing this plate and breaking it down, we're not trying to recommend meticulously organizing our plate in this exact order, or becoming obsessed over specific percentages. In fact, if we look through PUL recipes, we'll notice that not all of them necessarily follow this plate method 100% of the time, and that's ok. For example, it may be that our breakfast is half fruit and half grains and some plant-based milk, like in this breakfast porridge recipe.

The plate method is a visualization of a "template" for a well-balanced meal. Using it as a guide will help us adapt it to the types of foods that are accessible and enjoyable to us. This way, it's practical, varied, and more sustainable in the long run.