Ask the expert. Personal vs. Standard meal plans.

Q: Many of my clients ask me for written meal plans. Should I provide standardized or personalized plans?

A: When nutrition professionals tailor meal plans for clients, they take into account food and cultural preferences, health concerns, lifestyle, and ethnic traditions, which usually doesn’t happen with standardized meal plans.

Benefits of Tailored Meal Plans.

This year, the theme for National Nutrition Month, organized by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (the Academy), was «Eat Right, Your Way, Every Day,» encouraging personalized healthful eating styles and recognizing that food preferences, lifestyle, cultural and ethnic traditions, and health concerns all impact individual food choices. The Academy further recognized that «registered dietitians play a critical role in helping people eat right, their way, and every day. » These acknowledgements are based on the 2010 Dietary Guidelines and MyPlate messaging, and have been shown to positively impact those who eat healthfully according to their own food preferences.

A 2012 study published in the International Journal of Endocrinology examined blood glucose control in pregnant multiethnic women who made personal food preferences and ethnic, cultural, and religious food choices. The participants who received ethnic meal plans, which included foods from their countries of origin vs. standard meal plans, achieved better metabolic control at the end of their pregnancy. In addition, women who were offered ethnic meal plans had babies with a lower birth weight with no cases of macrosomia.

Personalizing Standardized Plans.

Some health care facilities and practitioners use standardized meal plans per their clients’ requests. However, dietitians still can tailor these meal plans. While working with a primarily Dominican population in a Bronx, New York, private practice, I was frequently asked by clients to provide standardized meal plans. As a result, I developed numerous calorie meal plans (eg, 1,600 kcal daily) in both Spanish and English. They asked for traditional Dominican foods to be included, and I adjusted their choices after I reviewed the plans with them.

Lisa Stollman, MA, RDN, CDE, CDN, author of The Teen Eating Manifesto: The Ten Essential Steps to Losing Weight, Looking Great and Getting Healthy, has counseled overweight teenagers and adults for almost 30 years. She provides many of her clients with a sample of a healthful meal plan, which is designed and individualized as needed. «Many of my clients don’t know how to structure meals or snacks, so that’s my motivation for providing a written eating plan,» she says. «Although the plan is one page, I give them a variety of food options so they can make their own choices. My patients appear to use it and report that it’s very helpful for them. I also provide clients with a list of ideas for meals and snacks so they have it as part of their nutrition toolbox.»

Bottom Line for Practitioners.

The one-size-fits-all meal plan is ineffective when serving clients who have food preferences that differ from the standard. To best assist clients, it’s most effective to tailor meal plans, although the method with which a practitioner chooses to personalize the meal plan will vary.

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