The Dietary Guidelines for Americans and its associated MyPlate graphic are commonly referenced resources for learning about healthy and nutritious eating. The recently-updated 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans put a stronger focus on meeting dietary recommendations while keeping cultural preferences in mind, and resources highlighting culturally inclusive approaches are valuable tools for translating the general messages of MyPlate and the Dietary Guidelines to more Americans.
This article is part of a series that shows how healthy eating can take on many different forms outside of the Western diet. While for many, meals might not exactly resemble MyPlate, the featured guest authors will demonstrate what healthy eating looks like in their culture, and how many of the food groups and principles can translate across cultures and cuisines. Each article in this series is written by a registered dietitian who is experienced in integrating culturally inclusive approaches into their work.
About the Author
My name is Carlie Saint-Laurent Beaucejour, a registered dietitian and Owner of Crave with Carlie LLC, a virtual nutrition counseling practice. I have a focus on women’s health, particularly Black women from Caribbean and American culture. As a Haitian-American woman born and raised on Long Island, who had no idea how much my parents’ culture and food would live through me, I have always had a love for food and how it brings people happiness and joy. I understand the battle my clients face with wanting to change their eating habits to better their health without losing their cultural food preferences, and I help to guide them in knowing it’s possible to incorporate both.
The Connection between Haitian Food and Culture
Food is a focal point of Haitian culture; it is how we show love, grieve and celebrate, and that has influenced my nutrition approach that all foods can fit, and my motto, “eat what you crave.” Learning and mastering different Haitian dishes from my mom and YouTube is one way I know I can always feel connected with my ancestors, and pass my heritage on to my children. I have always appreciated all cultures and how they shape who we are; when I interact with patients and clients from different cultures, I listen to learn from them and how they eat based on their culture before making any kind of nutrition recommendations.
Haitian Diet and Styles of Cuisine
I would like to introduce one of Haitian’s most popular dishes – Soup Jou Mou! It is a must-have on New Year’s Day, which is the day we recognize Haitian Independence from the French, and being the first free Black nation on January 1, 1804. Although eaten on New Year’s, Soup Jou Mou is also served at celebrations or any other day. This dish is made from butternut squash, beef, noodles, and packed with vegetables, celery, carrots, cabbage, and potatoes, typically served with bread.
One popular style of Haitian cuisine is Fritay, which contains fried foods like fried plantains, griot (fried pork), Akra (fried malanga) and Tasso (fried turkey). These foods are also typically served at celebrations.
Despite what I hear some family and friends say, Haitian cuisine is plant-forward. My husband who came to the U.S. when he was 7 years old always says to me, “I didn’t know it was possible to have a meal without rice.” I chuckle but rice, corn and beans are a major staple in many Haitian dishes. We also incorporate a lot of vegetables within our dishes rather than on the side. A prominent way to season our foods is with blended fresh herbs and vegetables, and a particular way we spice our food is with “picklez,” which is a combination of hot peppers, shredded cabbage, shredded carrots and vinegar. Furthermore, many of our dishes that contain meat can easily become vegetarian and vegan while still providing nutrition and a hearty meal.
A Typical Haitian Meal Structure
A typical breakfast consists of boiled plantains with scrambled eggs, onions and pepper, while lunch can include white rice with bean sauce (sauce pois) and boulet (meatballs). Dinner can include porridge, bread and tea, and a common snack includes mango.
How do the MyPlate Food Groups Align with the Dietary Preferences of Haitian Cuisine?
Common fruits include mango, kénep, papaya, orange, passionfruit, soursop, avocados, tomatoes, coconut and pineapple.
Popular vegetables include breadfruit, spinach, chayote, plantains, potato, yams, yucca, malanga, spinach, watercress, carrots, okra, celery, jute leaves, onions and garlic.
Rice is a major staple in Haitian cuisine. You can have plain white rice with sauce pois, or make it with red kidney beans to make “red rice,” or with djondjon (black mushroom) to make black rice. Corn is used more like a grain for cornmeal, rather than as a vegetable. A few corn-based dishes are accasan, which is like a breakfast porridge or farina, and mais moulin which resembles polenta with lots of flavor. In addition to corn and rice, wheat and sorghum are popular grains.
Meats are fried, made into stew or served with a tomato based sauce. Common proteins include snapper, king fish, sardines, shrimp, blue fish, cod, lambyee (conch), pork, goat, chicken, beef, duck, beans and eggs.
Dairy or Dairy Alternatives
Common milk types include evaporated milk, whole milk, half and half, and coconut milk. Gouda cheese is typically preferred.
I often help clients see how they are already incorporating veggies and they may not even know it. Particularly in Haitian cuisine, we season our meats, rice and more with a seasoning known as “epis,” which is made up of thyme, parsley, garlic, onions and green peppers blended together. Another example is how tomatoes are used for sauces, over rice or to make stew meats. So although the foods are not compartmentalized like the MyPlate graphic, the food groups are definitely mixed in more than one may think.
The Bottom Line
Haitian cuisine is rich in history, flavorful and nutritious. I would love to see more Haitian dishes made in households across America!
Haitian cuisine is one of many diverse cuisines that can serve as examples of healthy and nutritious eating. This cuisine can broadly encompass the recommendations promoted in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and their associated MyPlate graphic.