Shelley Bridgeman asks six women and men to tell us what they eat in a typical day - from the multisport athlete who trains 20 hours a week to the lap-band surgery patient who can't eat more than a cup and a half of food at a time.

Our daily dietary habits have never been more varied. Vegetarianism and veganism, once looked askance at, are now virtually mainstream. Today we have freegans who won't pay for sustenance, raw foodies who won't cook and followers of macrobiotic diets who shun refined foods and most animal products. Attitudes to food can be complex. Sometimes we restrict our food intake, sometimes we eat too much. We may eat for emotional reasons or we may view food purely as fuel for our bodies. And, more than ever before, food is about fashion. The traditional staple Kiwi meal of meat and three vegetables has lost traction since the advent of gourmet stores, glossy food magazines and cooking shows. Some of us are foodies with a real passion for fine cuisine and discovering fresh, unusual ingredients.

In these busy, multi-tasking times, it's become a luxury for many families to sit down around the dinner table and share an evening meal. Yet the experts tell us that this simple act of dining together enhances communication, fosters understanding and sets a positive example for the younger generation.

Ultimately, it's our particular lifestyle and personal nutrition needs that dictate the way we eat. If we're especially busy, eating on the run may be unavoidable. Research continually proves that our nutritional choices are strongly linked to our health and wellbeing. Organic foods, too, are increasingly popular as we seek sustenance in its purest form.

Eating has become highly political; there are moral and environmental considerations associated with every food choice. We don't want animals farmed unethically or our food flown halfway around the world. Shifting our diets with the changing seasons is highly recommended and we treasure the ability to connect with the origins of our food - whether that means tending our own vegetable patch or purchasing local food direct from the grower at a farmers' market.

Here, we talk to six people each with their own individual take on daily nutrition.

Joel Kranz, 23
Auckland, medical student at the University of Auckland

This year I'm doing clinical so I start at 7.30am or 8am at Middlemore Hospital. Usually I don't have a big breakfast - because I like to sleep as long as I can - so I just have a piece of fruit or something small, like a muesli bar, while I'm on the train or leaving the house. I have a cup of tea or coffee when I get to the hospital. Today I spent five hours there before I had a chance to eat. I'm on a general medical ward at the moment. You have to do all your patient rounds and it takes quite a long time. You get really hungry, especially when you don't eat a big breakfast.

Sometimes there's a five-minute break where I can grab a quick muesli bar or a banana or something. Little pottles of yoghurt ... I take one of them most days. You can eat one of them pretty fast. You eat on the run until lunchtime.

For lunch I ate some crackers and a couple of pieces of garlic bread and some leftover dinner from last night - spaghetti bolognese. Do I eat in the staff cafeteria? Not if I can help it because it costs too much buying food every day. Normally I have lunch around 12.

In the afternoon you have time to eat if you want because work is more self-directed. You have classes, tutorials. Then if the doctors on your team are in surgery, they want you to watch the surgeries and you can't eat or drink in there. I eat quite a lot for dinner because when I get home I'm really hungry. I had a beef-and-mushroom burger and chips from the burger shop up the road tonight. And a bowl of icecream. The family wasn't home and I was too tired to cook.

Maree White, 30
Wellington, senior dancer with the Royal NZ Ballet

On tour I like to have a good savoury breakfast, so I opt for eggs on multigrain or rye toast - definitely not white bread. I'll add spinach and maybe some cheese. I like quite hearty food, it's slow-release, keeps me happier longer. I'll drink either hot chocolate or tea. I've cut out coffee recently - I just didn't like that I was relying on it to pick up my mood. We do our training for an hour-and-a-half then we have 15 minutes' break before rehearsal. I've always got almonds, muesli bars and things in my little black box to snack on. Almonds give me protein and fats, which is good, just helps me last a bit longer.

A run-through of the show takes until 5pm. By that time you're often getting a bit hungry. I have a meal before the show and it's usually quite quick, because I've got to start putting makeup on by about 5.30pm. For dinner I bring in rice and stir-fry vegetables or sushi. I don't eat a lot of red meat but I'll have chicken and fish. During the show I grab lollies for quick energy. I like jellybeans and liquorice.

I don't have a chance to snack a lot, which keeps my weight even as well. I've got definite windows to shovel something in.

After the show I can have something quite big. Usually I'll go home and have pasta or rice and vegetables and always some sort of meat or fish - tuna or chicken. If I'm too tired I'll buy something on the way home but you can't guarantee anything's still open. I get home about 11pm and that's when I eat.

Sue Frost, 51
Nelson, lap-band surgery patient

Having lap-band surgery was the best thing I've ever done. It's led to weight loss and, finally, my ability to control my intake. Breakfast is a cup of coffee. Then by noon I usually have ham or cheese with crackers or a sandwich. Because I have a low food intake [capacity], I choose to focus on protein. Mid-afternoon I'll have something like a biscuit or a slice. For dinner often I have fish or chicken, maybe some potato - but I'm talking 100g maximum of fish and a very small potato and then, maybe, some other vegetable. I might have something sweet later on in the evening.

Quantity-wise per meal, I can probably eat only a cup and a half at the most - seriously. And I don't drink and eat at the same time so tend to have drinks, then have a break before a meal. It's a volume thing. To drink enough [alcohol] to get drunk is almost impossible. Before surgery I could eat a three-course meal every night, I could eat a substantial lunch and I could eat something in between. I'm a lot healthier now. I've gone from size 26 to size 16. It's a new world. When I was growing up, you cleared your plate. You ate whatever was served to you and you never threw food out - you never wasted it. So it's been a huge thing to say: 'It's okay to have a quarter of an apple'.

Sarah Holder, 26
Auckland, model and Spartacus actor

I'll either have toast with avocado or tomato or I'll have fresh fruit for breakfast. Sometimes I have muesli with yoghurt. You need energy in the morning, especially when you're on your feet all day, either standing in high heels or on set running backwards and forwards. I drink a lot of green tea. There are a lot of antioxidants in it, it's good for your skin and it's also good for in-between meals. I'll eat fruit or rice crackers if I'm hungry. I'm a total chocoholic sometimes but I try to stay away from eating just for the sake of eating. I'm quite curvy naturally, not a stick-thin model - that's just how I am. I don't have the metabolism of a rabbit, I have to watch what I eat.

Lunch, if I'm at home, is usually a salad or sushi. If I'm on a shoot - like on Spartacus - I eat quite a lot of salad and just have a bit of meat and a little bit of carbohydrate. In the afternoon I might have some fruit. I really love eating popcorn. I'm a popcorn fiend. I guess that's kind of like my chips.

For dinner I eat quite a lot of raw salmon and I have that in a salad with sesame seeds and soy sauce and tomato, stuff like that, and maybe half a cup of pasta. Sometimes I'll have some KFC or go out with friends for Mexican and have sangria and some cocktails. You have to live your life. You can't just eat salads all the time.

Philippa Williams, 36
multi-sport athlete

Multi-sporting involves off-road running, road cycling, mountain biking and kayaking. I'm in training for the next Coast to Coast event in February. It's 243km from Kumara Beach on the west coast of the South Island to Sumner Beach. My big goal is to do it in one day. You need to keep your body going, so you really see your body as a vehicle and the food as fuel.

I train between 15 and 20 hours a week. I don't usually have a big meal before training because I've usually eaten a snack before I've gone to bed. I will have a coffee, which is my vice but it's not a bad one. For a two-hour session I'll have some water pre-mixed with some electrolytes, which is basically a powder carbohydrate plus some sodium and so forth to replace the sweat and the salts. And I'll have 25g of carbohydrates in a gel. A long training session might be a three-hour bush run and then a couple of hours on my bike. The body starts to burn muscle and starts to need protein, so I'll have a carbohydrate and protein drink. I mix up a certain number of scoops depending how long I'm going to be training for and I'll add to that some of the carbohydrate gels. After a big training day, what I always keep in my gym bag are jelly snakes, which are basically a quick shot of natural glucose. Then I'll try to get some protein powder and some carbohydrates.

I'm probably looking at around six small meals a day. A couple of bits of Vogel's bread for breakfast, then after training, mid-morning, I'll have fruit or a muesli bar or nuts and raisins. Lunch is usually a salad with the protein being tuna or a boiled egg. I'll have a snack mid-afternoon - fruit, nuts or a small tin of creamed rice. For dinner I'm thinking about the protein and carbs, so I'll have fish or chicken, maybe an omelette, and then complement that with some kumara or rice and loads of veges. Just before I go to bed I'll maybe have some fruit and yoghurt.

Cy Winstanley, 28
Auckland, musician and vegan

I usually have porridge with soy milk and fresh fruit and if I want something sweet on it I'll have agave nectar, which is like a vegan kind of honey substitute. Sometimes I have LSA [linseed, sunflower seeds and almond mix] or ground nuts on it as well. Usually I go for a run and afterwards I'll have organic peanut butter on wholegrain toast with Olivani spread. And then to lunch. The other day I had bean burritos - with kidney beans, refried beans, mushrooms, hummus, lettuce, capsicum and other vegetables - that were left over from dinner. We have this amazing sushi-maker, so I often have tofu sushi for lunch as well. Throughout the afternoon I just try to snack on fruit or nuts. Sometimes I have rice crackers with hummus. For dinner I have quite a lot of stir-fries - veges with tempeh, perhaps. Tempeh is like a bean curd, a fermented soybean. It's like tofu but kind of further down the line of fermentation. I have that with noodles or with brown rice. I have dark chocolate and lots of cakes. Instead of using egg to bind them you put in mashed bananas.

As long as you eat broadly, eat different colours and wholegrains you get all the protein that you need and more. Eating at home's really easy. Restaurants are easy too, for the most part, as long as you can communicate to them what veganism is. They say: 'So does that mean you can eat fish?' As long as they know that 'no, we can't eat any animal product', they'll work out something.

"I don't want people killing other sentient beings or significantly altering their lives to give me food or make my life a bit tastier.