Eating well is something we all know we should do, and most of us know which kinds of foods are healthful to eat. So what gets in our way when we are trying to eat well-balanced, healthful meals? The majority of the people I know tell me that they do not have the time to eat well amidst their busy schedules. Healthy meals and snacks do not need to be fancy, or even take very long to prepare. If you prioritize healthful choices and make them available for yourself, you’ll have more success in eating well. I find this strategy is best broken down into 2 parts.
The first is to have strategies in place to help you achieve this goal!
- Have an understanding of which healthful foods you enjoy eating: If you know broccoli is healthy, but you hate broccoli, don’t waste your money buying it! If you dislike that vegetable, you aren’t likely to eat it. It would be better to choose another vegetable that you do like instead, like brussel sprouts, cauliflower, or a green salad. By stocking those vegetables you enjoy, you are making healthful eating an enjoyable experience and increasing the chances that you’ll continue that behavior.
- Snack smart: It is also important to stock your home with healthful snacks. I find that this is a great way to add in extra vegetables and fruits during the day. If you cut up a few of your favorite veggies each week and have them readily available, you are more likely to eat those than junk food. My favorites are carrots, celery, bell peppers, and snap peas.
- Remember to strive for balance in meals: A balanced meal contains a variety of food groups. Half of your plate should be fruits and vegetables, a protein portion should be a lean protein and about the size of your palm, and starches like whole grains or starchy vegetables should only be about a quarter of your plate. Use choosemyplate.gov to help you design healthy meals.
- Prepare your portions: Remembering to eat an appropriate portion can be especially difficult to remember when you are hungry. To help set yourself to eat the right portion, try placing snack items in pre-portioned tupperware containers or baggies. That way you are less likely to overeat, and it makes healthful snacks readily available whenever you need one. For meals, try using the choosemyplate.gov graphic, they also have many sample plates on their website that can help you to learn appropriate portion sizes of healthful foods. It can also be helpful to make a double portion of a meal when you find you have time to cook well. By freezing this second portion, you have quick access to a healthful meal on a day when you have less time.
The second is to help yourself cut out behaviors that might be a barrier to your healthful eating goals.
- Smart shopping: Try to plan out at least a few healthful meals each week and go to the grocery store with a list. If you are working from a list of healthful options, you may be less tempted to reach for foods you know aren’t as good for you. If you find that when you are hungry and have “no time” you pick up processed foods instead of whole foods, try to either eliminate those items from your shopping list, or keep them out of sight in your pantry. That way, healthful options you picked up during your last grocery run are the most obvious choices and increases the likelihood of you snacking smart. Another commonly suggested but incredibly helpful tip is never shop hungry. If you are trying to eat well and need a few things from the store, try having a small, healthful snack like a piece of fruit or some fresh vegetables or nuts before you leave for the store. If you are full, you are less likely to pick up things that aren’t on your list.
- Make vegetables easy to store: It can be hard to eat all of the fresh produce in your fridge before it begins to wilt. If you find this is a consistent issue for you and your family, you may find that occasionally using frozen vegetables is a good option. Frozen, whole vegetables, like broccoli, spinach, peas, carrots, cauliflower, and green beans are easily defrosted and last much longer than their fresh counterparts. If cooked without additional fat or salt, they can be just as healthful in a meal as fresh vegetables.
- Know your temptations: The times when we are tempted by ease of access are the times when it can be hardest to stay on target. If you know that you get hungry on the drive home from work, its best to anticipate that behavior. Try packing a small snack to have before you leave work, instead of waiting until you get home, which might lead to overindulging before dinner. If you find that fast food restaurants you drive by on your way home are especially temping, try driving a new route that steers clear of that temptation.
In the end, those small victories each week add up to achieving your healthful eating goals. Try setting yourself up for success by making the healthy option the easy option this week!