There is definitely no shortage of advice on healthy eating. How often have you settled on a particular eating philosophy or habit only to come across something contradictory, leaving you doubtful and confused? The constant onslaught of dietary advice leaves most of us overwhelmed, confused, and discouraged, especially busy moms like myself who are already juggling so much.
The reality is, there is no one-size-fits-all lifestyle diet, but fortunately there are 3 simple things that everyone can do to improve the quality and nutrients in their current lifestyle diet:
1. Crowd Out the Crap
Often times, our first approach to eating healthier is eliminating certain foods. For most of us, however, this approach only leads to us wanting these same 'bad' foods even more! Instead of focusing on what to eliminate or limit, focus on what to increase in your daily diet.
The trick here is what I like to call "crowding out the crap." If you keep your tummy full of more nutritious foods, you'll have less room for junk. The easier healthy food is to access, the more likely you are to reach for it when you're hungry, so be sure to have foods that you enjoy eating handy. Fresh fruit, vegetables and dips, nuts and seeds, beans, and whole grains like oatmeal and brown rice are super convenient and can provide a quick snack between meals or even simple meals themselves.
Whenever you're preparing to indulge in an unhealthy meal, enjoy a healthier side with it, like a salad that you enjoy, a vegetable of your liking (baked sweet potato, anyone?), or snack on a handful of nuts while you're ordering or preparing it. This way, you'll have less room for the unhealthy food but still be able to indulge in it.
2. Plan Ahead
Even as a Nutritionist, if I have access to unhealthy food when I'm hungry, I'll almost always eat it. A popular meme that sums this up perfectly is "I looked in the pantry for food but all I found were ingredients." We've come to expect eating to be done as quickly as possible -- even better if it can be done on-the-go.
Unfortunately, these packaged, convenient foods almost always contain a ton of sugar, artificial ingredients that our bodies can't recognize as food, unhealthy fats, and empty carbs that contribute to weight gain. The good news is, with proper planning, healthy eating is not only doable, but it doesn't require spending copious amounts of time in the kitchen.
Plan your meals out for the week and designate a day to grocery shop. Next, designate a time once a week to do some prep work, like chop vegetables, cook a large batch of grains like rice or oats, bake a batch of chicken breasts to use in salads and stir-fries, or portion out meat for each meal you'll cook that week. Consider cooking a few meals at the start of the week and either freezing or refrigerating, or toss ingredients for slow-cooker recipes into gallon-sized zip-lock bags and freeze for effortless meals.
3. Eat More Fruits and Veggies
A vast majority of us don't even get half of our recommended daily intake of fruits or vegetables. Fruits and vegetables contain an array of health-promoting vitamins and nutrients that are essential for good health, and increasing them in your daily diet is one of the most powerful ways to improve your overall health.
Although sticking with organic produce is ideal due to lower pesticide residue and higher nutrient content, if you are unable to afford or access organic produce, purchasing conventional produce is better than none at all. A good middle-ground is purchasing the "dirty dozen" fruits and vegetables organic, twelve of the heaviest pesticide-treated fruits and vegetables on the market. Get the current list of dirty dozen here.
The most crucial part of all 3 steps above is ensuring you still enjoy eating. I personally don't care for lots of raw vegetables, so I wouldn't prepare a large leafy salad alongside a pizza. Instead, I'd order a Greek salad and load the pizza with the veggies I enjoy most. Similarly, the meals we rotate through weekly are those that both the kids and I thoroughly enjoy, even if they're not packed with superfoods and leafy greens. Food is designed not to nourish only the body, but the mind as well.