Eat Better

10 Tips for Building Healthier Meals

With so much conflicting information out there, it can be daunting to try to eat healthier. There are hundreds of fad diets that don’t work, and there always seems to be a new study coming out to tell us that a food we thought was healthy isn’t, or vice versa. I’ve taken a list of tips for healthier eating from the American Council on Exercise’s (ACE) website, made a few modifications for better clarification, and posted it here so you have some simple guidelines to follow when choosing what to eat. I’ve tried to give you several options without making things too complicated!

Here are 10 tips to help you build healthier meals:

1. Make half of your plate veggies and fruits

Vegetables and fruits are full of nutrients and may help to promote good health. Choose a variety of colors like red, green, orange, and purple. The darker/deeper the color of the fruit or vegetable, the more nutrients it contains. For example, romaine lettuce is deeper green than iceberg lettuce and also contains a lot more nutrients than its paler counterpart.

2. Add lean protein

Choose lean protein foods, such as eggs, fish, chicken, turkey, lean beef or pork, beans, tofu, or tempeh. Twice a week, make seafood the protein on your plate.

3. Include whole grains and complex carbohydrates

Aim to make at least half your grains whole grains. Look for the words “100% whole grain” or “100% whole wheat” on the food label. Whole grains provide more nutrients, like fiber, than refined grains found in breads, muffins, and other processed grain products. Whole grains include brown/wild rice, barley, quinoa, millet, and whole/steel cut oats. For variety, try replacing grains with other complex carbs like sweet potatoes, beans (also high in protein), corn, peas, and winter squash.

4. Don’t forget the calcium

Pair your meal with a cup of fat-free or low-fat milk. Don’t drink milk? Try soymilk or almond milk, or include fat-free or low-fat Greek yogurt in your meal. You can also get calcium from vegetables like kale, spinach and broccoli, as well as raw nuts like almonds and cashews, and other soy products like tofu.

5. Avoid bad fat

Using heavy gravies or sauces will add fat and calories to otherwise healthy choices. Try other options, like a sprinkling of low-fat parmesan cheese or a squeeze of lemon juice. Vinegar is another great way to add flavor without a lot of calories, as is adding fresh or dried herbs and spices. Just go easy on the salt! Fats are important in a healthy diet, so choose healthy fats like avocado, raw nuts and seeds, hummus, and extra-virgin olive or avocado oils. Avoid trans fats such as hydrogenated or partially-hydrogenated oils.

6. Take your time

Savor your food. Eat slowly, enjoy the taste and textures, and pay attention to how you feel. Be mindful. Eating very quickly may cause you to eat too much. It’s also nice to eat with other people and enjoy an actual conversation. Make your meals into a dining event, don’t just eat and run. If it is difficult to accomplish this at every meal (the kids play sports, you have a conference call, etc.), aim to do it at least once a week. It will be better for the health of your body and the health of your mind/spirit.

7. Use a smaller plate

Use a smaller plate at meals to help with portion control. That way you can finish your entire plate and feel satisfied without overeating. Studies actually show that when people choose a large plate they will fill the plate and eat more food, even if they aren’t that hungry.

8. Take control of your food

Cook and eat at home more often so you know exactly what you are eating. If you eat out, check and compare the nutrition information. Choose healthier options such as baked or grilled instead of fried, and ask for sauces and/or dressings on the side. When cooking at home, choose whole foods instead of packaged foods. Packaged foods contain a lot of additives like colors and preservatives, as well as added fat, sugar, and salt. When choosing packaged foods, look for ones with 5 ingredients or less, and make sure you can pronounce/recognize all of the ingredients. For more tips, check out my post 5 Simple Rules to Master the Art of Grocery Shopping.

9. Eat several small meals

Eating several small meals per day has been shown to speed up your metabolism, prevent cravings, and control blood sugar levels. Aim for at least 3 meals with 1-2 snacks in between.

10. Satisfy your sweet tooth

Indulge in a naturally sweet dessert dish—fruit! Serve fresh fruit or a fruit parfait made with Greek yogurt. Top the fresh fruit with unsweetened shredded coconut for a tropical feel, or squeeze some fresh lemon or lime juice on top for a little zip! For a hot dessert, bake apples and top with cinnamon. And what’s life without a little whimsy? Go ahead and treat yourself to a small piece of dark chocolate a few times a week. It will keep you from going totally insane!

This list has a lot of tips on it, but I don’t want you to feel overwhelmed. Pick one thing from the list and start incorporating it right away. Once you have that one down, add another one. Don’t completely overhaul your diet and expect to stick to it. Change is difficult, so make small changes and ease into new things. Otherwise you may get overwhelmed and decide to quit before giving it a fair try. And remember, healthy food doesn’t have to be tasteless or boring. You don’t have to eat dry bran muffins or plain chicken breast. Throw some herbs and spices into the mix, or try some fresh lemon juice or balsamic vinegar. If there is one thing I love, it’s food, and I won’t eat something that doesn’t taste delicious!

Now here’s your assignment: I want you to choose one tip from above that you can start incorporating right now into your daily routine. In the comment section, post which tip you’ve chosen, and why. If you make this pledge to yourself, you’ll be more likely to stick with it! Increasing your rate of success is my main goal. Also, if you have other tips you have tried that have worked for you, post them in the comment section and share your success stories. I love to hear new ideas.

About Author

My name is Jenn. I’m a wife, boy mom (and dog mom), newish gardener, wannabe homesteader, and a lover of fresh, healthy food. I love to cook, stay active, be outside, and to help people.

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