We’ve all heard about the basics of good nutrition. We know we should eat a balanced diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and low-fat dairy. But sometimes trying to change your lifestyle to include more healthy eating can feel overwhelming. We may wonder who has the time or the energy it takes to eat a good diet all the time. Well, the good news is that focusing on good nutrition doesn’t have to be complicated. Here are some tips and ideas on how you can keep nutrition simple in your busy life.
Path to improved health
The first step in keeping nutrition simple is to have healthy food readily available. The best way to do this is to keep your kitchen stocked with healthy foods. Keep these foods on hand to make it easy to whip up a healthy meal or snack.
- Balsamic vinegar. Use it on veggies for some extra flavor, or add it to a salad instead of a heavy dressing.
- Nuts. These nutritional powerhouses can be added to salads, yogurt, or even just eaten by themselves as a snack.
- Plain, low-fat yogurt. Use it as a base for dressings or dips, or use plain Greek yogurt as a tangy (and protein-packed) substitute for sour cream.
- Frozen vegetables. Just a few minutes in the microwave, and you’ve got veggies to add to any meal or snack.
- Frozen fruit. This can be added to your morning oatmeal, or layer it with yogurt for a delicious parfait instead of ice cream for dessert.
- Portioned fish fillets. Fish cooks quickly, so just take out the number of fillets you need, and you’ll be eating in minutes.
- Canned beans. Rinse them off and add them to salads, soups, or stews for extra fiber and protein.
- Peanut butter (or other nut butter). This tasty treat is a great source of protein and can be used on whole-grain breads, fruits, or vegetables for a healthy snack.
- Hummus. This good source of protein is healthier than other dips and spreads, and it comes ready-to-eat. Use it as a dip for veggies, or use it as a spread in a wrap instead of mayonnaise.
Once you’ve got some staples on hand, the next step is eating throughout the day.
Breakfast is an important part of a healthy diet. Don’t skimp on it because you think you don’t have time.
- Try having a whole-grain English muffin spread with nut butter or low-fat cream cheese. Top it with berries or a banana and you’ve got a well-rounded meal in just a few minutes.
- Have some good old fashioned oatmeal. Try making overnight oats, and all you’ll need to do is spoon it into a bowl in the morning. Top it with some fruit or nuts for extra nutrients.
- Don’t forget eggs. These guys are packed with protein that helps keep you from getting hungry. Have them with whole-grain toast topped with avocado for a boost of fiber and healthy fats.
- Make a smoothie. Go traditional with ingredients like fruit, Greek yogurt, and spinach. Or use Greek yogurt, bananas, peanut butter, and cocoa powder for some chocolatey goodness.
- If you have time, make breakfast the night before. Bake muffin cup frittatas tonight, and you can grab a nutritious breakfast on your way out the door tomorrow.
Snacks can be tricky. You need them to be easy to grab and eat, with minimal preparation. Just do a little prep work beforehand and plan ahead, and all you have to do is grab and go.
- Cut up raw fruits and veggies the same day you buy them. Divide them into single-serving containers, and stack them front and center in the refrigerator so you can’t miss them when you’re looking for a snack.
- Keep hummus or a yogurt-based veggie dip on hand to have with your veggies.
- Keep whole fruit out on the kitchen table or counter so it’s easy to see. You’ll be more likely to grab a piece if it’s in plain sight.
- Make your own trail mix to help when hunger strikes. Mix healthy nuts like almonds or walnuts with dried fruit, sunflower or pumpkin seeds, and whole-grain cereal for a satisfying snack.
- Carry healthy snacks with you so you don’t end up in a drive-thru. Bag up your trail mix in individual size baggies and keep some in your car. Other options include healthy breakfast bars or granola bars to stash in your purse or bag when you leave the house.
Dinner can be the most intimidating meal of the day. Remember to keep it simple.
- Focus first on portion sizes. But you don’t have to measure or weigh all of your foods. Just fill half of your plate with fruit and veggies. Then split the other half between lean protein and whole grains. You can greatly change the way you eat, and eat much more healthfully, just by trying this simple method of portion control.
- Try to make cooked vegetables the main course of your meal. Roast your favorite veggies—such as broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini, eggplant, or green beans—with garlic, onion, olive oil and herbs. Then serve them with cheese and whole-grain bread for a filling no-meat meal.
- Were you planning for pizza? Forgo the pepperoni and instead go heavy on the vegetables. Then pair it with a side salad, and you’ve got a nutritious meal. Better yet, make your own! Use a whole-grain flat bread as the crust. Saute canned diced tomatoes with olive oil, herbs and seasonings and use it as a sauce. Top it with reduced-fat cheese and lots of veggies, then bake it till it’s warm and bubbly.
- Add vegetables to dishes by sneaking them in. Finely grated zucchini stays hidden in sauces such as spaghetti sauce, or in meatloaf. Your family won’t even know they’re eating extra vegetables, but you’ll know that the meal is healthier for it.
Things to consider
In our busy lives, it can be easy to get sidetracked from our healthy eating goals. Especially when you’re hungry at work and all you have is what’s in the vending machine. Or you’re out running errands and you need to go through the drive-thru. The good news is that more and more, people are becoming more health-conscious, so former food traps like these aren’t quite so bad anymore.
If you’re stuck with the vending machine, try to skip candy or chips. Go for the 100-calorie pack of cookies or a granola bar instead. They aren’t necessarily the most healthy foods, but they are the best of the choices you have. (And next time, pack snacks from home so you have more control over your options!) The same applies if you have to eat fast food. Most places now have one or two options that are healthier than others. Try to go with a salad or grilled chicken if you can.
Questions to ask your doctor
- Where can I get good ideas for healthy but simple foods?
- How do I know which foods are nutritious and which ones aren’t?
Copyright © American Academy of Family Physicians
This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject.