Eating healthy has, for the most part, always been viewed as boring and bland. We live in a country where processed foods are on every corner. These foods, though unhealthy, are easily accessible, cheap, and tasty. Eating healthy can sometimes be difficult for many different reasons: healthy food options may not sound appealing to you, or there’s not much time to prepare a healthy meal, or you simply don’t know where or how to start eating healthy. Cleaning up your diet can be one of the best things you do for yourself. Eating clean is a form of self-love – a form of nourishing your body; however, developing a healthy relationship with food is just as important. Eating healthy shouldn’t be your only focus in life, and it’s okay to treat yourself as often as you please. Here are some tips and ideas on making better food choices at home and educating yourself on the importance of eating nutritious foods.
Tip #1: Learn how to read a nutritional label. I listed this as the first tip because it is essential when you’re buying food to understand what nutritional value your food holds. You should want to know what you’re putting in your body, and understanding your food composition is step one. It’s not difficult at all, and you probably learned how to do it in P.E. when you were in elementary school. If not, there are short tutorials online to use as a reference.
Tip #2: Count your nutrients, not your calories. It’s more beneficial for you, mentally and physically, to listen to your natural hunger cues and eat when you’re hungry. Counting calories isn’t a bad thing, but it is more valuable to focus on the nutrients of the food you’re intaking rather than its calories. Why? Because not all calories are the same. For example: 120 calories worth of Doritos is not the same as 120 calories worth of salmon.
Tip #3: Plan when you’re going grocery shopping. Have some meal ideas in mind before you go to the grocery store so that you can list out the ingredients needed to prepare those meals. A list saves time and is less overwhelming when you’re at the store. If you don’t shop for yourself, ask your parents if you can tag along, and let them know you want to buy some healthier foods. Whole foods are not expensive, and parents usually buy them anyway. Stop buying junk food altogether. If you have it at home, you’re more tempted to eat it; so just don’t buy it at all.
Tip #4: Include foods you enjoy. Eating healthy should not be restrictive. There’s usually a healthy alternative to the not-so-healthy foods we enjoy. For example, instead of having white bread with peanut butter and jam, try having whole grain bread with peanut butter, strawberries, and honey. By restricting food groups, you’re just creating a bad relationship with food. If you enjoy pasta, try pasta made from lentils or chickpeas. They taste almost the same, and they contain much more protein and nutritional value than traditional wheat pasta. Instead of fries, have sweet potato fries.
Tip #5: Eat more home-cooked meals. Eating more home-cooked meals is not only better for you, it’s cheaper too. Meals from restaurants and fast food places have a lot of sodium, which tends to make you retain a lot of water in your body. This excess of nutrients can sometimes make you bloated and feel lethargic, so limiting outside foods could help with your overall digestion. You’ll also be saving money. If you’re a little unmotivated, try dedicating a few minutes once a week to plan out what meals you’d like to eat; then have these meals prepared at home so that they’re ready when you need them.
Tip #6: Snack on more wholesome foods and fewer added sugars. Fruits, nuts, eggs, veggies, and yogurt are all great snack ideas. Avoid added sugars and sugary granola bars. Go for more nutritious choices such as Cliff Bars, granola, or even Nature Valley bars. Having pre-cut fruits in your fridge is also a great tip because they’ll be ready to eat whenever you’re hungry. Even though fruits have sugar, it’s natural sugar. They’re nature’s candy, and the body processes them way better than added sugars, so don’t be afraid of them.
Tip #7: Drink lots of water. This one is obvious; but it is, by far, one of the most important ones. We need water to survive, and water helps cleanse our system; so it is important to drink it consistently throughout the day. Having a large, reusable water bottle near you allows you to stay more hydrated.
Tip #8: Don’t skip meals. Skipping meals will just make you crave more food afterward. Think of your body as a machine that needs fuel. You feed it to keep yourself energized because food is energy. Also, don’t cut out food groups. Carbs are just as important as proteins and fats. Having a balance of all these macronutrients is essential for your body to function properly.
Tip #9: Pay close attention to your meal sizes. It’s important to portion your meals properly. You don’t want to undereat because then you’ll be left hungry, and you don’t want to overeat because then you’ll feel too full. Eat just enough so that when you move around, you’re satiated and not uncomfortable.
Tip #10: Have everything in moderation. It’s okay to eat sweets, chips, pizza, and burgers every so often. Most of you reading this are students, so these foods are frequent in our lifestyles. As long as you make healthier eating choices consistently, you should be able to balance both a healthy lifestyle and enjoying the other good foods life has to offer. View food as fuel, not “good” or “bad.” It’s important to keep yourself nourished physically as well as mentally.
Hopefully, you view these tips as helpful, and you begin to start practicing them. Remember that you’ll learn about your body and the way it responds to certain foods over time; as long as you make an effort to eat more wholesome choices, you’re doing your future self and your health a great service. Happy eating!