March is National Nutrition Month. Nutrition is more than a list of do’s and don’ts or a dietary plan. Nutrition is about the daily choices we make to nourish ourselves with food and beverages that strengthen our bodies, replenish energy, and ultimately lift our spirits. Eating healthy is about making little choices and simple changes throughout our day that give us the building blocks we need to face various challenges and uphold our responsibilities. Eating well boosts our energy, brings focus to our days, and makes us feel better overall. It also mitigates long-term illnesses, improves your immune system, keeps your heart healthy, and more. The benefits of eating well are endless so now’s the time to dive right in! Here are five ways to eat healthy during National Nutrition Month and all year long.
Start with Substitutes In a nutrition guide published in 2009, the American Parkinson Disease Association discusses the need for balance among the food groups, keeping fats, oils, sweets, and salt in the smallest category. The easiest ways to eat healthy and keep these items to a minimum in your diet is to start making substitutions. Rather than changing your meals and recipes altogether, consider lighter or healthier ingredient alternatives. Can you use a lean meat such as chicken or fish instead of red meats such as beef? Can you remove the fattier portions of the meat before you serve it?
Consider the ingredients in your recipes. Is there a low-fat or no-fat alternative? Think about your dairy ingredients, for instance. Can you use a low-fat or plain greek yogurt instead of sour cream? Consider the oils you are using. Look for heart healthy options, such as olive oils, rather than those with trans fats. Make a point to use a little less salt and sugar in the next recipe you make and see if the taste changes. In pre-packaged or pre-made foods, make sure you turn them over and read the labels.
How much salt and sugar is hiding in your food? Is there a low-salt, low-sodium, or low-sugar alternative? Don’t forget your condiments. Check the ingredients and find out how much they are adding to your diet. Over time, you can make drastic changes in the amount of salt, sugar, fats, and oils you are consuming by looking for alternatives and substituting with healthier, lighter options. By making these switches, you may not even ever notice a change in flavor, lifestyle, or routine.
Mix It Up
Once you are ready for more ways to eat healthy, and change up your menu each week, have fun with it. Rather than talking in terms of limiting yourself or cutting things out of your menus and routines, talk about trying new things and adding new delicious foods to your meals. It will be easier to commit to and easier to get the rest of your family on board if you make it a positive experience, rather than a negative one. Get creative! You could add a unique day to the weekly calendar – focused on what your family is trying to accomplish nutritionally. For instance, if you are getting too much red meat and aren’t getting enough vegetables in your diet, put “Meatless Monday” on the calendar. If you need more leafy greens, try a “Salad Saturday.” If you just need some variety, how about a “Try It Tuesday.” Work together to develop and try vegetarian options. Enjoy finding what you and your family love as well as what you might be able to skip next week.
Snacks If mindless munching and nibbling in between meals is your downfall when it comes to good nutrition, healthy snacking is one of the best ways to eat healthy. The Alzheimer’s Association recommends lots of fruits, vegetables, as well as nuts and grains for healthier hearts and brains. Keep your favorite fruits on hand. Apples, oranges, bananas, grapes, and berries are great for grabbing on the go. Clean and slice vegetables for easy snacking. Raw carrots, celery, broccoli, and cucumbers are great for dipping in dressing or hummus. Keep a small zip-lock bag of your favorite nuts in your purse or grab it for the car the next time you have to run errands. Look for jars or small containers of nuts for snacking on at home – but make sure you check the ingredients. They can be harbors for lots of sugar and salt!
Fresh and In Season For the tastiest, most nutrient-packed ways to eat healthy, focus your menus and snacks on seasonal varieties. Consider what’s growing around you, especially during the spring and summer. If you can, find a farm to visit and make it a family outing. Getting closer to your food will make new foods more approachable and healthy foods more appealing. Look into farm deliveries or community supported agriculture programs to stay involved with your local food sources. If you can find one that delivers to your door, that’s even better! Add deliveries of fresh ingredients to your Lotsa Community. Ask volunteers to take turns bringing fresh meat, fruits, and vegetables. If you aren’t going to be home, set a cooler on the porch for volunteers to deliver items into. You can add a grocery list to a weekly task so volunteers know exactly what you need each week. Fresh ingredients arriving at your door will inspire you to create healthy meals and munch on nutritious snacks throughout the week. Soon enough your new and improved eating healthy will be as natural as breathing – and you and your family will reap the benefits!