8 Ways to Make Easy, Simple Changes that Impact Your Health
Updated: Jun 3, 2020
Many of us have goals to live healthier, exercise more, and eat well. However, busy lives can make it difficult to cook a nutritious meal every night, and it can be confusing to navigate through the many choices at the grocery store or restaurant. These are simple tips that help me get into a health-focused mindset and make smarter food choices.
1. Start small by shifting to healthier foods. Swap out soda for water at lunch, choose an apple with peanut butter instead of chips for a snack, and move from cream based sauces to broth. Shifting allows us to make small modifications without changing our entire eating plan (which is much harder!). These small changes can create big wins, preventing diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure.
My husband and I know that if we keep junk in the house... we will eat that junk! Instead of having lots of sweets and chips in the house, we try to minimize these. Instead, we snack on fruit, veggies, or homemade desserts (with ingredients we can control, like this vegan, gluten free cinnamon square recipe).
My husband reaches for Zip Fizzes (no sugar, caffeinated mineral drink) instead of Coke during his late work nights. Another trick is taking tempting snacks (such as potato chips) and divvying out all the chips into single servings in sandwich bags. I know people that have been very successful with this!
2. Protein - Go Lean! There's no doubt that protein is an essential nutrient. Go lean by buying skinless meat and choosing lean lunch meat (turkey, chicken, and roast beef instead of salami/bologna). Eat seafood twice a week, such as salmon, cod, or tilapia to get your Omega-3s (studies have shown that this fatty acid actually fights depression!).
Meatless Mondays have become popular around the nation. Some people choose to have meat just once a day instead of at every meal. Experiment with plant proteins - use nuts, beans, eggs, soy, and veggie burgers to incorporate protein without meat.
I was a vegetarian for years and enjoy tofu and vegetarian proteins. It's easier to circulate these items in our weekly protein intake after learning how to cook and prepare them. Now, we eat chicken, fish, and eggs throughout the week (along with plant-based proteins) and feel that this is the best way to support our bodies.
3. Vary your veggies! Buy veggies that are in season, and eat a rainbow weekly. Get creative by pureeing veggies to eat as soup (roasted sweet potato or butternut squash are my favorite veggies to use in homemade soup), or grill them on a kebab. Make half of your plate fruits and vegetables!
The West Side Market is my happy place and where we get most of our produce. We try to make half of our dinner plate veggies - sauteed, roasted, steamed, or raw. We like to mix multiple vegetables for one meal - roasted onion, broccoli, and squash provide multiple textures and flavors.
If you are counting carbs, you'll be happy to hear that you can fill your plate with sauteed zucchini and onions for a mere FIVE GRAMS CARBS!!! What other food group can you say that about besides veggies?!
4. If you drink alcohol, limit it to a drink a day for women or two for men. Alcohol is considered "empty calories", or calories that do not provide nutrition. It can also mess with your blood sugar, and alcohol can damage the lining of the stomach (preventing proper absorption of nutrients).
Sip tequila for the lowest calorie drink, and aim for a glass of water in between each alcoholic beverage if you have more than one. I like to drink homemade Kombucha instead of alcohol with friends at times if I feel pressure to drink something other than water! LaCroix or other sparkling waters and good options too if you want to sip while your friends sip.
5. Eat whole grains, which contain nutrients such as zinc, magnesium, B vitamins, and fiber. Try brown rice, whole wheat bread and pasta, and oatmeal. Add barley to soups and stews, and try a quinoa salad. Popcorn is a whole grain too!
We love popcorn and eat it often! After a while of shifting your taste buds, you'll eventually prefer whole wheat bread and brown rice to white. Your digestive system will thank you for the fiber! Oatmeal is one of my breakfast staples, as it is so versatile. Most restaurants will allow you to substitute brown rice for white without a fee. Sadly, our favorite Chinese food restaurant does not offer brown rice, so I make a quick batch while we wait for its delivery!
6. Pack healthy snacks. We have all felt hangry at one point or another (it's not just me, right?), and that makes it harder to make a healthy choice. Have healthy snacks with you on the go and ready at home. Healthy snack examples are dried fruit and nuts, an apple and peanut butter, cucumber, carrots and hummus, or string cheese and a pear. You can also make your own granola bars! Stick them in your work bag/backpack/purse and set yourself up for success the next time your meeting/traffic/phone calls prevent you from eating on time.
Since I was little, I've always have a snack available for myself (I have a strange fear of being snack-deprived - my mother could promise me a cracker when I was a toddler and I would fall asleep. Oh, snacks, how you comfort me). I keep protein powder at work for hunger-emergencies and I bring a piece of fruit with me often. I'm the girl at the Indians game who packs a PB+J sandwich. My mother-in-law always packs trail mix in the car when she picks me up from JAX airport when we visit (she must have witnessed me hangry at some point). Works for me!
7. Save time in the Kitchen! Start with a clutter-free counter, wash as you go, make double batches to freeze or eat as leftovers, and chop extras veggies for future soups, snacks, or stir-frys. Place cut veggies or cooked rice in gallon freezer bags so it's easy to see the contents for a future meal. Date your freezer bag and describe contents so nothing goes to waste!
I'm not great about cleaning my kitchen as I go, but I AM great about making way too much food. This is a good thing! Make a double batch of chicken and throw it in the freezer. You'll be happy next week when you don't have to cook and season protein for your meal! We also like cooking extra grains like quinoa and brown rice to have ready to thaw for an easy side dish or addition to soups. When I saute veggies, I saute at least enough for the next two meals, cutting prep time for that meal in half or less.
8. Try something new! Find a new recipe online, in a cookbook, or even on YouTube. Make a date night with your family or friends to cook together, or commit to trying a new fruit or vegetable every month.
Recently I've been watching Bon Appetit's YouTube videos and picking a recipe to try. Even if I don't make a specific recipe from their channel, it gives me inspiration for my next dish. I also flip through my Thug Kitchen cookbooks for recipes. I'm instantly excited to cook my next meal!
My girlfriend and I swap tupperware containers when we are really excited about a dish we've made (or just want to do something nice for each other). The tupperware gets passed back and forth every few weeks with something to share (it is never returned empty!). This is another way to show a family or friend love!
It's too expensive to eat healthy/buy fresh produce.
I hear you. Can you choose healthier options? Buy frozen or canned veggies to save money (just check sodium content in canned foods). Go to farmer's markets instead of grocery stores for the most inexpensive (and fresh!) choices (seriously... buying produce in a market is so much cheaper than the grocery store). Look for store brands and eat before you shop to save money and avoid impulse buys.
I don't have time to cook healthy meals.
Start small. Cook one meal at home per week until you can increase that to two, three, etc. Make larger meals so you can have leftovers. For example, cook extra veggies and rice that you can quickly turn into a new dish the next day.
My family won't eat healthy with me.
Ask them to help pick out ingredients for a meal at the grocery store, such as a fruit or vegetable. They will feel like a part of your eating decisions! Ask them to help prep your meal (chop or wash vegetables, measure out grains) and show them that it is fun to cook. They will follow your lead!
Have you made a healthy change recently (or in the past!) that you have been successful with? Let me know below!