Making changes to your nutrition habits can be difficult — we get it. That’s why baby steps are the way to go when it comes to food. Of course, since attaining a perfect, ideal diet right away isn’t always realistic, the important thing is just to begin moving in that direction.
Discover five pieces of advice from our registered dietitian, Christaney Townsend, for simple, daily steps you can take to get the most out of your diet.
1. Strive for an 80/20 diet to balance health and indulgence.
Ideally, a perfect diet would be to eat all whole foods 100% of the time — whole foods being nutritious, nourishing foods that come from the earth and are minimally processed. These include vegetables, fruits, lean meats, fish, legumes, beans, nuts, seeds, and whole grains.
However, as Christaney says, “We’re human, and it’s natural to want to enjoy those more indulgent foods once in a while. So I always say at least strive for 80/20, in which 80% of your diet is made up of whole foods, leaving 20% of your diet for ‘fun’ foods.”
2. Add one serving of veggies to each meal to improve digestion and balance calorie intake.
Most people don’t consume the recommended amount of vegetables per day, which is 5 servings. A helpful way to work towards this is to start by adding one serving to each meal. For reference, one serving is equal to one cup of raw veggies or half a cup of cooked veggies.
If you’re consuming more veggies, you’re inherently going to consume fewer calories, because those veggies add volume and fiber to your meals that will fill you up without adding all those extra calories. Once you’re comfortable with one serving of veggies in each meal, add a second serving or try replacing a snack with a serving of veggies.
Oftentimes, people find it hardest to incorporate vegetables into breakfast. If you tend to get stuck here, try these tips: add spinach or kale in smoothies, cook spinach into your eggs or omelets, add tomatoes and greens to your breakfast sandwiches, or make a breakfast hash with a variety of cooked veggies.
3. Get your sweet fix from fruits to start weeding out added sugars.
Those added sugars found in processed foods are often tough to beat: they constantly leave you wanting more. But added sugars like high fructose corn syrup, cane sugar, sucrose, and sucralose can be very inflammatory for your body, so it’s important to find alternatives you enjoy.
Fruits are considered “nature’s candy” due to their sweetness, but they contain natural sugars that are much better for you than artificial or added sugars. They’re also a great source of fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. “Berries are my favorite because they are low-glycemic, meaning they won’t spike your blood sugar much but you still feel like you got a sweet treat,” says Christaney.
Another way to start reducing added sugars is by replacing them with other natural sweeteners, like honey, maple syrup, monk fruit, and Stevia. These (and fruit) are great to use when you’re baking your favorite dessert, so you can enjoy a delicious treat without consuming too many refined sugars. Check out this Strawberry Banana (N)ice Cream recipe from Christaney.
4. Opt for seasonal produce for more flavor and freshness.
It’s always best to buy fruits and veggies that are in season at any given time. When produce is in season, it’s much less likely to have preservatives or processed elements. It’s going to be fresher and more nutritious, have more flavor, and cost you less money, so it’s a win-win-win.
Use this chart to reference what produce is in season month by month so you can build your grocery list accordingly:
5. Meal prep or batch-cook to avoid grabbing on-the-go unhealthy snacks.
It’s all too common to be running around all day, busy with various tasks, and just grab a quick snack or fast food when you’re hungry because you don’t have time for anything else. This is a huge contributor to weight gain and poor nutrition, and even if you eat healthy meals at home, those on-the-go unhealthy snacking habits can hurt your progress.
Meal prepping is a great way to set yourself up for success. Take a couple of hours at the start of each week to prepare lunches and snacks for the week. Pre-portioned meal prep is a popular way to go about this so you can just grab a container from your fridge and go, or you can batch-cook some proteins, carbs, and veggies to mix and match throughout the week.
Christaney also suggests sheet pan meals. “I like one-pan meals — they make for super easy dinners, and the leftovers are great for lunches for the week.” You can lay out a protein, carbs, and veggies on one sheet pan and bake it all together, leaving you with plenty of food. Check out this recipe for a tasty Greek Chicken Sheet Pan Dinner.
Same goes for snacks. Setting aside a few minutes to prepare a few snack-size bags of nuts, seeds, and dried fruit will set you up with things to munch on for the week so you don’t start reaching for the vending machine.
Having goals to work towards, like the 80/20 rule, and smaller action steps to make improvements to your diet can help you move towards better nutrition and a healthier lifestyle more gradually without feeling restricted.
Even with small changes, it can be hard to know where to start. If you’re looking for some additional guidance, we offer a Functional Nutrition Assessment at PALM Health, where you’ll meet one-on-one with Christaney for a thorough analysis of your current diet habits along with your exercise and sleep habits, your stressors, your gut health, and more. This will provide a better picture of how your nutrition can be improved to optimize all areas of your health, so you can experience full vitality in your life.
From there, you’ll work out a nutrition plan together with Christaney and you’ll have the option of continuing with regular Nutrition Counseling sessions to ensure you stay on track and accountable.
From finding creative ways to incorporate more veggies to all-out weekly meal prep, take the time to explore which of our dietitian’s tips work best for you in the long term.