These days, it can be tough to muster up energy for several things, especially cooking a healthy meal. The coronavirus pandemic has had far-reaching impacts on health and wellness beyond solely disease risk. Several people are working from home, have kids home from school or have a hybrid schedule that is different than what many are used to. This has led to disrupted schedules, new challenges with grocery shopping and confusion about dinner prep rolls with families figuring out working and living at home. The everchanging global pandemic has taken a toll on physical and mental health for many.
Lucky for us all, healthy eating doesn’t have to be complicated. In fact, there are several simple steps to a healthier eating pattern that take little time and energy but pack a punch for your health. As a registered dietitian, these are some of the most effective tips to help you feel great and eat cleaner with minimal effort.
Get Plenty of Fruits & Veggies
Fruits and vegetables come in many shapes, forms and flavors, and are the cornerstone of a healthy eating pattern. Yet, the Center for Disease Control found that only 1 in 10 Americans are meeting the daily recommended intake of fruits (1 ½ to 2 cups) and vegetables (2 to 3 cups). So where is the disconnect? One of the easiest ways to boost your fruit and veg intake is to work them in to foods you already enjoy. Add vegetables to your egg scramble or favorite pasta dish. Smoothies are a great place to add ample fruits and vegetables. Rice bowls can be loaded with veggies, and stir fries are great for using up produce that is on its way out. Making sure each meal or snack has at least some fruit or vegetable in it will help you meet (and even exceed) the recommended daily intake.
Load Up in the Morning
You often hear that “breakfast is the most important meal of the day” and the science is there to back it up. Studies in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition and Physiological Behavior have found that timing of eating is an important factor is risk of obesity and body fat percentage. Work fruits and vegetables into your morning meal to give you a nutritional boost to start your day. Mix in vegetables and greens to smoothies, like this delicious Pineapple Green Smoothie. You (or your kids) won’t even taste that they’re there. A vegetable and egg scramble with whole wheat toast is another one of my favorite go-to breakfasts. Whole grains like oatmeal are also super nutritious options that will keep you full all morning, and can be made to be savory or sweet.
Dehydration can have a slew of nasty symptoms, from fatigue to dizziness and confusion. Not to mention, not drinking enough water can be a sneaky reason you are not losing weight, if that is your goal. Bring a water bottle with you around the house or when you run errands to make it easy to sip all day. If you need something to make it more interesting, try adding frozen fruit, lemon or fresh herbs for a flavor boost. Also, having a glass of water before meals or snacks can help you distinguish hunger from what is actually thirst, and also helps meals digest more easily.
Eat More Frequently
Yes, you read that correctly. Eating healthy doesn’t have to mean eating less. In fact, having more frequent meals throughout the day has been shown to improve weight loss and help people manage their hunger. When you go long periods of time without eating, you can overdo it when you do finally get a chance to eat. We’ve all been there, but a snack every few hours can take the edge off and prevent eating past fullness.
If you try eating more frequently, also try using smaller plates to help you easily control your portion size. Following your hunger cues is another great way to stay ahead of overeating. Eating a small meal or snack with fruit or vegetables, protein (such as Greek yogurt, hummus or a hardboiled egg) and some healthy fat (like avocado, cheese or peanut butter) will help keep you feeling satisfied, not stuffed, all day long.
Be Aware of Processed Foods
Not all processed or packaged foods are inherently “bad”, and several can have a place in a healthy eating pattern. Not to mention, they are super convenient for when you’re in a busy season. However, it is important to be aware of how much and what kind of processed foods you are enjoying. The label on the back is an easy place to start when choosing a snack. Opt for things that are lower in added sugars, salt or fat and higher in protein and fiber. Not only will this reduce the “empty calories” you eat throughout the day that can contribute to weight gain, but it will also keep you feeling full for longer. Things like potato chips or candy may taste good in the moment, but they don’t have much staying power and can actually leave you feeling hungrier later. Not the ideal snack. When you are in a pinch and need something quick, try choosing trail mix or lightly seasoned beef jerky.
Eating in a healthy way can take many different forms and looks a little different for everyone. These tips are simple starters to get you back on track. Whether it’s drinking more water or having a piece of fruit as an afternoon snack, you’ll be feeling better and more productive in no time. Finding simple ways to eat well will help you feel healthier and find more energy when you need it.
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