We’ve all heard the saying that health is 80% nutrition and 20% exercise, right? I don’t know if those numbers are right but I do know that nutrition and exercise work together and it’s difficult to have a well rounded healthy lifestyle if you only focus on one part. That’s not to say you have to do everything at once. For example, you can take a month or two to focus on establishing a good exercise routine before you worry about changing your eating habits. But eventually, to work towards your best health, you’ll need a combination of good exercise and good nutrition.
Once you’re ready to focus on nutrition, what do you do? I had a friend recently tell me she was standing in the grocery store just looking at the shelves and not knowing what to buy. So here are a few tips to get you started if you’re not sure what the heck to do.
- Make a list of fruits and vegetables you like. Don’t try to “force” yourself to eat things you don’t like just because you’ve heard they’re healthy. (I’m looking at you, kale!) You’ll be miserable and won’t stick to it. If you don’t like the texture of Lima beans, don’t put them on the list. If peeling oranges seems like a lot of work for a little piece of fruit, then don’t put them on the list. A healthy diet has lots of fruits and vegetables so make that the bulk of your list but you can also add things like nuts, seeds and beans. (Link to webpage)
- Find some recipes or prep techniques for the list you just made. Maybe you find some fruit smoothie recipes that look interesting. Or maybe a vegetable side dish recipe or a bean salad that looks good. Having a plan for what you buy will cut down on waste and help you feel better prepared for the week.
- Make a list of your favorite meals and think of ways to make them a bit healthier. Do you love toast with your eggs in the morning? Spread it with mashed avocado or natural peanut butter instead of butter. or make it with whole grain bread. Can you add some pureed or shredded vegetables to one of your favorite dishes? Can you cut down on a sauce or some cheese in a recipe?
- Some people do detailed meal planning and prep every week. If this works for you, especially at the beginning, then go for it. Write down all your meals and snacks for the week and build your shopping list from that. Personally, I plan my family’s dinners but breakfast, lunches and snacks are not usually planned out. I try to have a couple of options available. For example, my kids like cereal, fruit, bagels, oatmeal, yogurt and eggs so I have all of those available for them to choose from for breakfast.
- Think outside the box. You don’t have to have breakfast food for breakfast or sandwiches for lunch. A salad of baby spinach, chopped apples, walnuts and dried cranberries makes a great breakfast! And I eat oatmeal or cereal at any time of the day.
- It can be challenging to stay away from processed food but also keep things convenient. There’s nothing wrong with some prepackaged, processed foods as long as you pay attention to ingredients and as long as you’re not making these items your primary source of nutrition. Fruit and nut granola bars are easy to stash in your bag or desk for an afternoon snack or for your commute home. Whole-grain crackers and cheese slices or pretzels and hummus are good too. Precut vegetables make it easy to throw together a salad for lunch or dinner. Jarred marinara sauce makes an easy topping for chicken or pasta and you can add shredded vegetables to boost its nutritional value. Canned beans or soups or frozen vegetables are good to keep on hand as well.
- Shop the perimeter of the grocery store. The middle aisles are usually where all the pre-packaged junk food is. Stick to the perishable sections like produce, the meat and dairy case and the bakery department. Pre-cooked chicken or packaged, marinated meats can make putting a meal together quick and easy but stay away from processed meats like lunch meat and hotdogs. Choose low-fat dairy options or non-dairy like almond milk. If you like yogurt, choose brands with real fruit that provide some sweetness instead of added sugar. Whole grain or Ezekiel bread make quick, healthy sandwiches or toast.
Unless you’re an elite athlete training for a competition or under strict doctor’s orders, you don’t need to make yourself crazy over your food. Focus on fruits and vegetables and use common sense.