Did you vow to start eating healthier this year? A healthy diet is a laudable goal, but without some specifics, you’re not likely to change your diet too much. The foods we choose have a lot to do with our habits, and as I’m sure you know, habits can be hard to change.
So if you’re looking to eat healthier, start by evaluating why and you’ll be more committed to whatever changes you plan.
What do you hope to achieve? Do you want more energy? To lose weight? Are you thinking long-term about preventing chronic diet-related diseases that we’d all do well to avoid?
Small Steps to a Healthy Diet
Once you know why you want to shift your eating habits, you can start thinking about how to have a healthy diet. And since habits are tough things to change, it’s best to start with small, manageable steps.
Know that improving your diet can be an incremental, pleasureable journey, rather than a misery-inducing overnight overhaul. People who take an all-or-nothing approach to “fixing” their diets rarely succeed in changing anything at all.
1. Be realistic
Don’t expect to create something like your ideal healthy diet overnight. Think about what shifts will be easiest for you. We all know we should be eating lots of fresh fruits and veggies, so finding ways to add more of them — rather than focusing on what you should give up — is a smart first move.
Focus on the delightful foods you’ll add to your diet instead of on what you’ll deny yourself.
2. Make Smart Swaps
Consider ways you can shift your snacks and meals to gradually include more healthy choices and fewer unhealthy ones. Little by little, you’ll makeover your healthy diet without causing yourself too much pain. Here are some places to start:
Overhaul your ingredients
If you upgrade what you cook with, your meals get healthier without tasting much different. Your family might not even notice these changes.
- Go organic wherever you can. Remember to avoid the “Dirty Dozen” in particular and try to find organic and grassfed dairy and meat when possible. If you can get more of your food organic without breaking the bank, do it! (Check out deals at Thrive Market and try some of the strategies in my guide to making healthy food affordable.)
- Replace refined grains for whole. I’m a fan of bionaturae and Bella Terra organic whole-grain pastas. If you’re gluten-free you might like Tinkyada brown rice pasta. For baking I love Bob’s Red Mill ivory wheat flour.
- Find healthier versions of pre-made items you use. This means reading labels and finding organic pasta sauces and soups or broths without added sugar, corn syrup, or ingredients that really don’t belong in food, like artificial dyes. But once you find a brand that fits the bill, your work is done!
A lot of us have a chip habit or a sweet tooth. If you’re craving something salty or sweet, keep the following options on hand and try to reach for them more often:
- Easy-to-grab veggies like baby carrots or sliced bell peppers with hummus or bean dip. Mix things up occasionally with snap peas, jicama, cauliflower, or whatever appeals most. I also love cabbage salads or sauerkraut when I’m hankering for something salty and crunchy.
- Air- or stove-popped popcorn or kale chips are easy and satisfying choices.
- If you crave something sweet, reach for a piece of fruit. Spend some of the money you’re saving from not buying processed food on a splurge like locally-grown blueberries or raspberries. What could be more decadent than an in-season peach or melon?
- Some really clever food bloggers have developed recipes for all sorts of healthy snacks and treats. Pick something drool-worthy that doesn’t use much sugar and has lots of nutrient-dense ingredients like nuts, fruit, and whole grain. Here are some delicious recipes to get you started:
– Homemade Energy Protein Bars (34 recipes)
– Tasty Desserts with Hidden Veggies (12 recipes)
– You can even make brownies with black beans, rice crispy treats with tahini, and fruit roll ups and popsicles with real fruit!
Healthy-up recipes you already love
Where possible, add vegetables to meals you already enjoy. When you’re scouting out new recipes for your healthy diet, look for ones where vegetables play a starring role, like easy veggie stews or stir fries. Some suggestions:
- Puree cauliflower and add to whole-grain mac and cheese.
- Add shredded carrots and zucchini in your pasta sauce.
- Add minced broccoli or chopped spinach to scrambled eggs.
- Add peas or carrots to your rice pilaf or risotto.
- Add dark, leafy greens to your salad – arugula, romaine, spinach, and kale are perfect choices.
- Replace margarine and vegetable oil with coconut oil, grass-fed butter, or olive oil.
Find more ideas for adding veggies to your meals here.
3. Go Slow
Don’t to try to remake your diet all at once, but tackle one snack or one recipe at a time. You’ll slowly build up a repertoire of healthy meals and your tastebuds will be retrained to want the healthy fruits and veggies rather than highly-processed or over-sweetened junk.
When you start eating real food regularly, processed food will have less appeal. Lots of people who take a break from sugar find that candy tastes too sweet afterward. Which is not to say you’ll never have “treats” again — but the kind of treats you crave and that satisfy you will likely change.
Also, a healthy diet doesn’t mean you can never have another cheese puff or piece of birthday cake if that’s what you want. Because your day-to-day diet is healthy, you don’t need to sweat the occasional treat.
So take a look at what you decided to eat today, and think about what simple change could make tomorrow’s menu a little better for you. And be sure to take time to enjoy the flavors of whatever you choose!
What steps have you already taken to make your diet healthier? What’s your next step on your healthy diet journey?
Healthy food doesn’t have to be expensive!
Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t afford a healthier diet. Some savvy strategies can save you a bundle on the healthiest food for you and your family.