I love eating healthy because I love the way it makes me feel. It has nothing to do with weight and everything to do with health. That doesn’t mean that I don’t have the occasional burger and fries or a big plate of nachos. We’re all busy people and sometimes you have an evening when you have places to be, errands to run, and no time to cook dinner. I gladly choose to eat out on days like that. On regular days though, I love to cook healthy meals for my family.
We didn’t always eat as healthy as we do now. It was a slow progression of better choices at the grocery store over the course of a decade that lead us to where we are now. And because it was such a gradual progression, it didn’t feel restrictive. Here are some ideas that you can incorporate into your grocery store choices without feeling like you’re depriving yourself of enjoying food. Each of these ideas should be done one at a time, for at least a few weeks or a month. This way, you hardly even notice and there is little to no extra burden on you to make huge lifestyle changes all at once.
1. High Fructose Corn Syrup.
Here is why you want to avoid HFCS. Do a quick check of the labels on your food and if it contains HFCS, chances are that there is another version of the product nearby that doesn’t have it. You can find it in most things so be aware. It takes a little more time the first couple of grocery trips to check your labels. Eventually you learn what products to steer clear of and you get quicker at it every time. Here are some of the most common places you’ll find HFCS.
*Packaged snack food
2. Swap white for whole wheat.
This is easy. Instead of white pasta, tortillas, and bread, go for whole wheat. Even better, whole grain. Whole wheat and whole grain products are more nutrient dense and generally less processed than white flour products.
3. Canned Food.
We buy lots of canned beans, tomato products, artichoke hearts, etc. If you’re going to buy canned vegetables or fruits, check the ingredients to make sure nothing weird is added. Most of these foods should contain the main ingredient, maybe some salt, or citric acid. If anything else is in that can, look for another brand with a simpler ingredient list or go fresh or frozen instead.
4. Fresh produce.
Fresh produce is going to be higher in nutrition than canned. If you usually go for the canned fruits and vegetables, consider what items you could buy fresh instead. Frozen is also a good choice because the nutrients are preserved when they flash freeze the item.
5. Processed snacks.
100 calorie packs or cereal bars are quick and easy snack choices, but they’re loaded down with tons of ingredients that most people can’t even pronounce. It’s always better to eat foods with simple ingredients. Instead, go for…
*raisins (we love craisins, too!)
*baby carrots (I steam a bag at the start of the week to put in my toddler’s lunches)
*your favorite vegetable with hummus
*popcorn (it’s fun to pop your own on the stove and there are tons of recipes out there)
*Simple ingredient versions of your favorite granola bars if you can find them. We like Kind Bars, especially because you can find ones with really low amounts of added sugar.
*Veggie chips (still check those labels though, some brands should still be avoided)
*Dark chocolate. Satisfy your sweet tooth with an ounce or two a day. Dark chocolate has more health benefits than milk chocolate and way less sugar.
6. Cut back on red and processed meat.
This includes hot dogs, sausage, and most lunch meats. Ground beef is super easy to make a lot of meals out of. I get it. I’m not saying to cut out red meat completely, but it’s better for your health to keep it to a minimum. Swap it out for ground turkey or ground chicken. You’ll be surprised at how tasty it is when seasoned well. Maybe do a “Meatless Monday” idea as well and find some veggie packed meal ideas. Here are a few vegan and vegetarian recipes that we really like.
It’s so hard in our society to reduce sugar intake unless you make the majority of your food. Processed, packaged food is loaded with added sugars. Read your labels! Cook as often as you can. You’ll find that when you diligently and mindfully reduce sugar in your diet, your cravings will begin to dissipate. It’s awesome!
8. Salt intake
Salt has it’s benefits when consumed in appropriate amounts. As you probably already know, when one consumes too much salt on a regular basis, it has negative implications on heart health and blood pressure. We switched to low or no sodium options in our canned foods and other items like broth or frozen vegetables. Eventually, your tastes change when you go low sodium for long enough. You’ll try something you used to like and it will taste way too salty. The same is true with sugar intake. When you choose items with lower amounts of added sugar, your taste will adapt.
These are great ways to make small, manageable changes in your diet. The small things add up!