1. Take a few minutes to identify the habits you wish to change. Do you pack a wholesome lunch, only to be distracted by fast or junk food places around your work? Do you provide healthy lunches for your kids, but at the end of the day find them smashed in the bottom of their backpack? It is important to be realistic about yourself and your family’s likes and dislikes. It is unlikely that anyone can switch from hamburgers and french fries to tofu and whole grains in one day. Prepare foods that support your health, vitality and optimum weight. How fresh are your choices? Do good foods fit into your budget? Do you have a fridge at work to keep foods fresh?
2. Try one new fruit or vegetable a week. Add something new to a salad. Trying new things will keep you interested and even though you will probably not like everything you taste, you may find some new favorites along the way. Consider organic alternatives whenever possible. The fresh taste of organic fruits and vegetables will make it easier to eat more. If you are eating soy or corn products, make sure they are organic, since soy and corn are often genetically altered (GMO). Or what about growing some fresh and vital ingredients in your garden, or buying them at your local farmer’s market?
3. Prepare a standard shopping list with the things you use regularly. If you have a firm idea of what you want before you get to the store, you are less likely to buy things on impulse. Take your children (or your spouse or housemates) shopping and pick out the right foods for you and them. Periodically, make notes on their choices so you can remember the healthy foods they like. Know the difference between real foods and treats (chips, cookies, sodas, etc.). Make your diet a high percentage of wholesome foods as noted in the next few tips. To clarify more, make a list of your top 20 items, go shopping for them and then have them available to prepare in your breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. Take these foods with you to work or to school. Try some carrot or celery sticks, an apple and various nuts or seeds. Any healthy dips or dressings should be packed separately to keep your foods from wilting.
4. Choose the healthiest version of snack foods if you do consume them, such as cookies, chips, or popcorn. For example, you can find whole grain, fruit-juice sweetened cookies, organic chips with some healthy oils (sans hydrogenated oils), and air-popped organic popcorn with light sea salt. Most grocery stores and all natural food stores have these healthier products with less sugars, chemical additives and junky fats. Still, these treats should only be a small portion of your total diet. You can find more tips on “Reading Food Labels” in Staying Healthy with Nutrition.
5. Discuss dietary changes with your family. Kids face enormous peer pressure at school to fit in, as well as conflicting or confusing messages about health and what’s good for them, let alone them viewing all the cool, colorful advertising. Let them know that you will listen to their concerns, but that you are ultimately going to make the decisions. Don’t reward your kids (or yourself) with food, especially sweets. Try planning special time to spend on activities instead.
6. When you prepare healthy foods at home for you and your family, make extra so you have tomorrow’s lunch or a couple days of meals that consist of your good foods. Take them to school or work. Use primarily whole (wholesome) foods — fresh fruits, veggie sticks, nutritious dips, nuts and seeds, healthy crackers, salads, sandwiches, sprouts of all kinds, and more. Start by substituting more healthy ingredients in foods you already prepare. Vegan spreads like almond butter, avocado, or hummus can be used instead of mayonnaise on bread, crackers or rice cakes. Try to avoid substituting cheese for meat. Although cheese has protein, it is very high in saturated fat, and may be hard to digest for many people.
7. Shop at some of the natural food delis, if available to you, for fresh-made foods. Many of the major natural food stores have great components to your healthy diet — fresh juices, wholesome sandwiches, salads, baked proteins, tofu dishes, good roasted veggies and exotic grains (quinoa, couscous, and buckwheat). This is a good second choice if you cannot make the time to cook yourself. Yet, if you can, then prepare one fresh bowl of vegetables or salad, squeeze some lemon on it, and place in refrigerator. Stir some of these veggies in with rice or tofu and you are set. Try a wheat-free cookie or some low-fat organic chips, not made with terminator corn. Also, try rice milk, soymilk, or almond milk — all now available in stores, or you can make your own lemonade to take with you. Also, have some unsweetened trail mix for snacks, or some quality protein bars.
8. For variety and to help rotate your diet and minimize food reactions, find foods that are free from wheat, yeast, dairy and sugar (but not ‘diet’ foods with the controversial artificial sweetener, aspartame) at your local store or make your own. You can find recipes and guidance for these products in my books, More Vegetables, Please and The False Fat Diet.
9. Remember portion size. Check the recommended serving size for anything you are considering at the store. Many foods, especially snack foods, seem innocuous when you check the label, but you may be eating two or three times the amount that is recommended. This is also true for take-out. Consider buying a half-sandwich (an option in most delis) or splitting with a friend. And remember the Glycemic Index and about eating whole foods lower on the Index (slower sugar absorption). Also, eat slowly and chew well, and watch your food combining to assure best digestion. Be sure to include some healthy fats and whole grains, as these foods fill you up and satisfy your hunger without putting on weight.
10. Don’t forget water! Having water available at all times (at work, school, in the car, etc.) helps everyone stay healthier. Start substituting water for juice, soda, coffee, or whatever beverage you usually drink. Keep some healthy snacks and protein bars at work, or carry them with you. These can save you from a binge when energy is low. They also help you avoid the temptation of going out for junk food.
© 2015 by Elson Haas, MD