Posted by: Michelle Mitton | September 4, 2008

Ten Simple Changes for a More Healthy Diet

Turkey Sandwich with MangoI don’t know about you but I’m not exactly the world’s healthiest cook. I do alright but being firmly of the belief that it’s the calories that make food taste good I’m not at the front of the line when it comes to low-fat dishes.

However, there are quite a few little things you can do to improve your eating habits that take very little effort—some are just a matter of avoiding certain items at the grocery story others are as easy as buying one product over another. Here are my favorite healthy-cooking tricks that have helped us stay on the straight and narrow.

If they’re all surprises to you then maybe just take one or two to tackle and ease into things–just a little change here and a little change there and you’ll be on your way to healthier eating in no time.

1. Substitute whole wheat pasta for regular pasta. We eat a lot of noodles. A lot. Probably because pasta is my very favorite thing in the world but the regular old egg noodles, besides being a plain and decent carb, just aren’t that great for you. They fill you up but they’re rather empty of the good stuff and simply switching to a whole grain pasta is a great way to put some of the healthy fibers and vitamins back in your meal.

The texture is slightly—very slightly—different but certainly not unpleasant. This last year I switched over and buy only whole wheat pasta now which unfortunately is a little more expensive but as pasta is still an inexpensive dish it’s not bad at all. If more people would switch then there would be more selection which I would greatly appreciate.

You might also consider using vegetable pastas when appropriate such as spinach, carrot or beet varieties. Every little vitamin helps!

2. Switch to cooking with olive oil whenever possible. You don’t have to use it all the time because the burning point of olive oil is low enough to make it an unwise choice occasionally but boy if you can use it in place of vegetable oil why would you ever eat anything else? The flavor is wonderful when used cold and when you cook with it the flavor is so much more subtle that you can be comfortable cooking with the light variety and not have to worry about overpowering your dish with the olive flavor.

3. Stop buying sodas or pop. Instead of the carbonated stuff or even fruit juice drink plain old water when you’re thirsty. It satisfies your thirst better than sodas or juice and is just what your body needs—the same can’t be said for the bubbly stuff. I’m not the kind of person that says never drink pop again because I kind of like it myself but instead of drinking it as your beverage of choice switch to water and use pop as a treat, a dessert if you will, rather than the liquid to wash down your meal. And if you have kids the switch is even more important for growing bones and teeth. Milk and water, that’s all they need.

4. Substitute toasted wheat germ or oatmeal for breadcrumbs. Whenever you have a recipe that calls for bread crumbs use oatmeal or wheat germ and suddenly you’ve given yourself a boost of vitamins and fiber that white bread can’t offer. Throw a handful in your meatloaf or on your cereal, use it in cookies and crumb toppings and you’ll be that much closer to healthy eating. I quite like the nuttiness that the toasted wheat germ lends to a dish.

5. Dish your plates away from the table and leave the extras in the kitchen. For me one of the biggest problems of healthy eating is eating too much. I love to eat, love the taste of food and if I’ve finished everything on my plate only to sit there staring at more of the tasty treats leftover then I’m 95% more likely to take seconds. Serving up the plates in the kitchen then eating in the dining room away from the extras somehow helps me to remember that I really am full and that a second helping of pasta isn’t a good idea.

6. Keep dried fruit on hand. Dried fruit is packed full of fiber and vitamins and keeping bags of it around makes it easy to boost the health of a meal with a mere handful of raisins, apricots, cranberries or blueberries. Throw them into cookies or breads, on your cereal or in a sauce for your meat and it gives you a little something more than you wouldn’t have had otherwise.

7. Eat one less meal out per week. I don’t know how many times you eat out each week but they say that for the average American it’s about six meals a week. I’m afraid healthy eating and restaurants just don’t go together what with the enormous proportions and heavy fats used in preparation. Even the salads aren’t what you’d expect when you look at the calories and fat content. It’s so difficult to combat the portion sizes and fat (especially when they taste oh so good) that it’s better to just avoid the temptation all together by eating out less frequently. Try cutting out just one meal a week if you can—if you eat lunch out during the work day try bringing a sack lunch once a week to start and see if you can’t cut out at least one meal’s worth of extra calories and fat. One meal times 52 is a lot of calories . . . and a lot of money.

Fresh Tomato Soup with Gouda8. Keep chopped fruit and vegetables on hand. This takes a little time but I’ve noticed that if I keep a container of sliced carrots, peppers and cucumbers in the fridge along with a steady supply of ranch dressing (they’re not completely healthy you know) then people will use them to snack on so much more frequently. Banana chips, apple slices, Clementine oranges and little cans of mandarin oranges are popular too and if I keep them on hand and suggest them to the kids it’s funny how often they’ll opt for a healthier snack. Especially if I tell them that’s all they’re going to get, right?

9. Eat a salad as a first course. I’ve found that if I start my meal with a small salad and a glass of water it does wonders to calm my appetite enough that I don’t overindulge on the main course. I keep a container of mixed greens from Costco on hand, throw some sliced cucumbers and tomatoes and olives in there with some crumbled feta and I’m instantly more satisfied. A small cup of meatless soup would also be a good way to keep from tackling a meal from the Starvation Zone.

10. Plan one more meatless meal each week. I’m not suggesting everyone turn vegan, it’s not my thing, but less meat is usually better. Not only is meat expensive but it’s fatty and heavy—particularly red meat. Try things like soups, sandwiches, salads and pastas where meat isn’t the star of the show. If you must have some protein (and we all do need it in one form or another) try throwing in some shrimp or scallops to keep things lighter. Substituting chicken and fish for beef and lamb can make a big difference to your waistline and your cholesterol.

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