March is National Nutrition Month, a campaign created by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics to bring awareness to nutrition by encouraging the public to develop healthy eating and physical activity habits. This year’s theme is “Eat Right, Bite by Bite.” Consider the following information to help you lead a healthy lifestyle, bite by bite. Small goals and sustainable changes can have a cumulative healthful effect, and every little bit – or bite – of nutrition, is a step in the right direction.
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Variety Is the Spice of Life
Aim for variety and balance in your diet. Achieve this by eating variety of nutritious foods every day from all the food groups. Consider tools such as MyPlate, which provide a visual for how to properly balance your plate:
- Make half your plate fruits and vegetables. Choose fresh, frozen, dried, or canned fruits. Add fruit to a salad, serve with oatmeal, blend in a smoothie, or enjoy as a dessert. If choosing canned fruits, choose fruits canned in water or 100% fruit juice rather than syrup or added sugars. Add fresh, frozen, or canned vegetables to meals, or enjoy as a snack. Prepare nutrient-dense vegetables with healthy cooking methods: steamed, sautéed, roasted, or raw. If choosing canned vegetables, choose low-sodium options, and choose options that are not packed with cream or cheese sauce, as these can add fat and sodium.
- Make a quarter of your plate grains. Focus on whole grains. Look for whole grains listed first on the ingredients list. Try oats, whole wheat bread, quinoa, brown rice, popcorn, and whole wheat pasta.
- Make a quarter of your plate proteins. Choose lean cuts of meat, skinless poultry, seafood, and eggs. Vary your proteins by including plant-based options such beans and peas, unsalted nuts and seeds, nut and seed butters, and soy foods. Be mindful of sodium and fat and limit processed meats, fatty or marbled red meat, poultry with skin, and fried meats, poultry, and fish.
- Try low-fat or fat-free dairy. Choose low-fat or fat-free milk, yogurt, and fortified soymilk. Aim for low-fat yogurt that is also low in added sugars. Try low-fat or fat-free cream, sour cream, and cheeses. Limit milk, cheeses, and creams made from whole milk due to saturated fat content.
- Limit excess sodium, unhealthy fats, and added sugars. Read the nutrition facts labels and ingredients list to better understand what is in your food. Limit items high in sodium, unhealthy fats (saturated and trans fats), and added sugars.
Planning and Prepping Can Go a Long Way
Stay on track with a healthy lifestyle by planning and prepping meals. The thought of planning and prepping may be overwhelming, but the benefits often outweigh the time it takes to prepare. Meal planning can help balance your plate, schedule, and wallet. Below are some meal planning and prepping tips:
- Develop a menu. Plan a menu for the week including a variety of food groups. Shop with the sales at your local grocery store. Purchase produce that is seasonal as it’s often more affordable at your local grocery store or farmer’s market.
- Build a pantry. Make meal prep and planning easier by having a pantry or a designated area to keep mealtime staples: whole grains, spices, oils, canned fruits and vegetables, beans, etc.
- Keep a running grocery list. Go to the grocery store with a plan. Have a list of the foods you need for meals, snacks, and any items you may need to replenish your pantry. Try a magnetic note pad and pen on the fridge to help you stay organized and avoid extra trips to the grocery store.
- Make it fun! View meal prep as an opportunity to try new foods and flavors. Discover what foods and recipes you enjoy eating. As you spend more time in the kitchen you will inevitably become more comfortable and confident in your cooking skills. Get the family involved for a bonding experience. Meal prep should help alleviate mealtime stress and make providing a nutritious meal for you and your family easier throughout the week.
Ask for Help
It can be a challenge to navigate nutrition information. If you’re having trouble, consider establishing a partner in health. Talk to your primary care physician about how to get started on your wellness journey. They can refer you to a registered dietitian nutritionist, a food and nutrition expert who can translate the science of nutrition into practical solutions for healthy living. Registered dietitian nutritionists use their nutrition expertise to help individuals make personalized, positive lifestyle changes.
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