by Edna Cox Rice, RDN, CSG, LDN
Taking the time for smart eating is often sacrificed. When grab and go foods become the norm, it is tempting to overeat or to choose junk foods. Those hunger pangs may be satisfied briefly, but you usually end up wanting something more.
Ridiculously busy schedules, tight budgets, lack of cooking tools or limited culinary skills can make smart eating a challenge. Focus on these strategies for SmartEats and a healthier lifestyle.
Culinary Skills and fancy cooking gadgets are not needed to eat smart. The only equipment needed is a small refrigerator, a microwave, a coffee pot if you need a jolt to start your day, or a blender if smoothies are for you. All of these can be maintained in a small space regardless of where you reside.
Stock up on Healthy Staples
Try to shop weekly and at least consider foods that would work for several meals. This habit will save precious time and helps you learn to plan meals. Thinking about what to eat and getting to the grocery store daily becomes a chore and cuts into your precious time.
Fast food becomes your go to and the results can be disastrous. Don’t overcomplicate your meals, keep them simple; think convenient and healthy. Focus on making good choices, not always the absolute best choice. As long as you make choices that offer more nutrition, are closer to whole foods and better than junk foods, you’re on the right track.
Fresh produce is always the healthiest choice, but the shelf life is short. Hectic schedules don’t always allow for optimizing a fresh produce purchase. Frozen or canned fruits and veggies are good options. Look for labels that say fresh frozen, no sugar added, and reduced sodium. Steamer packages of vegetables store easily and can be prepared quickly in the microwave. Canned veggies can easily be added to any dish. Add them to canned soups, mac and cheese, toss with pasta, or top off a pizza for a little extra nutrition, extra texture and flavor. Frozen fruit or veggies makes the perfect smoothie.
Top off a morning breakfast of oatmeal or yogurt with frozen berries. Adding vegetables and fruits are a super simple way to boost the nutritional value of your food. Add them to everything and anything, they’re your friend! Make five a day your goal for the number of servings of fruits and vegetables you consume every day.
Start your day with a Brain Boost!
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day and with good reason. It gives your body a boost of energy to start the day off right. If there isn’t time to enjoy a morning meal, grab a bagel topped with peanut or almond butter, add a piece of fruit and fruit juice for an energy charge. Your getting carbs for energy and the nut butter adds protein so you’ll feel full longer. Hard boiled eggs are another easy, convenient grab and go protein source.
Research reveals that the omega-3 in the egg yolk has a positive effect on both memory and mood. It can help you feel cheerful all morning long. Additional studies report that regularly including breakfast lowers the risk for obesity, hypertension and diabetes compared to those who skip breakfast and end up starving at 11:00 and scarfing down a bag of chips from the vending machine.
It’s hard to beat a bowlful of oatmeal. Your body digests the oats slowly, giving your brain and your body steady energy. Its also bursting with B vitamins, fiber, potassium, zinc, and Vitamin E important nutrients for optimal brain health. Add cinnamon in place of sugar for sweetness. One study indicates the scent of cinnamon improves memory performance.
Snack Attack Strategies!
Be sure to be prepared for your next snack attack. Keep ready to go snacks easily accessible.
Buy a bag of anything – pretzels, nuts, whole grain crackers – immediately look at the serving size and pre-portion the snack in baggies. Your snacks will stay fresher longer, but more importantly, you won’t down the entire bag at one sitting. Energy bars are easy snacks; look for bars with protein, fiber and less than 10 grams of sugar per serving. Fruit – apple, banana, oranges – or veggies – baby carrots, celery sticks- are portable and will keep in your backpack. Healthy foods with a long shelf life, like nuts, seeds, dried fruit, rice cakes, and multi- grain crackers. Having healthy options on hand, you’ll be less likely to reach for the Cheetos.
Schedule time for meals.
Plan to include a lean protein, like chicken, turkey, eggs, or hummus at lunch and dinner.
Add these to whole grains, veggies and fruit. Remember that size matters, so learn portions. A meat portion should be 2-3 ounces or the size of a deck of cards. Whole grain portions are generally one-half cup or the size of your fist. Keep track of what you eat. A daily goal: five or more servings of fruit and vegetables, two-three serving (or 5-6 ounces) protein, three – four servings whole grains, two – three servings milk and dairy, two – three servings of good fats.
Avoid Liquid Calories!
Drink water. Drinking enough water can boost your concentration as well as keep you from overeating. If you’re feeling tired, it might be you need to hydrate. Coffee and energy drinks, despite their claims, may add to dehydration. Stay hydrated throughout the day by carrying your favorite reusable water bottle with you everywhere. Sugary drinks like soda and juice may not fill you up but they can add on the calories. Scale back on these by diluting them with water. Drink more unsweetened beverages, tea and water.
Moderation is key when it comes to alcohol. A lite beer, glass of wine, or one ounce of liquor is 100 calories and you’re not taking in any nutrients. One margarita may be 600 calories. After one or two drinks, you’re more likely to give in to food cravings and late-night eating. Remember drinking alcohol adds on the calories quickly and long term can jeopardize your health.