By: Megan Holdaway, RDN
Healthy eating habits are built over time and based on daily food and beverage choices. Health and nutrition experts recommend eating a variety of high-quality, nutrient-rich foods from all of the food groups and making them the foundation for meals and snacks for optimal health. While that is ideal, it may not be realistic or achievable all the time. Many factors contribute to individual eating patterns, including food preferences, cultures, budgets and lifestyles. However, we can all agree that health is important. Nutrition contributes to overall health, and by focusing on simple healthy eating strategies, we can improve overall eating habits.
Try practicing these seven tips in everyday life to help make healthy eating easier, more enjoyable and part of the daily routine.
Keep as many wholesome, nutrient-rich foods as possible as staple ingredients in your home. Choosing to stock up on high quality foods increases the likelihood of eating higher-quality foods since having them readily accessible makes them the most convenient option.
Why this helps: Eating patterns based on high-quality, minimally processed foods (like milk, yogurt, cheese, vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, nuts, seeds and lean protein) offer many health benefits, helping children grow and learn and adults better manage weight and overall health.
Swap to smaller dishware during mealtime. Single-serving portions look more substantial on smaller dishes. Along with using smaller dishware, check the serving size on packaged foods and portion out single servings at a time. This tip helps to visualize a single portion of food and how many servings are being consumed in a single sitting, which may help minimize overeating.
Why this helps: Studies show foods served on large plates or bowls and beverages served in large glasses result in eating and drinking larger portions because the perception of serving sizes changes. Increased awareness of serving sizes has been shown to help reduce the likelihood of overeating.
When purchasing packaged foods or snacks, read the ingredients list. If possible, select foods that contain just a few ingredients that are easy to identify. These foods can be included
as part of a quick, healthy meal or snack. Examples of healthy packaged foods may include:
• Milk, yogurt and cheese
• Frozen fruits and vegetables
• Low-sodium canned fruits, vegetables and beans
• Peanut butter, nuts and seeds
• Whole-wheat bread
Why this helps: Replacing highly processed packaged foods with foods that are minimally processed (but just as convenient) provides children and adults with valuable nutrients important for growth, development and overall health.
Try to choose at least three different food groups during mealtime and add color to the plate by including a variety of fruits and vegetables, sometimes referred to as “eating the rainbow.”
Choosing a combination of fresh, frozen and low-sodium produce can be a practical and economical way to create a balanced meal. Here are a few quick, healthy and low-cost meals:
• Breakfast: A cup milk + cooked oatmeal + frozen fruit
• Lunch: Cheese quesadilla + low-sodium canned vegetables
• Dinner: Rice and beans + canned fruit + a cup of milk
Why this helps: Meals that include three of the five food groups (dairy, vegetables, fruits, whole grains and protein) and a variety of colors provide a mix of many nutrients that can help prevent chronic diseases (like diabetes, obesity and heart disease) and support overall good health.
Take the time to sit down, focus on the food and enjoy eating. That means turning off screens (TV, phones, computers) and avoiding distracting activities. Mealtime can be a great time to connect with others through conversation or enjoy quiet self-reflection while eating.
Why this helps: Distracted eating often leads to consuming larger portions and feeling less satisfied, neither of which benefit health and well-being in the long run.
Mindfulness, the act of paying attention to the present moment, is a useful strategy to support healthy eating. Mindfulness techniques can include eating slower, chewing food longer and focusing on enjoying the smell and taste of the food.
Why this helps: Mindful eating encourages listening to internal cues and increasing self-awareness. Using these specific techniques can help signal the feeling of fullness, making it easier to identify when to stop eating before feeling too full or “stuffed.”
Children need the same nutritious foods as adults to grow and thrive, though often in smaller amounts. For families with children, model healthy eating habits by practicing these healthy tips most of the time.
Why this helps: Parents, educators and caregivers can positively influence the decisions and behaviors of children. Modeling healthy eating helps teach children how to develop and maintain healthy eating habits. Over time, healthy eating patterns will be created, and as children become adults, making healthier choices at meal and snack times will be a well-established habit.
Healthy eating is a pattern built over time. No one meal or snack directly impacts overall health, but food choices over time can play a major role in health outcomes. By practicing small changes and focusing on these seven tips, establishing lifelong healthier eating habits is possible. Start small and achieve big results! Learn more about healthy eating practices like meal planning and ideas for healthy meals and snacks at HealthyEating.org.
Megan Holdaway, RDN
Megan Holdaway, RDN
Megan Holdaway is a registered dietitian nutritionist and the Nutrition Science Program Manager at Dairy Council of California.
Watch the latest episode of Ask A Nutritionist and discover how to plan healthy and nutritious meals for your family.
Meal planning can help make eating at home easier, which can save time and money and improve the overall nutrition and quality of meals—a triple win!