Your mother was right – you are what you eat. While exercise is important, 80% of our health and fitness goals are achieved through healthy eating. It’s not always simple to make healthy eating choices when faced with hectic schedules and tempting restaurant menus.
For the majority of my life, I’ve struggled to eat healthily. If you look back at my high school yearbooks, you’ll see a kid who evolved from a string bean to a butterball and back every year. I tried every fitness regimen and diet I could find, but none kept me feeling and looking healthy for any length of time.
A few years ago I decided it was time to make a lasting lifestyle change. I committed to regular exercise and looked to role models to discover their secrets of healthy eating. While there were as many approaches as there were people, one common strategy emerged. A strategy that helped me loose 30lbs.
The more you cook, the better you look
Restaurant menus are a minefield of big portions and empty calories. And fast food… well… as Steve Elbert puts it, “…fast food is equivalent to pornography, nutritionally speaking.” But when we cook our own meals we tend to make better choices, simply because we know what we’re putting into our mouths.
Of course cooking your own healthy meals isn’t always easy. Most of us know what foods are good or bad for us. The challenge is finding the time to cook, discovering ways to make meals tasty and overcoming the draw of the fast food machine.
Here are 10 strategies to help you overcome those challenges and make better food choices…
Start the day off right
You’ve heard it before. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, as it follows a fasting period of 8 to 12 hours (at night). Guess what? It’s also the easiest meal of the day. There are so many tasty, quick and easy to prepare breakfast options that there really is no excuse for not eating a nutritious breakfast. The breakfast must be plentiful to meet our energy needs for the first part of the day and give us the strength to last until lunch.
Grab a healthy bowl of cereal topped with fruit and skim milk. Or maybe try one of my two-minute favorites – frozen berries, protein powder and almond milk blended into a delicious smoothie. Start the day off right with a healthy breakfast. You’ll feel better, have more energy and will be more likely to make better food choices throughout the day.
When our days get busy and time is limited the draw of fast food is strong. That’s why it’s so important to plan ahead. Pack your lunch. You’ll eat healthier and avoid waiting in the fast food line-up.
When you have time to cook, make extra. Leftovers are a great option for lunches. Cooking up a pot of chili? Why not make it a big pot and freeze individual servings for those times you don’t have the energy to cook.
Your slow cooker is a time machine in disguise
Have to take the kids to little league after school and no time to cook? No problem. Chop up veggies, grab some meat, sprinkle on a few spices and throw them into your slow cooker before you head out. You’ll love coming home to the smell of a hot, ready to serve meal.
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Make it tasty
Restaurant food tastes good because it’s loaded with butter, fat and sugar, but there are options to make healthy home cooked food taste great. Fresh herbs and spices are an easy way to add flavor to otherwise bland dishes. Try new combinations and experiment with recipes from different cultures to excite your palate.
My new favorite is baked chicken, topped with sautéed onions, peppers, a squeeze of lime and chopped avocado. The tastier you can make your home cooking, the less likely you are to order pizza.
Repeat. Repeat. Repeat
We’re creatures of habit. Keep a food log and you’ll discover that you probably eat the same ten meals over and over again. Use that to your advantage. Find some healthy meals that you love and stock your fridge and cupboards with the necessary ingredients. If you make those meals more convenient to cook, they’ll quickly find a place on your top ten list.
Have a nutritious emergency kit
There will no doubt be times when your best intentions are sidetracked by the unexpected. At times like these it’s always good to have a nutritious emergency kit on hand. Healthy snacks that are ready to grab and go can be a time and diet saver. Hard-boiled eggs, a handful of almonds or a piece of fruit are all excellent choices. Keep some healthy granola bars in the car and you’ll be less likely to visit a drive-through on your way home from that late meeting.
Realize there are options
There are times that we simply can’t plan ahead and will need to grab some food on the go, but that doesn’t mean you have to eat junk. Walk by that burger stand and go to the nearby grocery store. You’ll find all kinds of prepared and tasty salads, fruits and other healthy options. And if you do find yourself staring at a fast food menu, realize that even the least healthy of restaurants will usually have one or two nutritious options to choose from.
Let someone cook for you
Healthy home cooking doesn’t necessarily mean doing it yourself. Many home cooking services will prepare meals based on your food preferences and deliver them to you door, ready to heat and serve at your convenience. Still want to try your hand at cooking, but don’t want to mess up your kitchen? Visit a meal preparation business. These kitchens will create recipes, do the shopping and chopping, and even the clean up. You get to assemble the meals with a glass of wine in your hand, and leave with a box full of dinners ready to be heated at a moments notice.
Don’t feel like a slave in the kitchen. Involve others. Cooking can be a fun, social time for the entire family while you teach your kids the importance of a healthy diet. Have a hot date? Why not cook a meal together. As Harriet van Horne said, “Cooking is like love. It should be entered into with abandon or not at all.”
Cooking healthy and tasty food doesn’t have to be difficult. Use these strategies and you’ll have a head start on achieving your health and fitness goals.
And remember, the more you cook, the better you look.