Where do I even begin? This is the first question that anyone starting their path to healthy eating must answer—including myself. Learning how to eat healthy can be intimidating when you’re just beginning. I grew up as one of eight children, which meant my parents were more focused on providing enough food rather than the nutritional quality of the food. This meant we ate a lot of food that was easy to prepare in large quantities, and plenty of carbs, processed foods and snacks, and sugary treats.
When I moved out of my family home and started buying my own food, I began making healthier choices. I gradually worked up to spending more than half of my time in the produce department at the grocery store. But it wasn’t until I began seeing a nutritionist regarding some health concerns and a desire for a better nutrition balance that I realized how far I had come—and how far I still had to go.
For anyone who feels as much of a deer in the headlights as I did, here are my top six tips for healthy eating:
Decide where you want to start. Is your goal to add more vegetables into your diet? Cut down on soda? Healthy eating involves an exchange of healthy for the not so healthy. Talk to your family about the best place to start and what your next steps can be. Cooperation and investment from everyone involved will make the process more enjoyable and keep it from stopping before it starts.
#2. Start Slowly
Don’t try to change everything at once. Eating choices are habits, and habits take time to both learn and unlearn. This is especially true if you’re making these decisions for yourself and your family. Change is easier to swallow in small doses, especially for children. You may not be able to jump straight from processed lunch meat to grass-fed beef because of time constraints or a limited budget, but even just cooking chicken instead can be a huge step.
To help rebalance my budget to include healthy foods, I stopped eating out (except for special occasions), and I also cut down on processed snacks and treats. It amazes me how much of my food budget went towards fast food and snacks, which aren’t at all healthy or filling. Cutting out frozen meals by cooking and preparing fresh produce and meats also saved me a lot of money.
You might already have a basic knowledge of what’s healthy and what’s not. Once you start making changes, research is the next step. Learning what’s actually healthy vs. what our common conception of healthy is can be eye-opening and dramatically change what you chose to consume. A couple of my favorite beginner resources include Trophia and Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is! These are both simple guides that offer a wealth of information without overwhelming you with facts and statistics.
#5. Plan Weekly Shopping
One of the first lessons I learned when I started eating more fruit, vegetables, and meat was the concept of shelf life. Unlike processed food, whole, raw, and fresh foods all have a much shorter shelf life. This means you need to cook them, eat them, can them, or freeze them right away, usually within the first week you purchase them. For me, this changed my biweekly or monthly shopping trips into weekly excursions. Though this may be a big adjustment, enjoying the fresh, tasty produce alone is worth the effort.
#6. Just Start
This is most important tip of all! Everyone gets overwhelmed when it comes to changing their lifestyle. We must figure out the answers to some nagging questions first: Where do I start? Do I know enough ahead of time? How do I just take that first step and begin? Well, you can start now, today, maybe even as soon as you finish reading this. Eat a healthy snack, take that trip to the grocery store, drink a glass of water instead of soda. The benefits of healthy eating are worth the changes you must make.
My journey to healthy eating is ever-evolving as I learn to implement new foods and shopping methods into my life. Welcome aboard and stay awhile! I’m sure that as you start eating healthier food, you’ll begin to enjoy your life even more.
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Image from iStock/DragonImages.