It’s the last day of National Nutrition Month! While I started out with big visions of sharing lots of tips on how to “savor the flavor of eating right” (this year’s theme), I didn’t get quite as many in as I had originally anticipated. To make up for it, here is a roundup of some of process-oriented tips that I find myself sharing with patients on a regular basis. They’re little tweaks in your daily routine that will allow you to eat more healthfully, feel more satisfied, and overall improve your nutrition. Best of all, these ideas apply to everyone, regardless of your nutrition goals.
Lauren’s favorite tips for better nutrition
1. Roast your vegetables – You will hear me say it again and again, but roasted veggies are the best veggies. Crank up the oven to 400/450, spray the vegetables with oil and toss with salt and pepper and let em cook until they’re crispy enough for your liking. Kills it every time.
2. Make extra dinner – Eating out will blow your calorie, salt, sodium, and fat allotment out of the water, but nobody wants to cook a fresh meal every single night. Make extra so you can take it for a healthy, hot lunch or so that you can turn it into a new and exciting creation the following night!
3. Pack lunch the night before – Bringing lunch to work saves both your nutrition and your wallet, but the thing about that is that you actually have to pack it. I consider myself a morning person, but I don’t have the time to throw together a halfway decent lunch before work, even if I’m up at 4:15AM. That morning time is used to exercise, shower, feed the dogs, make coffee, dry hair…the list goes on. Prepping lunch is not on it. Do it the night before so there is no question.
4. BIG LUNCH little dinner – So many people eat tiny little breakfasts and lunches, then when they’re starving upon arrival home eat whatever is there to curb hunger and follow it with a giant American-style dinner. Most of us grew up with dinner as the big meal of the day because that’s just our culture here in the States, but it’s actually a bit counterproductive, especially if weight loss is a goal. Having a bigger lunch will keep you functioning well through the afternoon at work and curb that afternoon/evening hunger that leads to overeating (and often overeating the wrong things). A smaller dinner – either made up of lighter foods, like a nice big salad with a decent serving of protein and a piece of whole grain toast on the side, or just a smaller serving of what you would normally have augmented with extra vegetables – will provide you with good nutrients but fewer calories than the typical meat-and-potatoes dinner. When you think about it, you really need the energy from your food while you’re working through the day to power your mind and body. After dinner you’re probably just going to relax. Not as essential to provide a ton of calories at that time.
5. Protein at breakfast – Another failure of the standard American diet is that our breakfasts are frequently composed purely of carbohydrate. Cereal, toast, bagels, muffins, etc. contain little more than carb, and often a lot of sugar. While carbohydrate is crucial in the morning to get your brain and body working, a meal of only carbohydrate will lead to a blood sugar spike and crash, which is not what you need around 10:00am! Add some protein to keep you full for longer, and choose options that are low in sugar. Eggs and toast, oats with nuts, or even dinner leftovers will power your day much better than a bowl of cornflakes.
6. Beans/legumes once per week – Beans are not eaten with enough frequency in a lot of places. It’s a bit different here on the Gulf because Louisianans have their red bean Mondays and Tex Mex would be nothing without black beans and charro beans, but I spent a lot of my life undervaluing the magic that is beans and legumes. They’re filling, and contain complex carbs, tons of fiber, and protein. By using beans as your main dish at least once a week in place of meat, you’ll cut your saturated fat intake at that meal significantly. Another great benefit is that the type of fiber in beans is classified as a probiotic – it helps the bacteria in your gut to flourish. If you follow nutrition and health research, you’ve probably noticed a lot of buzz lately about the “gut microbiome” and how the different types of bacteria in your intestines can protect you from all sorts of different diseases, and how a lack of bacteria or an imbalance can leave you susceptible to health problems. Beans, along with fruits and vegetables, will help you ensure that you’ve got the good bugs in there and they’re nice and happy.
7. Invest in your seasonings – The best way to make sure you and your family eat healthy food is to make it delicious. Build up your arsenal of seasonings and learn to use them appropriately so that you can turn even a bowl of broccoli, brown rice, and beans into a flavor explosion! It doesn’t take much, and becoming a better cook with a greater awareness of flavors will go a long way.