Spring is such a busy time of year and it’s easy to think we don’t have time to prepare healthy meals at home. But there’s good news — the road to healthy eating is paved with shortcuts. Try these timesaving tactics to help you feed your family well–and with great taste, too:
Make simple switches at the supermarket. It doesn’t take extra time to buy products such as whole grain cereal, fat-free milk, lean ground beef, baked chips, whole wheat bread or frozen fruit. The same goes for high-nutrition snacks such as yogurt, raisins, frozen fruit juice bars, hummus (chickpea dip) and whole-wheat pita bread.
Poke the produce. There’s a washed, cut and ready-to-eat fruit and veggie ready for every taste bud. Think about bagged lettuce and spinach, baby carrots, cut-up broccoli and cauliflower, cubed cantaloupe and pineapple. Of course, favorites such as apples, pears, oranges, bananas and grapes are fast fruit, too. For a switch, try new varieties — you often can try a sample right in the produce department.
Pad your pantry. Don’t get caught short. Stock up on often-used quick meal fixings such as canned beans and tuna, various pasta shapes, jars of spaghetti sauce and quick-cooking brown rice. Stash away some canned or frozen fruits and veggies, too. They’re always there when you need them and just as nutritious as fresh ones because they’re packed at the peak of freshness.
Slip good nutrition into fast favorites. Toss sliced apples, berries, bananas, or whole-grain cereal on top of yogurt. Load sandwiches up with spinach, cucumber slices or sliced bell peppers. Toss frozen mixed vegetables into canned soup. Top your favorite frozen cheese pizza with a rainbow of veggies like broccoli florets, chopped red peppers or sliced zucchini. (Tip: Toss veggies in a little vegetable oil first so they don’t dry out.)
The FDA continues to work on unveiling new food labels, promising an easier way to decipher them. But across the pond, the U.K. is evaluating a proposal to quickly convey just how much you’ll have to exercise to burn off a chocolate bar.
Shirley Cramer, the head of the U.K.’s Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH), wants to put a small icon on the front of every prepared food package to help consumers better understand their diet choices.
For instance, a blueberry muffin is 265 calories. According to the RSPH, the average person would need to walk for 48 minutes or run for 25 minutes to burn that off. The idea is to show just how much the food we take in can create a “creeping obesity” (small amounts of weight gained over a long period of time) if we are not careful to expend at least the same amount of calories through exercise over the course of a day or week.
The proposed labeling uses averages—an adult man needs 2,500 calories, a woman 2,000—and it isn’t clear if the label takes into account gender differences by averaging them out.
And while we can make population-based estimates, caloric intake and caloric expenditure differs from person to person. It fluctuates depending on how tall you are and how much you weigh, in addition to how physically active you usually are. (Ultramarathoner Dean Karnazes, for example, famously takes in 6,000 to 8,000 calories a day.)
It’s also true that exercise increases your caloric needs, although studies contradict one another on whether exercise suppresses or stimulates appetite. So, some argue that the focus should be on eating healthier foods that keep you fuller, longer.
The icon assumes that all calories can be treated equally. But we know that’s not so.
“In my opinion, 200 calories are 200 calories, but the vitamins and minerals that come with those calories are far different,” said Nancy Clark, M.S., R.D., C.S.S.D., author of five sports nutrition books. “Your muscles don’t care if you give them 200 calories of sugar or broccoli, but quality calories [in chicken versus a candy bar] are better for your health.”
“[The icon] is not meant to scare people, or to create a society of obsessives,” Cramer writes on the BBC’s website. “But instead it is meant to show to the public very clearly just how active we need to be if we are to consume the diets we do and not put on weight. Or how we might need to readjust our diets to match our inactive lives.”
But Clark worries that people who have unhealthy views of diet and exercise may interpret the icons the wrong way, and that could lead to calorie-counting and exercise-math obsession.
“We need calories to just lie in bed, breathe, and pump blood,” Clark said. “The majority of our calorie needs are for our organs to function. The walk-run icons fail to give that message, but instead imply that we only deserve to eat if we exercise. Not the case.”
The bottom line? These proposed labels, while far from perfect, are another move in the right direction for the general public to be armed with more nutritional information, not unlike the New York City requirement that calories counts be listed on menu items.
As for runners who tend to eat a balanced diet and exercise regularly, these icons could shed light on whether their 10 miler really justified that bottomless brunch.
Restaurants are setting you up to fail: Low-calorie dishes can have boatloads of sodium. Even savory dishes like ribs can pack almost 100 grams of sugar. And now a recent study shows that a full 92 percent of restaurant entrees across the country have more calories than an average adult should eat in one sitting — a whopping 1,205 calories.
But you can beat the odds, according to Prevention magazine, published by Rodale Inc. of Emmaus. Here’s how savvy nutritionists dine out without overdoing it.
HAVE YOUR CAKE …
1… But only if you really want it. “Don’t eat dessert unless every morsel is delectable,” say Hope Warshaw, author of “Eat Out Eat Well: The Guide to Eating Healthy in Any Restaurant.” If the restaurant is only offering cheesecake and you’re more of an apple crisp person, don’t order the cheesecake. Also, split dessert with a pal. Usually, you only need those few bites to conquer your sweet tooth.
BREAK IT UP EARLY
2… You say you’re only going to eat half of that pasta dish — but it gets a lot harder to stop shoveling it in once the plate is sitting in front of you. “Instead, practice portion control from the point you order, not when it’s in front of you,” Warshaw says. Ask your server to bring half the meal already boxed up in a takeout container when you place your order — not at the end of the meal.
LOAD UP ON VEGGIES
3… You already know veggies are low in calories but high in nutrients. And there’s another reason to load up on vegetables when you’re eating out: taste. “Here is an opportunity to indulge in vegetables prepared by a chef,” says Nyree Dardarian, assistant clinical professor of nutrition at Drexel University. “They will not taste like your at-home, steamable bag of broccoli — trust me. And even if they are cooked with more oil than you’d use at home, the calories will be less than any other alternative side dish on the menu.”