Tips for Healthy Eating in the 21st Century

When life is busy and there is little time to spare, meal prepping and proper proportions can keep your waist thin and your wallet fat. But eating the same food day after day can make any foodie want to toss his or her Tupperware. Below are several ways to spice up your premade meals, along with tips for a balanced, healthy you.

A properly proportioned plate

The U.S. Department of Agriculture replaced the Food Pyramid with MyPlate in 2011. The new program, founded by former first lady Michelle Obama, is built on creating a more balanced diet for Americans. For a balanced meal, fruits, vegetables, grains and proteins should each make up a quarter of a plate, in addition to one side of dairy that equals 1 cup. In most cases, the U.S. Department of Agriculture moved away from suggesting specific quantities of food, recognizing that the nutritional needs of a 185-pound adult male who doesn’t exercise differ dramatically from those of a 110-pound female teenage gymnast. Instead it developed an online tool aimed to provide individual advice.

Pro tip: Hydrate

Many people don’t drink enough water throughout the day. “We confuse hunger with just being thirsty,” Usdavin said.

To determine your custom needs, visit: this website.

5 Food groups and oils

The USDA’s 2015 to 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans focuses on five food groups as the foundation for a healthy diet, plus oils.

  1. Fruits: Any fruit that’s fresh, canned, frozen or dried, or 100 percent fruit juice can be used to fulfill this requirement
  2. Vegetables: Any vegetable that’s fresh, canned, frozen, dried or 100 percent vegetable juice. Vegetables are organized into five subcategories:

Pro tip: Sneak in your veggies

It can be difficult to add multiple servings of vegetables every meal. There are a few ways to sneak in the necessary servings, such using riced cauliflower to replace the grains in stir-fry, or using a 50/50 ratio of mashed cauliflower and mashed potatoes.

  • dark-green vegetables (such as kale)
  • starchy vegetables (such as yams)
  • red and orange vegetables (such as bell peppers)
  • beans and peas
  • other vegetables
  1. Grains: Grains are divided into two categories.
  • Whole grains contain the entire kernel including the bran, germ and endosperm. Examples: oatmeal, brown rice and bulgur
  • Refined grains have been milled, removing the bran and germ, and giving the grain a finer texture and extended shelf life. But milling removes dietary fiber, iron and vitamins. Most refined grains are enriched, which adds vitamins and iron back into the product, but not fiber. Examples: Breads, pasta and grits
  1. Proteins: Meat, poultry, seafood, beans and peas, eggs, processed soy products, nuts and seeds are considered proteins.
  2. Dairy: Milk and products made from milk that are high in calcium are considered dairy. Choose fat-free or low-fat options. Avoid dairy low in calcium, such as cream cheese or butter. Calcium-fortified soy milk and beverages are counted as dairy as well.

Oil: Fats that are liquid at room temperature, such as olive oil or sesame oil, and foods that are naturally high in oils, such as olives, nuts or avocado, are all sources of oils that meet the USDA’s qualifications. While oils are not a food group, they do provide essential nutrients, including fatty acids and vitamin E, and are included for that reason.

Pro tip: Budget Ahead

Begin tracking how much money you spend eating out with bank or budgeting apps such as Mint, and create a monthly and weekly budget for groceries and eating out.

Why meal prep?

A registered dietitian in Las Vegas, Julie Usdavin understands the importance of crafting healthy, satisfying meals in advance. “I try to find one or two days during the week to meal prep, because I work all day and go to the gym, so when I get home in the evenings the last thing I want to do is cook another meal,” she said. After a long day, meal prepping can be what keeps you on a healthy eating plan and away from prepackaged or fast food.

Meal prep tips to spice it up

When you cook in batches, lightly season food so you can create a wide variety of meals later in the week with the same bulk ingredients. Below are few ways to spice up your basic dishes.

  • Seasonings and Sauces: Seasonings such as garlic, oregano and basil can be used to add flavor to simpler dishes, while sauces can help add moisture and depth to a dish.
  • Superfoods: Foods that are nutrient dense like bee pollen or maca are perfect to sprinkle on top of chia pudding, parfaits or homemade granola bars.
  • Top it off: Frozen berries, sliced bananas or diced avocado are easy ways to add flavor, freshness and nutrition to simpler meals.

Healthy meal options

Below are some ways Usdavin suggests making healthy swaps for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks.

Pro tip: Add a little sugar

Spend half a day and transform meal prepping into a date. Whether it’s with your significant other, roommates or best friend, spend the afternoon cooking, dancing and drinking wine.

  • Breakfast protein smoothie: Prep your ingredients the night before and combine items such as Greek yogurt, a serving of fruit and a vegetable such as spinach, cucumber or romaine lettuce. “Those don’t really change the taste, but it adds a little bit of nutrition in there,” she said.
  • Breakfast egg cups: Line muffin pan cups with low-sodium turkey bacon to act as a base and then crack an egg into each cup. Surround the eggs with vegetables and bake until fully cooked.
  • Breakfast fruit parfait: Top Greek yogurt with a little bit of fruit.
  • Lunch: Use ingredients made in bulk during your meal prep to create healthy lunches. Include proteins, such as chicken or fish, to create salad bowls or stir-frys.
  • Dinner: Use crockpots to create easy meals with enough leftovers to last three to five days. Consider swapping traditional grains with vegetable substitutions.

“The big thing to do is increase your vegetable intake. Vegetables have fiber, so it’s going to fill you up,” Usdavin said. “For pasta, you can try something like zucchini noodles or half and half— zucchini noodles and pasta. Spaghetti squash is great, because it has that spaghetti-like strand and you can still mix it with ground meat and pasta sauce.”

Snack: Think chopped peppers, baby carrots, vegetables and hummus.

Note: While all of these are suggestions, Usdavin notes there’s no one-size-fits-all for meal prepping, because everyone has different preferences for flavors.

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