Here’s the deal, though: it’s easy to add exercise to your day. You take the steps instead of the elevator. You walk to the corner store instead of driving. It may be hard to motivate yourself. In principle, though, exercise is as simple as moving around a little extra every day.
Eating right is much harder. Sure, you can opt for the salad — but the calories you get from the salad dressing can pretty much negate any vitamins you get from the vegetables. There’s no equivalent to taking the stairs in meal planning, unless you know a nutritionist or two.
So I asked a few nutritionists…
I know my knowledge of nutrition is spotty at best, so in my efforts to eat better, I asked a bunch of nutritionists for meal ideas. There was a qualification on these meal ideas: they had to be easy to make (the equivalent of taking the stairs instead of the elevator). I also asked for the best ideas for those of us who spend most of our day at the computer — even if we exercise regularly, our ideal diet isn’t going to match with someone who spends all day in motion.
Beth Aldrich is a Certified Integrative Health and Nutrition Coach. She came up with plenty of ideas that make breakfast just as easy as grabbing a Pop-Tart, but about a million times healthier:
- High fiber cereal and a serving of fresh fruit and a handful of almonds or walnuts (Beth recommends soy, nut or rice milk over the traditional cow’s milk in the mornings)
- A hard-boiled egg, toast (whole grain bread) and a banana
- Oatmeal with bananas, slivered almonds, cinnamon and a touch of brown sugar
Beth’s suggestions all include a combination of fiber, healthy fats and protein. She puts a special emphasis on making sure that you have fiber and protein in your morning meal: “It’s important for people to always be thinking “long-term” energy and hunger management. So, think fiber in the forms of whole fruit…cut veggies, whole grain crackers on hummus (even Triscuits are good) or even a whole grain, zuchinni or carrot muffin.Then, also think protein to slow down the burning of the “good” carbs. The quickest way is to include a handful (1-2 ounces) of heart-healthy nuts such as hazelnuts, peanuts, pecans, pine nuts, almonds, pistachios or walnuts.”
Cheryl Forberg planned our lunch menu. She’s the nutritionist from NBC’s The Biggest Loser. Cheryl suggested that we focus on protein at lunch time, preferably lean: “High quality protein is a cornerstone of a healthy eating plan. Not only does protein help us to maintain and build muscle, it also contributes to satiety or fullness. And when combined with carbohydrates, such as a piece of fruit, it helps to sustain our blood sugar levels longer.” She also offered up several simple ideas:
- 1/2 turkey sandwich (Use whole grain bread and low fat Swiss cheese, along with a piece of Bibb lettuce, a tomato slice and whole grain mustard)
- Low fat mozzarella cheese stick and one large orange
- 1/2 cup oatmeal (Make your oatmeal with 1/2 cup fat free milk, a teaspoon of honey and two strawberries)
Janel Ovrut has some suggestions, based on her work as a registered dietitian as well as a master’s degree in Nutrition Communication. Most are just simple variations on a few favorite meals. Janel says, “With a little planning and creativity, you can come up with easy to make meals that are nutritious too. Think of your old favorites – those standard meals that you have on hand to cook up in a pinch. Maybe it is pasta and sauce, or frozen pizza, mac and cheese, or a sandwich. Using whole grains (like whole wheat pasta or whole wheat bread), vegetables, lean meats or beans, and reduced fat cheese can all make these meals more flavorful and healthful too.”
- Personal pizza (Spread tomato sauce and reduced fat cheese on a whole wheat pita or English muffin and top with vegetables or chicken. Bake in the oven until the cheese melts.)
- Pasta and sauce (Use whole wheat spaghetti and add fresh or frozen vegetables — and even some ground turkey or beans — to the sauce).
For the most part, these meal ideas require almost no cooking — cooking can be one of the biggest hurdles for someone trying to eat better, because it can be difficult to decide where to start. Even those ingredients that seem like they might require some work — like Beth’s hard boiled eggs — can be found ready to eat at the supermarket. Yes, you can buy bags of already hard-boiled eggs at many grocery stores.
There is one piece of advice that resounded through the advice of all the nutritional experts I interviewed: portion control. Eating a double portion of any of these healthy meals doesn’t double your healthy eating score: instead, it can make it almost as difficult to balance your diet as greasy fast food. It may not be a perfect plan, but practicing portion control can be a good starting point for a lot of us less-than-healthy eaters. Controlling your portions isn’t the same as balancing your fiber and protein, though — Janel, Cheryl and Beth offered pointers for longer term changes.