Nutrition Month 2023: General Tips and Tricks for Healthy Eating
Each year during the month of March, Registered Dietitians and other professionals celebrate Nutrition Month to help provide Canadians with informed nutrition information. This year’s theme is Unlock the Potential of Food, and today we are happy to share our last blog of the month with general tips for healthy eating at home.
Why is healthy eating important?
Healthy eating is important because it ensures that our bodies are given essential nutrients and energy to go about our daily lives. We need energy to fuel our bodies in the form of calories, macronutrients (carbohydrates, fats, and proteins), and micronutrients, like vitamins and minerals. This ensures we can complete all voluntary and involuntary functions, from our heart beating and pumping blood to dancing to our favourite songs!
What does healthy eating look like?
Healthy eating looks different for every person based on preferences, culture, availability of specific foods, and socio-economic factors. Canada’s Food Guide is a good place to start, as it provides general guidance on how to incorporate healthier food options like fresh or cooked vegetables into each meal, as well as fruits. It also encourages Canadians to choose whole grains, such as whole grain pasta and bread, oats, rice, quinoa, bulgur, or barley, and to include protein such as fish, chicken, beef, tofu, beans, nuts, and eggs. Lastly, it is recommended that healthy adults choose water at meals over calorie-dense beverages, such as soda or juice.
Another way of understanding healthy eating is by using the Balanced Plate Method. This method of creating a balanced meal helps to keep key nutrients incorporated daily. Half of the plate should be reserved for a variety of vegetables (aim to include multiple colours of vegetables at meals to eat a larger variety of nutrients). The other half of your plate should contain ¼ protein and ¼ starch. Using this method is simple and gives a good visual reminder of what a balanced diet can look like.
5 tips for healthy eating at home:
- Make SMART Goals
The SMART framework helps when creating a plan for a desired goal. SMART stands for: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Timely. So, instead of using the goal of “I want to eat healthier,” frame your goal like this: “I want to eat more vegetables at lunch and will achieve this by using the Balanced Plate method to ensure I have half a plate of vegetables at lunch, at least 4 days per week, starting at lunch time tomorrow”.
- Cook at home more often
When you cook and prepare your meals in your own home, you have much more control of what you eat, reducing how much highly processed foods you are consuming and benefiting your body by providing wholesome ingredients. Cooking can be a great way to save time when packing a healthy lunch for work the next day by utilizing leftovers! Keep in mind, not everything needs to be from scratch- for instance, frozen vegetables save on preparation and cooking time but are still high in nutrients and fiber.
- Shop for healthy ingredients
Finding healthy ingredients in a supermarket may seem daunting but this tip will provide some clarity as to how you can make healthy choices at the grocery store. Firstly, stick to the outer edges of the grocery store; more times than not, the produce, meat, dairy, and whole grains can be found around the perimeter of the store. When shopping for items in the middle sections, such as canned beans, rice, pasta, and more, be sure to check the nutrition label. Nutrition labels give information on how many calories an item contains per serving, how much fat, carbohydrate, protein, and how much of certain vitamins and minerals a food serving contains. Generally, choose foods that are lower in saturated fat, cholesterol, sugar, and sodium. Choose foods higher in fibre, protein, vitamins and minerals.
- Practice mindful eating
Mindful eating can be achieved by reflecting on your eating habits by asking yourself who, what, where, why, when and how! Who do you eat with? What are you eating? Where are you eating? Why are you eating? When are you eating? And lastly, how do you feel? Quickly eating a rushed meal before leaving for work doesn’t set a good precedent for the day, but enjoying a morning meal with your family could! Try to understand how your moods, emotions, and environment affect your eating behaviours. These are important factors that help us become more conscious of our eating habits and thereby encourage us to make healthy decisions about food.
Healthy eating should never be about forcing yourself to eat foods that you don’t like or eating in ways that are not enjoyable. Each person is different, which means different preferences, cultures, experiences, needs, and situations affect our eating behaviours. When you enjoy the food you eat, you take into consideration the flavour, the texture, the smell, and the experience of eating the meal, which can lead to healthy attitudes around food.
Thank you to North York General Hospital’s Dietetic Students Tamara Bird, Taylor Hunsley, Joanna Morrison, and Rachael Sonola for contributing to our blog this month as we Unlock the Potential of Food together.