The next step is to start planning nutrient rich meals. One way to do this is to make a vegetable (or vegetables) the central ingredient of your main course with meat as a condiment or secondary ingredient rather than the main course.
This is a little more complicated that changing up your snack foods. It requires a mindset change. In other words, forget everything that you have been taught about meal planning (with meat at the center).
The average American eats far too much meat each day. It is time to change. I am not saying that you should become a vegetarian – far from it. But, I am suggesting that you make vegetables the largest portion of food on your plate, with meat on the side, rather than the other way around.
It sounds simple; but, I realize it will be a sizable challenge for many people. If you are willing to make this adjustment, you will immediately begin to serve healthier meals without changing the types of foods that your family enjoys.
For example: the next time you grill steaks, rather than make the steak the highlight of the meal, serve it as the side dish. Cut the steak serving size in half and double the size of your vegetable portions. (Think about the positive impact that will have on your food budget!)
If you normally make peas or green beans with your steak, look for recipes that spiff up the veggies to make them tastier, more interesting, and more enjoyable. Try adding crisp onions, sliced almonds, interesting spices, or topping them with fresh garlic bits sautéed in olive oil or sprinkle with grated cheese. Remember . . . make the steak the small side dish to your meal.
Substitute olive oil for butter in your cooking (except in baking). Olive oil mixed with Italian seasonings, garlic powder, salt and freshly-ground pepper is a healthy and delicious substitute for butter on bread. Try this Olive Oil Bread Dip Recipe. Small substitutions like these can lead to easy and fast meal ideas that contain very little saturated fat.
Healthy, simple meals begin with simple ingredients. One of the biggest mistakes is using high fat and high sodium butter products in our cooking. (If you are a dedicated butter user – try unsalted.) But as an important note . . . olive oil is simply the best oil for cooking (except for baking). In cases where the flavor of olive oil is not acceptable in a recipe, try using only pure seed oils such as sunflower oil rather than more processed varieties.
Find a couple of good cookbooks like my newest cookbook, The Healthy Diet Cookbook, that include recipes for people living with Type II Diabetes or those battling high blood pressure. These types of cookbooks offer recipes that are simple, nutritious, and low in salt, sugar and fats.,
Even for the healthy person without any particular issues, learning to cook with health-based recipes will begin to change your taste in foods; and put you on the path to eating more nutritious meals.
Getting used to foods that do not contain huge amounts of sodium and fat can take time, but using these types of cookbooks will make the changes easier. The “healthy” cookbooks often include excellent dessert ideas and healthy snack options that you may not think of on your own.
Cookbooks take the pressure off when it comes to planning meals and creating good shopping lists (which also helps eliminate impulse buying and waste).
Plan your meals and snacks at least one week in advance. It will be easier to stick to nutritious food options and it will help you avoid unnecessary time crunches that force you to resort to fast foods or frozen dinners. Taking time to create nutritious meal plans allows you to think about the foods you want to serve your family and also enables you to buy ingredients in quantities large enough to cover all meal options.
Meal plans and shopping lists also also make it easier to avoid the aisles in the supermarket where the “bad” foods are located. As I have said many times before – shop the perimeter of the market, skipping the interior aisles entirely. It will not only shorten your shopping time; it will lower your food bill. It also makes weight control and family dietary concerns much less stressful because you will no longer be filling your cart with fattening, less nutritious foods.
Limit your menu to foods that are as close to nature as possible and never more than one or two steps away from natural. This means means avoiding all processed, prepackaged foods completely (includes most frozen dinners and all fast foods); plus eliminate all refined sugar products and white flour products from your diet.
Buy fresh fruits and vegetables or quick-frozen fruits and vegetables with nothing added (one step away from natural). Only use canned vegetables if you have no other option. They are often loaded with sodium and are heavily processed, making them several steps from natural.
Use whole grain cereals, pastas, and breads rather than white flour products. Choose cage-free eggs, grass-fed beef and pastured chickens.
Once you adjust your thinking about food, meal planning, and shopping, it becomes much easier to buy the foods that are good for you and your family. Remember focus on close to nature for the most nutrition. This does not necessarily mean that you must only buy organic foods; but, when available, that should be your first choice – especially for most produce.
Choosing to run a marathon begins with a single step; revamping your diet also begins with the first step. Small changes can have a huge impact on your health and your life.
If starting slowly will work better for you, begin with one change – and add another each week. For example: you could begin by eating a healthier morning snack (leaving behind the doughnuts and sugar-filled coffee or the heavily caffeinated, sugary soda) – or by simply adding vegetables to your dinner plate – or preparing fresh green beans rather than opening a can.
Every step you take toward serving nutrient rich meals is one step closer to a healthier you and a healthier family.