First thing's first—before we go any further, let's talk about what it means to eat healthy. There's this notion that the foods we eat can be divided into two categories: "good" foods and "bad" foods. In the "good" camp, there are things like fruits, vegetables, and maybe fish or chicken. The "bad" camp is full of basically everything from fats to sugars to carbs.
The truth? Many of the foods that find themselves on the "bad" list are actually really important for our bodies (like fat, which has a number of benefits that include helping our bodies grow cells, giving us energy and protecting our organs). Assigning moral values to foods in this way can also be super harmful, as it perpetuates the idea that we should feel guilty about eating certain foods, which can lead to disordered eating.
The thing we all need to remember most of all is that "healthy" looks and feels different to everyone. Our bodies are all different, and we all have different needs as a result. So, objectively, yes, foods like fruits and vegetables have numerous health benefits, but at the same time, if you also want to eat pizza or cake, denying yourself foods you love just because society tells you they're "bad" isn't going to do you any good. It should be about balance, not restrictions.
So here's the deal: If your current routine is working for you, stick with it! If you have concerns about your health or whether or not you're getting the right nutrition for you, talk to your doctor. But if you're looking for some easy ways to sneak a little more balance into your existing diet without changing things up too much—like getting some extra servings of fruits and vegetables or other nutrients—these tips can help:
If you're making a smoothie: Try adding in spinach or kale. A little bit goes a long way, and even if your smoothie suddenly looks green, you won't really taste it.
If you're eating yogurt: Swap out yogurt that already has fruit on the bottom for plain or vanilla yogurt, and toss in berries yourself—by adding the fruit yourself you'll get more of it, since there isn't that much in a typical yogurt cup.
If you usually eat cereal: Switch to oatmeal. It's got more nutrients, important minerals and fiber than most cereals. If you just can't make the switch (let's face it, oatmeal doesn't always have the best texture) try looking for a cereal with comparable health benefits that's more up your alley.
If you're having a bagel: Spread on some peanut butter (or your preferred nut butter)—it's full of the kinds of fats your body needs, and it comes with protein, too. If you're a die-hard cream cheese fan, try adding some vegetables to the mix.
Lunch & Dinner
If you're adding sauce or salad dressing: Sneak in some veggies—it's super easy to add greens like kale to sauces and spreads like pesto, and you can puree and blend fruits and vegetables like avocados (which also adds important fats and an extra-creamy texture) into salad dressings.
If you're making soup: Add pureed vegetables. They'll thicken your soup and make it even creamier and more filling, and depending on which vegetables you choose, they can really add to and enhance the flavor.
If you're making a sandwich: When you can, and when it doesn't disrupt your eating habits (sometimes the texture is just different, and you won't eat it if you don't like it), swap your white bread for whole wheat which studies show is linked to better health.
If you're craving a salty snack: Add a little dimension. If you want chips, eat chips—but also give yourself options, too. For example, adding vegetables to a dip is one way to get yourself to eat more nutrients with your chips, or you could make yourself a plate of snacks that includes cheeses, fruits, nuts or veggies along with the chips you're craving. Another alternative? Make some swaps—like these buffalo cauliflower wings, which you could have on their own or with regular wings, too.
When you're baking: Make the occasional ingredient swap. Applesauce and bananas are a common replacement ingredient for eggs for people who are either vegan or allergic, and it works really well in baked goods. You can also use avocado and pureed fruits and vegetables in batters and doughs (like this recipe for spinach brownies).
Other helpful hints:
- Stock up on frozen produce—fresh fruits and vegetables can sometimes go bad before you're ready to eat or cook with them, but their frozen alternative will always be there when you need them.
- Hard boil a bunch of eggs in advance, for convenience. They can last for up to a week as long as you refrigerate them, and they're easy to grab for an on-the-go breakfast or snack.
- Keep instant oatmeal in your desk at work, for those times when you forget to or don't have time to make breakfast and need something to fill you up.
- Keep foods you're trying to incorporate more front-and-center in your fridge and pantry (otherwise, they'll all be out of sight, out of mind).
Again, don't forget to treat yourself— seriously. If you want to snack on leftover candy or eat an order of french fries, go for it. No one else can or should make that decision for you, and there's absolutely no reason to feel guilty about it. Eating healthier is about making smart changes to your daily routine, but it's also just as much (if not more than, to be honest, because it's so important) about helping your attitude towards food and your relationship with it.