We're all busy, so simple ways to improve our diets are in high demand. No matter how good our intentions, most of us won't stick with anything that takes too much time or is burdensome, like rigidly tracking calories, grams and servings. Even health experts don't follow such regimens perfectly, never mind for a lifetime.
So the key to making lasting, healthy change is to keep it simple and enjoyable. Here are few tips to get more nutrition in your life:
SHOPPING: Good eating starts with what you buy. Think of your grocery cart as the foundation of an artwork or a garden project. So naturally you'll want to start with the most colorful foods.
These will be in the produce section. Have fun with choosing as many colors of fruits and vegetables as you can to make a beautiful arrangement. Your cart will be filled with high-fiber, low-fat foods packed with nutrition.
Bonus: You won't have much room for those packaged, low-nutrient, colorless foods from the center aisles of the store.
It's a good idea also to follow a list and to shop after a meal so you won't get distracted by hunger. Stuck waiting at the checkout? Compare the contents of your cart with others. If yours is the most colorful, you're on the right track.
FOOD GROUPS: In addition to those colorful fruits and vegetables, you'll also need grains, proteins, dairy and healthy fats. An easy way to improve the quality of your diet is to think about your meals, and whether they include items from each of the food groups. It's true that there are certain numbers of servings recommended for each food group. But don't get too wrapped up in counting and measuring if that will only stress you out.
As long as you make fruits and vegetables the stars of your plate, and use whole grains, lean proteins and no- or low-fat dairy as side dishes, you'll be well on your way to better nutrition.
cOUNT THE COLORS: If you're going to count anything, let it be the natural colors of fresh foods — greens, oranges, yellows, purples and reds. Colorful foods are not only nutritious but they satisfy the mind, too. Make a game out of seeing how many colors you've eaten each day.
EXPERIMENT: Even if you think you don't like red cabbage, orange peppers or purple eggplant, experiment with them. Maybe it's been years since you've tried them, or maybe they weren't well-prepared. Try a new recipe (many grocery produce aisles feature suggestions on preparing exotic fruits and veggies). Or try tricks that are often prescribed for finicky kids, such as cutting new-to-you food items in small pieces and mixing them with more familiar foods. If in the end you still don't like it, that's fine. But you might surprise yourself.
EAT IN: When you dine out you have much less control over what you eat than when you prepare meals at home. Restaurants are more concerned with what most people think tastes good, and these days, that often means a lot of added salt, sugar and fat. Spend the time (and money) you would have spent going out shopping for and making delicious food at home. Make eating out an occasional activity rather than a lifestyle.
Eating nutritiously is a gradual, personal growth process. Remember that nobody's perfect, not even the experts. Be colorful, have fun, look for good-tasting foods that are also good for you, and be aware of what you're eating. With time, while you're having fun with color, you'll sense your body avoiding foods that hamper your health and being drawn toward those that make it sing.
Dr. Lavinia Rodriguez is a Tampa clinical psychologist who specializes in weight management. Reach her at (813) 240-9557 or firstname.lastname@example.org.