Note: This article was originally written as part of our 10 Simple Ways to Simplify Your Life email series.
“A man seldom thinks with more earnestness of anything than he does of his dinner.” —Samuel Johnson
Keto. Paleo. Raw vegan. Intermittent fasting. With ever-changing diet fads and “superfoods,” it can be tough to keep straight on what’s best to be putting into our bodies.
Plus, there are countless other questions that might swirl in our mind: What’s affordable? What’s tasty? What’s healthy? What are my values? What are the unique needs of my body? And what impact does what I’m eating have on the world?
There is a special passion reserved for food shared by all people. Our circumstances, preferences, and morals are as vibrant and diverse as we are. As such, there’s no universal approach that works for everybody.
Well, other than… we all know not to eat junk. And yet, how we define what junk is even varies radically from person to person.
Is there a way to approach this entire conversation in simpler terms?
I think so.
A good starting point, I suppose, is to avoid heavily processed foods. Many foods are processed and come in packages, but “processed” generally refers to foods which have been processed with artificial ingredients and chemical preservatives. Processed foods tend to be high in sugar and sodium, both of which can be fine in small quantities, but can lead to a host of problems when eaten excessively.
Moving beyond that starting point, I have found that with just a few tools in our arsenal, we can all be better equipped to make simpler, more nutritious selections at the grocery store.
Here are 7 Steps to Simpler Nutrition:
1. Spend more time shopping in the perimeter of the grocery store. Most of the fresh fruits, vegetables, meats, cheeses, dairy, and seafood are found near the edges of the store, with packaged items tucked into the aisles.
2. Get into the habit of reading ingredients. Generally, the less ingredients a product has, the better. Here are some ingredients to avoid eating often: trans fats, excess added sugar or other sweeteners like corn syrup, artificial dyes, nitrates and nitrites found in preserved meats, artificial sweeteners, and other artificial preservatives.
3. Cut the sugary drinks. Risk of childhood obesity increases 60% with each sugary beverage consumed daily. They are also highly correlated with adult obesity and Type 2 Diabetes. Sugary drinks include sodas, sweetened coffee drinks, and even fruit juice.
4. Balance protein, fat, and carbohydrates. This one means something different to everyone, but bodies rely on the nutrients of all these categories, so it’s important not to eat too much or too little of any of these. Fiber is also essential for good health.
5. Plan occasional treats. Just like cutting back on spending, the surest way to end up hating your food routine is to forgo having any fun. Instead, make treats intentional and special. Instead of having desserts every day, have one once or twice a week. And if you’re celebrating? Live in the moment without guilt.
6. Practice meal planning: Marching to the grocery store with a list in hand and tasty meals in mind will make grocery trips efficient. Making large dishes can cut down on cooking time during the week, conserving energy. Planning meals with similar ingredients will prevent food waste (and extra spending). Avoid shopping when hungry, as you’re much more likely to make unhealthy impulse decisions. Here are some great tips to get started with meal planning.
7. Don’t fear leftovers: Leftovers are great, especially for busy families that don’t have time to cook every weeknight. If you tend to get bored with eating the same thing, try freezing extra portions in individual containers for quick meals in the future. Another tip for quicker cooking is prepping ingredients, like washing and chopping vegetables, when you bring them home from the grocery store.
It’s okay to grab something convenient or enjoy a night out from time to time, but if you find yourself leaning on these on a regular basis, it might be a good time to re-evaluate your food lifestyle.
Preparing and eating food mindfully with your family and friends helps forge deeper social bonds, too, so fire up the stove, break out an interesting recipe, and let the magic happen.
It feels excellent to put together healthy fare that is nourishing, delicious, and homemade.