Thursday, September 04, 2008

Ten Simple Changes for a More Healthy Diet

Turkey Sandwich with MangoI don’t know about you but I’m not exactly the world’s healthiest cook. I do alright but being firmly of the belief that it’s the calories that make food taste good I’m not at the front of the line when it comes to low-fat dishes.

However, there are quite a few little things you can do to improve your eating habits that take very little effort—some are just a matter of avoiding certain items at the grocery story others are as easy as buying one product over another. Here are my favorite healthy-cooking tricks that have helped us stay on the straight and narrow.

If they're all surprises to you then maybe just take one or two to tackle and ease into things--just a little change here and a little change there and you'll be on your way to healthier eating in no time.

1. Substitute whole wheat pasta for regular pasta. We eat a lot of noodles. A lot. Probably because pasta is my very favorite thing in the world but the regular old egg noodles, besides being a plain and decent carb, just aren’t that great for you. They fill you up but they’re rather empty of the good stuff and simply switching to a whole grain pasta is a great way to put some of the healthy fibers and vitamins back in your meal.

The texture is slightly—very slightly—different but certainly not unpleasant. This last year I switched over and buy only whole wheat pasta now which unfortunately is a little more expensive but as pasta is still an inexpensive dish it’s not bad at all. If more people would switch then there would be more selection which I would greatly appreciate.

You might also consider using vegetable pastas when appropriate such as spinach, carrot or beet varieties. Every little vitamin helps!

2. Switch to cooking with olive oil whenever possible. You don’t have to use it all the time because the burning point of olive oil is low enough to make it an unwise choice occasionally but boy if you can use it in place of vegetable oil why would you ever eat anything else? The flavor is wonderful when used cold and when you cook with it the flavor is so much more subtle that you can be comfortable cooking with the light variety and not have to worry about overpowering your dish with the olive flavor.

3. Stop buying sodas or pop. Instead of the carbonated stuff or even fruit juice drink plain old water when you’re thirsty. It satisfies your thirst better than sodas or juice and is just what your body needs—the same can’t be said for the bubbly stuff. I’m not the kind of person that says never drink pop again because I kind of like it myself but instead of drinking it as your beverage of choice switch to water and use pop as a treat, a dessert if you will, rather than the liquid to wash down your meal. And if you have kids the switch is even more important for growing bones and teeth. Milk and water, that’s all they need.

4. Substitute toasted wheat germ or oatmeal for breadcrumbs. Whenever you have a recipe that calls for bread crumbs use oatmeal or wheat germ and suddenly you’ve given yourself a boost of vitamins and fiber that white bread can’t offer. Throw a handful in your meatloaf or on your cereal, use it in cookies and crumb toppings and you’ll be that much closer to healthy eating. I quite like the nuttiness that the toasted wheat germ lends to a dish.

5. Dish your plates away from the table and leave the extras in the kitchen. For me one of the biggest problems of healthy eating is eating too much. I love to eat, love the taste of food and if I’ve finished everything on my plate only to sit there staring at more of the tasty treats leftover then I’m 95% more likely to take seconds. Serving up the plates in the kitchen then eating in the dining room away from the extras somehow helps me to remember that I really am full and that a second helping of pasta isn’t a good idea.

6. Keep dried fruit on hand. Dried fruit is packed full of fiber and vitamins and keeping bags of it around makes it easy to boost the health of a meal with a mere handful of raisins, apricots, cranberries or blueberries. Throw them into cookies or breads, on your cereal or in a sauce for your meat and it gives you a little something more than you wouldn’t have had otherwise.

7. Eat one less meal out per week. I don’t know how many times you eat out each week but they say that for the average American it's about six meals a week. I’m afraid healthy eating and restaurants just don’t go together what with the enormous proportions and heavy fats used in preparation. Even the salads aren’t what you’d expect when you look at the calories and fat content. It’s so difficult to combat the portion sizes and fat (especially when they taste oh so good) that it’s better to just avoid the temptation all together by eating out less frequently. Try cutting out just one meal a week if you can—if you eat lunch out during the work day try bringing a sack lunch once a week to start and see if you can’t cut out at least one meal’s worth of extra calories and fat. One meal times 52 is a lot of calories . . . and a lot of money.

Fresh Tomato Soup with Gouda8. Keep chopped fruit and vegetables on hand. This takes a little time but I’ve noticed that if I keep a container of sliced carrots, peppers and cucumbers in the fridge along with a steady supply of ranch dressing (they’re not completely healthy you know) then people will use them to snack on so much more frequently. Banana chips, apple slices, Clementine oranges and little cans of mandarin oranges are popular too and if I keep them on hand and suggest them to the kids it’s funny how often they’ll opt for a healthier snack. Especially if I tell them that’s all they’re going to get, right?

9. Eat a salad as a first course. I’ve found that if I start my meal with a small salad and a glass of water it does wonders to calm my appetite enough that I don’t overindulge on the main course. I keep a container of mixed greens from Costco on hand, throw some sliced cucumbers and tomatoes and olives in there with some crumbled feta and I’m instantly more satisfied. A small cup of meatless soup would also be a good way to keep from tackling a meal from the Starvation Zone.

10. Plan one more meatless meal each week. I’m not suggesting everyone turn vegan, it’s not my thing, but less meat is usually better. Not only is meat expensive but it’s fatty and heavy—particularly red meat. Try things like soups, sandwiches, salads and pastas where meat isn’t the star of the show. If you must have some protein (and we all do need it in one form or another) try throwing in some shrimp or scallops to keep things lighter. Substituting chicken and fish for beef and lamb can make a big difference to your waistline and your cholesterol.

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Robin said...

(not 13 things?)

I only wish my kids would eat whole wheat pasta, but with Maya's food issues it's a non-starter for now.

The bread crumb substitution and dishing in the kitchen are very good ideas though.

Mina Jade said...

Nice tips!
Some others:
start your meals not only with salads but with fruit or vegetable.
Eat cheese only when you finished eating (cheese contains much fat).

As for meat, choose chicken or fish instead of brown meat.

Rice is healthy and contains protein.

Don't drink cola or tea. Green tea and mineral water (tap water) is better.
Use as little salt as you can.

Edi said...

We have been doing some of the same stuff you mentioned. I've heard people talk about disliking whole-wheat pasta - but we really like it (well I know I do).

We do do fast food about 1x a week but we generally try to order a kids' meal, thereby reducing the calories, fat, and other miscellaneous unhealthy stuff hidden inside.

Breakfast cereal has been a more recent change in our house - got rid of all the high sugar was hard (and still is) for the kids to give up their favorite sugar cereal (we did compromise and said they could use their own $ to buy it and eat some as a snack - but not for far they have done that once or twice).

P.S. - I loved Sarah's speech last night!

Gray Matters said...

Great tips! I have tried most of them but not on a consistent basis. I need to make more of an effort - and I love the bread crumb substitute idea!

Jennifer said...

I buy the veggie pasta for my 1 year old daughter. She loves mac and cheese and this is a way I can make it healthier for her.

We also recently went meatless for 1 or more nights a week. It is amazing how far 2 dry cups of black beans will go! Let's just say I need to find another meat alternative for the next few weeks. :)

Deniz said...


Great to hear someone else thinking healthily!

One or two more tips...

Home-made soups are delicious, nutritious and fantastic for using up those odd bits 'n bobs in the fridge. The kids'll love 'inventing' new combinations!

Served with a hunk of granary or wholemeal bread (you don't need spread or butter), they make a good, tasty, filling meal.

And the second, you can cut down on the salt and fats that give a lot of flavour to some foods by going for a low salt/leaner alternative then spicing it up (spices, chillies, herbs or whatever).

Bon apetit.

Maddy said...

It's curious really.

When we first arrived in the States [and ate out] I was surprised that just about every main meal [entre] came with the option of soup or a salad or both!

I could never understand how people could drink a vat of soup and chomp their way through a field of salad and then eat their entre the size of a family pizza?

I think that's why 'take home' boxes were invented, so foreigners could take their entre home for the next day.


Flea said...

I already do 2, 3 and 5, but I really like 4. Tried the whole wheat pasta a time or two and haven't yet acquired a taste for it. But I'll try it again for you. :)

Making chili today. Very low fat. Heh. Especially with a big handful of Fritos in the bottom of the bowl, and a dollop of sour cream. Mmmmm!

Jen said...

Great post. Number 10 though, Shrimp or scallops won't necessarily lighten things up, as shrimp is really, really fat. Delicious, but fatty. I'm not sure about the fat content of scallops.
Taking out the red meat and switching to white might help your waistline, but it won't help your cholesterol.
For a suggestion as an alternative to pop, recently I bought some Crystal Light on the go bags. I added that to some water and splash a bit of Club Soda in there to make it fizzy. Great, tasty alternative to soda. Or you could make a big batch of CL in a pitcher and splash some in there when you serve it. I only buy CL when its on sale BOGO at my grocery store, too.

Anonymous said...


Lot's of great ideas! Thank you. I love the top photo of the sandwich with sprouts. It looks so yummy!

Maddy-- it is so true,we eat so much in the country. And, if for some strange reason that dinner meal doesn't come with a salad or soup -- watch out! People will talk about being cheated out of part of their meal at that particular resturant for weeks.

Or, maybe, it's just that way here in the Midwest...

Take Care,


Scribbit said...

Jen--actually shrimp really are low fat and low-calorie as are scallops and most shellfish.

Maybe you're thinking of salmon? It's full of omega 3 oils but not the same as transfats or other bad stuff.

3.5 ounces of cooked shrimp has a little over a gram of fat, one cup is about 60 calories.

SarahHub said...

I've been trying to make one meatless meal a week. (Key word - trying.) It's much healthier, and you wouldn't believe the impact it has on the environment!

Doll Clothes Gal said...

Love this post. The only one I would take issue with is the first one - pasta. Whole grain pasta doesn't do it for me I'm afraid.

One Mom said...

Great ideas and I agree that taking little steps is the way to go - big changes are often met with more resistance and can be harder to maintain.

One thing my mother did and I do also is to keep the sugar bowl empty (the sugar substitutes aren't good for your either!) and limit the sweets and candy. I believe it's the reason I don't have a sweet tooth and neither do my kids. And a sweet tooth can really pack on the lbs not to mention the dental bills!

Kelly King Anderson said...

Awesome list love #6 also, fill up a gallon jug of water at the start of the day and have it empty by bedtime! You'll feel great

feefifoto said...

We drink a lot of Mendota sparkling water. Yes, it costs more than drinking free water, but if you add a bit of orange juice or lemonade it tastes as good as soda and makes a great alternative.

Munchkins and Music said...

I'll have to try out the one less meal a week. Haven't heard that one yet!

Ashley Paul said...

These are all great tips -- and really easy, too! Finding simple ways to eat healthful meals is so important since everyday life is so busy.

I especially like the idea of only serving one portion and leaving the rest for leftovers, I'm notorious for going back for second-helpings!

Heather said...

We only eat out about once a month...and I'm still fat. I need to tell that lady who keeps buying me cookies to stop it.

Oh wait, that' me.

MommyK said...

One thing I did was the take what I thought I wanted at dinner time, then immediately put one third back. So if I took a cup of potatoes I would put 1/3 cup back in the pot. I found I rarely went back for seconds, but I could if I was still hungry.

Also, I wrote about an easy way to take a look at how you are eating using your grocery receipt and 3 highlighters here.

Mina Jade said...

To eat healthy, eat potato, rice, fruit, raw vegetables, white meat.

Drink at least 2 l water a day.

Eat frequently, at the same time every day, and 5 times a day, not too much food for one meal.

Eat little bread, pasta, sweets, cakes, chocolate :-(

That is all for now, however, I try to remember some other tips.

Janet said...

Since hubby is a vegetarian, we rarely have meat for dinner unless people come over.
Back when I was working in an office for money (as opposed to the work I do now), a coworker and I ate out for lunch every day (Burger King and Sonic mostly). For one month I drank water instead of Coke for lunch. That was the ONLY lifestyle change I made. I lost 5 pounds.

tjhirst said...

I've been considering making the switch on pasta without telling my family. Maybe its the right time.

Anonymous said...

We switched to whole wheat pasta the same way as lowfat milk. Start with 1/4 or 1/5th of the healthier
food or drink in with the regular. As time goes by, you can increase the % of healthier type
Also, another tip- limit or eliminate the processed cheese
singles. The cheese strings or sticks are much healthier.

Suze-BS/MS health & fitness

Anonymous said...

p.s. Learn to bake, broil or grill
instead of frying.


MileHighMommy said...

These are great tips! I'm actually going to print these out and post them in my kitchen for a constant reminder! My biggest foe is the soda pop - even diet isn't very healthy!

angie said...

Great tips. I've found that dishing up in the kitchen is great way to monitor consumption too.

Daiquiri said...

Hi Michelle- I haven't been to see you in a long time...don't know why, I always love visiting you :)

Those are some great tips. I'm a firm believer in the no meat thing too. We eat lots of meat around here, but I'm finding good substitutions more and more often. And the idea to use wheat germ or oatmeal instead of bread crumbs...brilliant!

Hey, I have a question for you. I saw that you're in the blogflux (blog top sites)directory. I noticed that they have a "total out" you know what that is?

I see you have a cookbook for sale - gonna go check that out :)


Amanda @ said...

Great points, Michelle. I especially agree about dropping soda. I've been amazed at how quickly I can lose weight if I just cut out the <1 soda per day I get into the habit of. Instead we keep a pitcher of water with cut up fruit (strawberries, limes, oranges are especially good, but mangos, apples, mint are also great) and about 1T sugar/2 quarts. It's so delicious, it really cuts my soda craving. Now if I could find a way out of my chocolate craving....

Oh, and the "Ronzoni Smart Taste" pasta is the best semi-whole-grain pasta I've found. Whole wheat bread = yummy; ww pasta = not so much.

Heffalump said...

Wow...We eat out about once a month usually, unless we are visiting family for a weekend, then it might be twice.
I substituted whole wheat Spaghetti for the regular recently and just didn't say anything to anyone about it. No one noticed the difference. If I had said something I am sure they would have complained or said they didn't like the meal.

I have a friend who is working on his PhD in exercise physiology and he said after eating a reasonable first helping of food, wait 20 minutes before you decide if you need seconds. It takes that long for your body to really catch up to the amount of food you ate. If you are still hungry, then you can eat more. But he also said there is a difference between being HUNGRY and just not full. We don't have to eat until we are full, just until we are no longer hungry.

GrumpyAngel said...

All great ideas! I can see already which ones my family might really struggle with: #3 and #7. maybe I should tackle thsoe first. Thanks for these really helpful tips.

Michelle said...

I know that I need to follow these healthy tips ,I'd love to lose my baby weight..I could easily eat meatless once a week or twice eating fish is not a problem either.We should try to cut out pop but sometimes it's what I /We want to drink. I'm putting dd in a class once a week and am working out.We'll see how that goes..Have a good day.

Gabrielle said...

Great post Michelle! I substitute flour bread with Ezekiel bread which is made of sprouted grain as opposed to flour, it is wonderful when toasted and extremely healthy! You can find it in the freezer section of your health food store or grocer. I also love the whole wheat pastas, I am a carnivore and a carbivore :-)

Anonymous said...

Try Barilla Plus Pasta! IT has FIBER and PROTEIN and OMEGA-3 and it tastes great! The texture is much easier to take than just plain Whole Wheat Pasta, more like regular pasta. And they have it on sale often at WalMart.

Damselfly said...

Can I substitute oatmeal for breadcrumbs if I have to bread and fry chicken?


We eat more meatless meals now for sure.

Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) said...

Great suggestions, even for those of us without kids at home (but with grandkids who come to visit!).

Tiaras & Tantrums said...

love these - now if we can just get whole wheat pasta to TASTE better! My kids hate it!!

I think we have been on this path for a long time!!

Mandy said...

I really need to work on doing number 8. It sure would make my life a little easier, not to mention healthier!

MommyTime said...

These are great tips. We do some of these but could afford to do more. One nice drink to try, if you're weaning kids off soda and juice, is flavored seltzer water (or club soda, or fizzy water, or whatever it's called in one's neck of the woods). The kind without ANY sweeteners of any kind. It comes in raspberry, lime, grapefruit, and many other flavors, has no sugar or additives. It's just flavored water, but it does help satisfy that craving for flavor that many kids have if they're used to juices or sodas. Now, off to try to convince the family to go vegetarian one dinner per week.

Ivory Soap said...

I love number 4! I just made salmon cakes last week and everything in it was SO HEALTHY except the breadcrumbs.

Thank you!

Amy Mossoff said...

I love these tips. These are things that I can incorporate easily into my shopping and cooking.

Mike said...

great post. keep up the good work

George Murphy said...

Great post. I've been eating more and more granola bars with flax in between meals. High in omega-3 and I've also notied higher energy levels. Thanks for the post!

medical information websites said...

Nice post... :) very helpful, especially to people who didn't realize that they don't eat healthy foods.. they should really read this post to have a healthy life...

Aeireck said...

I greatly appreciated your great tips. I'm trying to be a vegetarian before because of lack of recipes. But I really love veges. I like the one you stated,salad as the first course. Do you have more recipes on salads? I just got only three recipes on my list.