Eating nutritious food is a pillar of healthy living, yet no matter how clean your diet is, or how many servings of leafy greens you eat a day, there are likely ways you could improve your nutrition habits.
The secret is making healthy eating actually enjoyable so you can stick with it long-term as part of your lifestyle. Registered dietitians help people do this on a daily basis and share some of their biggest takeaways:
ELEVATE VEGGIES BY ROASTING THEM
If vegetables aren’t something you gravitate toward, you might want to experiment with how you cook them. In particular, “roasting vegetables brings out their natural sweetness, caramelizes the vegetables and concentrates their flavors,” says Dr. Dana Ellis Hunnes, MPH, RD, a dietitian at Ronald Reagan-UCLA Medical Center. “It’s a little bit like having sun-dried tomatoes as opposed to fresh ones. You get extra flavor which really makes eating healthy fun.”
Try roasting Brussels sprouts in olive oil with a little salt for a side dish or roasting chickpeas in olive oil with garlic, salt and smoked paprika for a healthy snack, suggests Kristin Kirkpatrick, RD.
ADD, DON’T SUBTRACT
“If your goal is to eat healthier and you have a long list of off-limits foods, you’re doomed to fail,” says Melissa Majumdar, RD, metabolic and bariatric coordinator at Emory University Hospital Midtown. As soon as you decide you “can’t” have a certain food, it’ll likely be all you think about. Instead, “by adding foods that have more health benefits to your day, like fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts and whole grains in addition to more calorie-dense foods you love, eating healthy will be much easier.”
For example, instead of never eating another taco, just think about how you can add some nutritional powerhouses. “Top them with roasted veggies (like cabbage, peppers and onions), fruit salsa, or a side of fruit (mangoes are great for a tropical spin),” suggests Majumdar. You can also “add beans or lentils either as the main protein or to stretch a meat-based protein.”
Another pro tip: Swap the taco shell for a whole wheat tortilla or make taco bowls with leafy greens. “Adding on healthy extras to your favorite foods makes them tasty and nutrient-dense — a win-win,” says Majumdar.
EAT WHAT YOU WANT
While this may sound like a catch, it’s important to allow yourself to truly enjoy and savor your meals. Slowing down and practicing mindful eating can even help you lose weight without giving up your favorite foods. “It works because when we eat what we actually want, we are able to satisfy the craving and less likely to overeat with other foods,” explains Marjorie Nolan Cohn, RDN, a board-certified specialist in sports dietetics.
If you love pasta, don’t give it up. “Be mindful of portion size and add lots of veggies, lean protein such as shrimp or chicken, and toss it with a little garlic and olive oil,” suggests Keri Gans, RD, author of “The Small Change Diet.”
TAKE ADVANTAGE OF SPICES
Doing so brightens the flavor of foods and awakens your taste buds, explains Hunnes. “I love adding ginger but experiment with various spices to find out what you like. They can really make a dish come alive,” she says. Others she suggests leaning into: curry spices, garlic and turmeric, which has been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties.
READ MORE > 10 WAYS TO ADD FLAVOR, NOT CALORIES
GROW YOUR OWN FOOD
“There’s something so satisfying and fun about getting to eat fruits and vegetables you yourself have grown,” says Hunnes. “Knowing you put the effort in makes it less of a chore to eat healthy and more of a reward.” Start small with something like microgreens, which can contain up to five times as many vitamins and phytochemicals as full-grown plants.
SEEK OUT FARMERS MARKETS
“Supporting your local farmers and food producers is a win-win,” says Majumdar. You’ll find fresh and unique or specialty items and create a relationship with the growers. Fresh food from farmers markets is often some of the most nutrient-rich, since it doesn’t have to travel far. Look for new trending ingredients like quark or ground cherries, which can elevate even the simplest meal. “Involve the whole family in your choices and you may even find your pickiest eater is willing to try something new,” says Majumdar.
INVEST IN A NEW COOKING TOOL
Buying a new cooking gadget “can bring some much-needed excitement to your meals,” says Gans. It can also help make healthier homemade versions of your favorite foods. For example, if you’ve been craving fries but would like to avoid extra added fat, try an air fryer, suggests Gans. “You’ll create the perfect, crispy French fry with a lot less fat and calories.”
MAKE MEAL PREP A RITUAL
Making meal prep a part of your week you actually look forward to helps you stick with it long-term. Maybe you put on a good audiobook or podcast while prepping, or get a loved one involved as bonding time. You can also make it social by calling a friend or trying the same recipes together virtually over FaceTime, says Gans. “Together you can compare notes on the recipe — It’s like creating your own virtual supper club.”
TRY NEW RECIPES
If you’re constantly meal prepping and eating the same foods, it can quickly get boring. The answer: new inspiration, says Gans. “Look up a recipe you’ve never tried or follow different nutrition pros on Instagram.” Experiment with various cuisines and styles of cooking (i.e. baked, roasted, grilled), which will keep healthy eating flavorful and fun. Check out healthy riffs on tasty dishes with our ever-growing RD-approved recipes.
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