To gain the most health rewards from your diet, prepare the bulk of your foods yourself. By doing your own cooking and putting some thought into a healthy eating plan, you can control what goes into your food and what doesn’t.
Fast-food establishments and even upscale restaurants typically serve up fare that is higher in calories, sodium, and saturated fat. If you want the best nutrition, take a DIY approach. Here’s how.
Meal Planning: Get Organized
Cooking meals can be quicker than calling and picking up a take-out order; all it takes is a little planning. Follow these home-cooking tips to support your healthy eating plan.
- Build a weekly menu. Sit down and write out a healthy meal plan for the week. To expand your menu’s variety, try to include one new recipe a week.
- Write out a healthy shopping list. Make sure you have shelf-stable items on the list each week so you have the basic ingredients you will need on hand. Then, add fresh items to your list, keeping in mind the seasonal availability of produce.
- Keep it simple. Healthy eating doesn’t have to be complicated. It can be as easy as stir-fried vegetables with tofu or shrimp over cooked brown rice, or a burrito filled with black beans, lettuce, tomatoes, and avocado slices.
- Pack your own healthy snacks. Skip vending machines and convenience stores and bring healthy snacks with you when you’re on the go. Stow a bag of dried fruits, nuts, and seeds in your purse, carry cut-up vegetables or fruits and nut butter in a cooler bag, or take along whole-grain pita bread and hummus.
Preserving Nutrients in the Kitchen
Make the most of your wholesome foods by preserving their powerful vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals.
- Fresh is best, frozen is next. Fresh, ripe produce in season-no cooking required-will usually be highest in nutrients. But what about produce in the middle of winter? USDA data indicate that freezing produce immediately after harvesting retains 95 to 100 percent of most vitamins and minerals, with the exception of vitamin C, which diminishes by up to 30 percent in frozen produce.
- Be water-wise. USDA data shows that up to 50 percent of the vitamin C, thiamin, vitamin B6, and folate content in food can be lost to the water it’s cooked in. In order to retain water-soluble nutrients, use cooking methods like steaming or stir-frying that use little or no water.
- Make friends with your microwave. Since it cuts cooking time and water use, the microwave is a nutrient-friendly kitchen appliance. Microwaving preserves higher antioxidant activity in a majority of vegetables than other cooking methods, according to research.
- Preserve the peel. Keeping peels on foods like potatoes, yams, apples, and pears preserves more nutrients, which tend to concentrate just near the surface.
What’s in a Healthy Meal?
Center your healthy eating plans around lean proteins, whole grains, vegetables, fruits, healthy fats, and herbs and spices. In order to meet your complete nutrition needs, use as a resource USDA’s MyPlate, a pictorial guide that shows you the basics of building a healthy meal.
Also, visit choosemyplate.gov to learn about the amounts of foods in each category you need to consume each day to preserve your health.
Keep Your Eyes on Portion Sizes
One of the most important things about a diet plan that is healthy is to pay attention to portion sizes. Most people significantly underestimate how much food they actually consume, and even healthy foods can put your calorie counter on overload if you eat too much.
Be more focused on your food intake by eating meals at a dining table rather than eating while working, watching TV, or surfing the Internet. Dish up foods on salad plates rather than dinner plates, and avoid eating out of large containers, such as jars of nuts or bags of chips.
Originally published 2016, this post is regularly updated.