Sticking to healthy food resolutions can be hard, but there are ways to set yourself up for success. And even if you slip up, it’s okay! Be kind to yourself, and try to do a little better next time. Here are some of the best tips to keep you on track well into the new year—and beyond.
1. Drink More Water
If water were a food, it would be a superfood. It helps digestion, promotes clear skin, acts as an appetite suppressant, and even prevents heart disease, among many other benefits. Some research has also shown that drinking water can speed up metabolism and help you lose weight. Although the whole drink-eight-glasses-a-day advice is now thought to be a myth, it doesn’t hurt, and it’s better than drinking energy drinks, soda, or flavored waters that may contain lots of sweeteners.
Stick to filtered tap, and cut it with naturally sweetened fruit juice if you get bored, or try infusing the water for low-calorie, unsweetened elixirs like this Green Herb Infusion. At work, keep a large pitcher of water at your desk, so you don’t have to keep getting up to refill your glass.
2. Create a Salad Bar in Your Fridge
Buy some foods on a Sunday, then spend a half hour washing, chopping, and storing it in containers in your fridge (Mason jars look cool, but these meal prep containers may be a bit more useful). Make enough salad dressing for the whole week. Then, before work, all you have to do is add greens and assemble for lunch.
It’s OK to dress the salad in the morning if you refrigerate it when you get to work (and if the product is sturdy enough to hold up, of course). Check out these vegetarian blogs to inspire even more veggie-heavy meals for your future rotation.
3. Remember, Color Equals Nutrition
It’s a good rule of thumb that the more colorful the food, the more healthy it is. For instance, squash, carrots, spinach, and kiwi are rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. White and beige foods - like cheese, french fries, white rice, white flour, and white sugar - should be eaten in regulation. Because they’re either high in saturated or trans fats.
Otherwise, they are overly processed and lacking in nutritional value. Similarly, when you eat vegetables, leave the skins on if they’re more colorful than the interior (for example, zucchini and cucumber) because that’s where a lot of the vitamins are.
4. Keep a Food Journal
It is a great reality check for what you’re truly eating, not what you’d like to think you’re eating. In addition to detailing your diet, you can also write down what is going on in your life in case you fall off the healthy wagon. External stresses often cause us to seek comfort in food: “Divorce paperwork filed: Caramel latte and devil’s food cupcake, 4 p.m.”
It’s easier to change behaviors if you first know what causes them—but also recognize that this can be a bad idea for those who struggle with disordered healthy food (if you do, suspect you might, or know someone who does, visit the National Eating Disorders Association for help and information). The goal is not to obsess over every calorie or make yourself feel bad but to see an honest snapshot of what you’re consuming, and that can be helpful for many people.
5. Start Swapping to Healthy Food
Ingredients that are It can be hard to overhaul your healthy food habits all at once, but making many small changes over time is a suitable method for lasting change. Or it can be a thing that’s nice to do once in a while when you feel like something lighter (or better for the planet as well as for yourself). Think to try non-dairy milk instead of the regular stuff, or cutting some carbs with cauliflower rice. Check out our guide to 13 healthy ingredient swaps and substitutions for lots of other good ideas.
6. Ask, “Would I Eat an Apple?”
Sometimes it’s hard to tell when you’ve crossed the line from nourishing yourself to overeating. That’s because it takes up to 15 minutes for your brain to receive signals from your digestive system that you’re full. Eating slow can help (some people recommend using chopsticks for pacing yourself) because that gives your brain time to catch up. Also, if you’re unsure, ask yourself, “Would I eat an apple right now, if I get one?” If the answer is no, you’re eating to eat, not because you’re still hungry. (And occasionally, it might be better to eat an apple instead of some other snack, even if it is plant-based.)
7. When in Doubt, Sauté with Garlic
You always hear about how you’re supposed to eat lots of vegetables, seasonal if possible. But often they lay around in your fridge and cooking goes wrong because you don’t know what to do with them. In a pinch, chop the vegetables up and sauté them with olive oil, garlic, and salt.
This method works for everything from bok choy to kale to Jerusalem artichokes. If it’s something hard, like broccoli stalks or butternut squash, cut the vegetable up small. Get some of the other favorite garlic recipes if you can’t get enough of that flavor.
8. Eat Breakfast - Every Day
Many of us put meals at the bottom of our priority list, leaving us scarfing down a bunch of frozen lasagna while multitasking on the computer or gobbling a granola bar on the morning commute, at best. It’s worth attempting to eat a better breakfast in particular since it’ll get your day started right and set the tone for the next several hours.
Check out our tips on how to eat a healthy breakfast every day—and consider leaning on technology, too. You can use your Crock-Pot to make Slow Cooker Steel-Cut Oatmeal that you start before you go to bed, so you wake up to a hearty, healthy breakfast. Or, if you rise in time, you can try some Instant Pot breakfast recipes on for size.
9. Bag Half to Go
When eating out, bag half your meal to go before you even start. Most restaurant portions are too big, so either ask the server to split your order and put half in a to-go box at the beginning or request a table and do it yourself. Then you won’t be tempted to dig into the second half while it’s sitting in front of you. And you’ll have leftovers for lunch the next day.
10. If It Has a Label, it's no Healthy Food
It’s the easiest way to be sure you’re getting nutritious food, anyway. Spend less time reading the fine print for calories and grams of fat by eating stuff that has no label. Whole fruits, vegetables, and bulk grains don’t have tags. Healthy Food, that isn't chopped up, chemically altered, and screwed around within factories (i.e., processed) has no label. Even that healthy energy bar you’re buying that costs $3 and the name says is made of grains and nuts—how about just buying some grains and nuts and saving yourself $2?