A healthful diet not only reduces the risk of illnesses such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes, but it also helps boost your energy and overall feelings of well-being. According to Healthy People 2010, an initiative launched by the Department of Health and Human Services, three quarters of Americans do not eat enough fruit, more than half do not eat enough vegetables and 64 percent consume too much saturated fat.
Here’s a look at 10 ways to promote nutritious eating habits at home and in your community:
- Pack healthy snacks. If you’re packing lunches or snacks for yourself or roommates, choose healthful options like carrot sticks and hummus or an apple and almond butter over high fat, high sodium options like chips or cookies. Planning ahead and slicing up fruits and veggies or bringing your own nutritious snacks will reduce the temptation to buy less nutritious items from a vending machine or convenience store.
- Learn about MyPlate. USDA has replaced the food groups and the food pyramid with MyPlate, a graphical illustration of a balanced meal that includes 30 percent grains, 30 percent vegetables, 20 percent fruits and 20 percent protein, with a smaller circle representing dairy. Strive to consume these proportions at each meal and encourage others to do the same.
- Join a CSA. Community-supported agriculture (or CSA) allows consumers to buy local, seasonal food directly from farmers, eliminating the middleman and ensuring access to produce throughout the season. Buying a share of a CSA could help introduce you to fruits and vegetables you’ve never tried and allow you to support local farming.
- Avoid high-calorie drinks. Juices, soda, iced coffee and alcoholic beverages are a major source of hidden sugar and calories. Choose lower-calorie alternatives such as water, tea or seltzer instead, and avoid buying sugary drinks in bulk.
- Use smaller plates. When you’re served a meal on a dinner-sized plate, your brain may subconsciously encourage you to clean your plate, even if you’re already full. Combat this tendency by using smaller salad plates instead of dinner-sized plates, and you’ll feel satisfied with smaller portions.
- Eat mindfully. Instead of zoning out with food in front of the TV, sit down with roommates to enjoy a meal and conversation without distractions. Studies show that food is less satisfying when you’re distracted and that can lead you to overindulge because you aren’t tuned into your body and its cues that you’re feeling full.
- Set down your fork between each bite. If you tend to overeat, try this simple hack to slow down and tune into your appetite: set down your fork between each bite and swallow the previous bite before you start another one. It can take about 20 minutes for your stomach to signal your brain that you’re full, so it’s easy to overindulge if you eat too quickly. This strategy forces you to slow down and eat less while still feeling full.
- Plant a garden. Starting a backyard garden is a great way to ensure access to fresh, pesticide-free produce. If you don’t have outdoor space, consider creating a small garden indoors with tomatoes or herbs instead.
- Volunteer in your community. Get involved with campus or community organizations that support healthful food and lifestyle choices. The mayor of Oklahoma City launched a campaign called “This City is Going on a Diet” in which he challenged residents to lose a total of a million pounds. They did! See if your area has any similar initiatives, or volunteer at a community garden, local farm or other organization.
- Try nutritious recipes. If you and your roommates or friends take turns cooking for each other, you can incorporate more fruits and vegetables (and less saturated fat or sodium) into your diets while saving money over restaurant meals. A shared MyPlate Recipes Pinterest board offers healthy recipe ideas. USDA suggests doubling or tripling recipes and freezing individual portions for later.