Healthy eating doesn’t have to be a complex subject and you don’t need a degree in nutrition to figure it out.
We could talk a lot about different healthy formulas and combinations of food - but let’s GET REAL. Who has time for that? You want to feel good and take care of your family. Let’s keep it simple.
I am a mother of 7 kids, 4 boys and 3 girls and a very hungry husband. Early on, money was tight so I had to find creative ways to feed our family on a budget. Now money is tight for the food budget as food costs have risen so high. I have found healthy, simple ways to feed my family on a budget and they are not starving.
There is a lot of disagreement with the government, nutritionists, and other health experts on what healthy food is, the ratio of certain foods, and when and what to get. Remember when eggs were bad for you? Now they are good for you? Are carbs a good thing or a bad thing? Do a little search and you will find tons of books, articles, studies, blogs and more from people telling you when and how to eat. That is fine and good but it can be overwhelming.
I'm not going to go into a discussion on that. I think it is important to get food as close as it was found in nature. That means whole food and not preserved. If I can't pronounce it on a label, I don't want it. Athletes need more carbs - but carbs can be found in fruits and veggies and whole grains. Some people have bodies that need more protein than others. Some cannot tolerate milk or wheat. We are all different and if you listen to your body, you'll know what works for you. If you feel sluggish, tired and are gaining weight or can't lose the weight; you are not eating the right foods for your body.
The government now promotes My Plate. This is my opinion of healthy options in each food group using the My Plate format.
Fruits: any fresh or frozen fruit. Avoid as much as possible canned fruit or juices, they have very little nutrition left after processing and juice is missing the fiber. Fresh juices that you juice yourself are excellent. Fruit digests pretty quickly so it is great to eat by itself. Fruits are full of nutrition. Eaten whole, you should not have to worry about the sugar content of fruit. Fruits combine nicely with leafy greens.
Vegetables: this is a category that really needs to be divided up. You want to aim for more servings of vegetables than any other food group. Fresh or frozen is best.
- Greens, any leafy green: any lettuce variety, spinach, carrot tops, beet tops, kale, collards, cabbage, chard, and broccoli. Many say that greens are the #1 thing you can eat to improve your health. They are excellent as salads, green smoothies, steamed, or as a soup. Greens are full of nutrition and a staple in many diets. They are full of fiber, vitamins and minerals and low on carbs. You should get a variety, rotate regularly to get the full benefits.
- Starchy Vegetables are high in carbs so they are great fuel providers for labor-intensive needs. They are higher in calories and may not be suitable for everyone. These should be consumed in moderation. Starchy vegetables include: potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn, beans, peas, beets, carrots, parsnips, plantains, and winter squash.
- Vegetables, the rest of them like: sprouts, artichokes, asparagus, avocado, cucumber, eggplant, herbs, mushrooms, onions, okra, peppers, tomatoes, and summer squash just to list a few.
Grains: Most of the grain products you can purchase, I don’t consider healthy. Even if it says it is made with whole grains, it often is not. I like bread that has the same ingredients I would use to bake homemade bread. Keep processed grains to a minimum. Be aware that many people are sensitive to wheat and it can be the cause of many disorders including acne. When you can, choose whole grains like whole wheat, oats, brown rice, wild rice, quinoa (which is really a seed but super high in protein), or barley. There are many more. Ideas for eating them: side of rice, mixed rice (with wild rice), quinoa (can be treated like a rice), add wheat, barley or other grains to soups, sprout those grains for 18 hours and add to salads, or eat them for breakfast. I have often added soaked wheat to hamburger recipes to ‘stretch’ my food budget. I found my boys didn’t mind at all, and they ate less because they were full. I saved money by feeding them healthy. Make dessert and breakfast parfaits with plain yogurt, soaked grains or cooked quinoa, and fruit.
Proteins: Meat, poultry, eggs, legumes, nuts and seeds, seafood, grains, and leafy greens (great article on protein in leafy greens). Protein contains amino acids which are the building blocks for everything. Protein is essential. You should not get all your protein from animal sources. Try to get a variety.
Dairy: You don’t get very much calcium from dairy once it has been processed. Many people have allergies and sensitivities. It is not healthy to drink several glasses per day. If you do consume, keep it on the low side and use 2% or whole milk. I don’t think soy is a good substitute. Nut milks and coconut milk are great substitutes, look for them without added sugar. Cheese should be as natural as possible. Do not opt for low-fat cream cheese, sour cream, yogurts, etc. Read labels.
Fats: We do need a little healthy fat in our diet. Fat feeds our brain and is one of the 3 essential macronutrients. Avoid hydrogenated, partially hydrogenated fats and margarine at all costs. Good choices of oil: olive, coconut, sesame, sunflower, flax, palm and grape seed. There are healthy fats in avocados, nuts and seeds. Contrary to popular belief, a little healthy fat doesn’t make you fat. There is a ton of evidence that eating a low fat diet will. Fat is satisfying. You don’t need a lot. Choose healthy fats and avoid unhealthy fats.
Sugar: Not on the My Plate graphic, but without a little sugar, life would be bland. The average middle school student is consuming 5 pounds of sugar per week which is killer high. So much sugar is found in sodas and processed foods. Simply switching to whole foods will cut back dramatically on this number. Avoid fake sugars like: aspartame, Splenda, sucralose, Neotame, and Saccharin. Avoid high fructose corn syrup and white processed sugar. Choose raw sugar, if possible. Other options that may even be better are: agave (still some debate as to processing, choose raw organic), raw honey, real maple syrup, coconut sugar, xylitol, and stevia.
This is just a general overview. Each person has unique needs. On my list you will not find fast food or prepackaged food. We used to eat very poorly and when we switched to healthier options, it wasn’t always easy. I always asked my kids to try everything. If they didn’t like it, they could have salad or fruit. I never made separate meals for picky eaters. Over time, they do come around. Don’t make them eat stuff they hate, unless that is everything. I don’t like beets, I will eat them occasionally but I hated to be forced to eat them. I did eat all my other vegetables. You have to set a good example for your children and make it fun. I have had people tell me they hate vegetables, and then they eat them with me and find they are very good. What is the difference? Preparation, quality, and freshness.
We switched to a healthy eating plan and our health improved. Our energy level went up. We were not sick as often as our immune systems improved. It was easier to focus and think. My kids slept better and were not has hyperactive. I have worked with many families that deal with ADHD, autism, acne and other complaints. Healthy eating improved those symptoms. Eating balanced healthy foods doesn’t have to be boring or an uphill battle. Stay tuned for ideas on getting your family to healthier options and meal ideas.