Sticking to healthy eating resolutions can be hard, but there are ways to set yourself up for success. And even if you slip up, it’s OK! Be kind to yourself, and just try to do a little better next time. Here are some of the best healthy eating tips to keep you on track well into the new year—and beyond.
These aren’t tied to any specific diet (whether Whole30, keto, paleo, or other), but are intended to help anyone make healthier choices on a daily basis. If you want to make any major changes, it’s always a great idea to consult your doctor first, or even look for a nutritionist or dietician to guide you.
For small tweaks you might find helpful, just keep reading.
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 even 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 water for low-calorie, unsweetened elixirs like this Green Herb Infusion. At work, keep a large pitcher of water at your desk (or at least a super-sized water bottle), so you don’t have to keep getting up to refill your glass. Also, don’t forget to clean it regularly.
Hiware 64-Ounce Glass Pitcher with Stainless Steel Lid, $19.99 on Amazon
Make big batches of infused water to keep you hydrated all day long.
2. Create a Salad Bar in Your Fridge
Buy some produce 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 produce is sturdy enough to hold up, of course; kale and other winter greens are great).
Prep veggies for roasting at dinner time too, and check out these vegetarian blogs to inspire even more veggie-heavy meals for your future rotation. Equally important is keeping your fridge organized so you can actually find all your healthy ingredients in there.
And organizing your whole kitchen for healthy eating is the next logical step, but one thing at a time.
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 packed with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. White and beige foods like cheese, french fries, white rice, white flour, and white sugar should be eaten in moderation, because they’re either high in saturated or trans fats, or overly processed and lacking in nutritional value. (White cauliflower is a notable exception!)
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. Just be sure to scrub them well, and buy organic whenever possible.
4. Keep a Food Journal
This serves as a powerful 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 eating (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. You may also want to look into intuitive eating (or mindful eating). If you want to try recording your data, see tips for keeping a food journal.
5. Start Swapping
Ingredients, that is. It can be hard to overhaul your eating habits all at once, but making many small changes over time is a good method to 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 trying non-dairy milk instead of the regular stuff, or cutting some carbs with cauliflower rice. Try eating less meat and incorporating more plant-based meals.
Check out our guide to 13 healthy ingredient swaps and substitutions for lots of other good ideas.
Related Reading: 5 Healthy Foods That Aren’t Actually Good for You
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 slowly can help (some people recommend using chopsticks to pace yourself), because that gives your brain time to catch up.
If you’re unsure, try asking yourself, “Would I eat an apple right now if one was offered to me?” If the answer is no, you’re eating just 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 (and how food waste is a huge problem). But often those veggies bought with the best intentions sit around in your fridge and go bad because you don’t know what to do with them.
Keeping some vegetarian cookbooks—and/or vegan cookbooks—on hand can help, but in a pinch, just chop that produce up and sauté it with olive oil, garlic, and salt. This works for everything from bok choy to kale to Jerusalem artichokes. If it’s something hard, like broccoli stalks or butternut squash, simply cut the vegetables up really small (and maybe roast them).
8. Eat Breakfast Every Day
Many of us put meals at the bottom of our priority list, leaving us scarfing down a lunch 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 off 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 take the opposite tack and meal prep oatmeal in the Instant Pot to last the whole week. (If you rise in time, you can try some other 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 box 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.
Related Reading: How to Eat a More Sustainable Diet
10. If It Has a Label, Don’t Eat It
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 labels. Foods that haven’t been chopped up, chemically altered, and screwed around with in factories (i.e., processed) have no labels. Even that healthy energy bar you’re buying that costs $3 and the label says is made of dates and nuts—how about just buying some dates and nuts and saving yourself a couple bucks?
11. Outsource It
If you know the only way you’ll stick to your plan is to rely on outside help, leverage whatever resources you can. For instance, there are several healthy meal kit and food delivery services that can make it much easier to eat healthier, whatever that means to you: keto, vegan, plant-based, low-calorie, etc.
Some (like Sakara) will send you full meals plus snacks and supplements, while other services are more geared towards making home-cooked healthy dinners achievable, even on those busy days. Or maybe you just need some healthy cookbooks on your shelves to turn to for inspiration. It’s all about finding what works for you.
For more tips, tricks, and healthy recipes, check out our healthy living page.
Header image courtesy of Shutterstock.