Switching to a healthier diet has all kinds of benefits, with the most significant being the effect it will have on your overall health. You’ll look better, feel better and eating better foods can even improve your mood.
The challenge with eating healthy is finding recipes that still taste good to you and finding the time to prepare them. If you’re used to grabbing unhealthy fast food, cooking your own meals can be a big adjustment.
You don’t need to spend hours every day to stick to your diet, though. With these seven tips, you’ll be able to prepare meals that fit your eating plan.
1. Prep Your Meals in Advance
Meal prep is the key to sticking with a diet. Instead of making your meals one at a time, you make larger portions so that you have enough for the next several days. Just store the food in small plastic containers and you can grab premade meals before you head out to work for the day. You could prepare a week’s worth of food in advance and never need to worry about what you’ll take to work for lunch.
Another advantage with meal prep is portion control. When you make your meals ahead of time, it’s easy to separate them into moderately sized portions to make sure that you aren’t eating too much. When you cook a single meal, you may cook a large portion just because it feels like a waste to spend time cooking a smaller amount of food.
2. Use a Slow Cooker to Reduce Prep Time
Slow cookers are a simple way to get delicious meals without needing to slave over a stove. You can add the ingredients you want plus any seasonings, and then set everything to cook for six hours or more. Since the food cooks slowly, it won’t lose any flavor like it can with other cooking methods.
You can use a slow cooker for all kinds of foods, but they’re especially good at cooking meats and vegetables. After the slow cooker reaches the desired cooking time, it will typically switch to a warming mode where it keeps the food fresh without cooking it any further.
This means you can set up your slow cooker in the morning, leave it alone for the rest of the day and have a fresh meal when you get home. Slow cookers are available in many different sizes, and some will allow you to cook large meals that can last you for days.
3. Add Natural Flavors to Your Foods
Many of the most common seasonings are loaded with sodium. Too much sodium can cause many different physical conditions, but it’s particularly bad for the heart, often leading to high blood pressure and heart disease.
The good news is that they are plenty of flavorings you can use that enhance how your food tastes without adding much, if any, sodium. Look for herbs and spices. Garlic and onion are both versatile seasonings that work with a variety of dishes, and if you want to save time, you can buy both in powder form. Make sure you go with garlic powder over garlic salt, as garlic salt has high sodium content.
Citrus products are great for adding zest to chicken and fish. Lime and lemon juice are two options, and you can purchase each as premade juice or get the fruits themselves and cut them as needed.
4. Go with Leaner Cuts of Meat
Not all meats are created equal, as saturated fat content can vary significantly depending on the cut. If you’re going with beef or pork, the cuts that have the words “round” or “loin” tend to be leaner. When you get ground beef, look for packages that are at least 90-percent lean.
For chicken, there’s a reason skinless chicken breasts are popular among healthy eaters. These are excellent sources of protein with minimal amounts of fat, and if you season them correctly, they still taste great. With other types of chicken, consider taking the skin off since that’s the part with the highest fat and sodium content.
It’s best to keep processed meats to a minimum, because they have higher saturated fat and sodium content. These include sausages, bacon, salami and pastrami.
5. Make Juices and Smoothies with a Personal Blender
Fruits and vegetables are packed with important nutrients, but it can be tricky to eat enough of them every day. You may just not like the taste of certain fruits and vegetables, or perhaps you don’t have time to adequately prepare them.
With juices and smoothies, you can gulp down all those nutrients at once. Load up your ingredients in a blender, mix it, and either drink it on the spot or take it with you.
If you don’t have much time to spare, a personal blender is a convenient option. Instead of making your drink, pouring it into a container and washing out the blender, a personal blender also functions as the drink container.
6. Find the Right Fats
Fat has a bad reputation for decades, leading to all kinds of reduced-fat food options that substituted sugar for fat, which is even worse. Although saturated fats are unhealthy if you consume too many, unsaturated fats don’t have the same issues. Another benefit when you eat foods that have unsaturated fats is that they’re more filling than foods with high carbohydrate content, which means you won’t still be hungry after eating them.
If you typically use an ingredient with high saturated fat in your cooking, look for an alternative with more unsaturated fats. For example, instead of cooking with butter, try using extra virgin olive oil or avocado oil, two options that are high in healthy fats. Now, you still need to make sure that you don’t overdo it and load your food up with calories, but in moderate amounts, these oils are healthy and flavorful.
7. Get a Balanced Mix of Nutrients
Your body needs different nutrients to be at its healthiest, which is one reason why it’s smart to avoid fad diets that recommend consuming a small amount of any one nutrient. For the best results, you should make sure you’re getting a sufficient amount of protein, carbohydrates, fats, fiber and calcium.
Many foods will contain multiple nutrients, and you can also prepare meals that provide a diverse mix of foods to cover all the bases. For example, if you prepare a chicken breast cooked in olive oil with a side of vegetables and a fruit smoothie, you’re getting protein from the chicken, healthy fats from the olive oil, and both carbohydrates and fiber from the vegetables and the smoothie.
If you haven’t done much cooking while on a diet before, it can take some time getting used to it. There’s an adjustment period where you’ll be learning by trial and error. You’ll need to see what works best with your lifestyle and daily routine.
All the above tips are quick, easy ways that you can transition into a healthier eating routine and cook tasty meals in the process. If you give them a try, sticking to your diet will be much more convenient for you.