As children, teens, and young adults across the country head back to school in the coming weeks, they’ll begin a new year of setting goals, learning lessons, carrying on traditions, and establishing new study habits. For adults, the start of this new season can be much like the start of a new calendar year: a time to re-evaluate your lifestyle and set new goals (or recommit to goals you set back in January).
One of my favorite back-to-school goals is to switch up my eating habits and make a plan to eat more nutritiously in the coming months. Rather than following a strict, pre-set plan, I like to incorporate a handful of different good habits that contribute to better nutrition. Here are 8 of my favorite things to do when I want to kick up my nutrition game a notch.
1. Prep veggies for the whole week.
The easiest way to eat better is to have quick access to foods that are better for you. This takes some preparation at the beginning of the week but can make a huge difference when you find yourself needing a snack during the week. I usually cut up celery, carrots, broccoli, and other favorite veggies and store them in containers in the fridge so I can pull them out whenever I need to.
2. Stock your freezer.
If you find that you’re tired of the typical snacks you usually have on hand, try turning to the freezer aisle for some healthy options you may not have thought about before. Edamame is a great treat, straight from the bag! A little more than a cup (1 1/8 cups) of these boiled, green soybeans has only 120 calories, 11 grams of protein, 9 grams fiber, 10 percent of the daily value for both vitamin C and iron, 8 percent of the daily value for vitamin A, and 4 percent of the daily value for calcium. They are so good that you may become addicted to them!
Another fun frozen snack is a bowl of frozen mango chunks. It may sound strange, but you’d be surprised at how sweet, satisfying, and flavorful this fruit can be when frozen. You can buy a bag of frozen mangos for around $2 at most grocery stores, so the cost is also fairly low. Mangos don’t tend to freeze as hard as some fruits, like strawberries, so they are relatively easy to eat when frozen. You can also try frozen pineapple chunks or frozen mixed berries. If you have time on your hands one weekend, cut up a few bananas in chunks, layer them on a tray lined with parchment paper, and then drizzle with melted dark chocolate. Place the tray in the freezer for a few hours and then move the banana chunks to freezer-safe bags or containers.
3. Add fish to your diet.
Add a portion of healthy oily fish to your meal plan each week. Oily fish is high in heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Try a different type of fish every week so you don’t get bored, or experiment with different cooking methods for your favorite kind of fish. Fish is easy to prepare and cooks quickly, so adding a new recipe to your weekly menu can also free up some of the time you spend in the kitchen. A piece of salmon basted with a little olive oil, sprinkled with salt and pepper and some fresh herbs, and topped off with a little fresh lemon juice can be prepared and baked in less than 20 minutes.
4. Eat the right kinds of fat.
For years, we thought of fat as the bad guy and avoided all types of it at all costs. This led to a slew of fat-free products on grocery store shelves—products that were loaded with extra sugar to make up in taste what was lost when fat went out of fashion.
Today, doctors recommend that we take a more moderate approach to fat. Definitely cut down your intake of unhealthy trans and saturated fats, such as those found in French fries, cakes, cookies, processed foods, hard cheese, and so on. At the same time, increase your intake of healthy unsaturated fats that are heart-healthy and vital to developing brains. These include plant-based fats found in walnuts, avocados, cashews, Brazil nuts, almonds, hazelnuts, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, olives, and olive or canola oil. They also include fish high in omega-3 fatty acids, like salmon, trout, herring, and sardines.
Although healthy fats are still high in calories, they are loaded with nutrients. If you can replace trans fats (with their high but empty calorie count) with unsaturated fats, you’ll stay full longer and be better able to curb cravings.
5. Pack your lunch.
The simple act of packing your own lunch can cut your calorie intake dramatically. If your fridge and shelves are stocked with healthy choices, it should take only a few minutes to put together a healthy, filling lunch to replace the burrito you’d normally get from the food court. The Internet is full of healthy recipes for salads, beans, whole wheat wraps, soups, and other lunch staples.
6. Add more flavor.
If you’re cutting back on some of your favorite treats—think chocolate, cake, cookies, and so on—you’ll have a much easier time if you replace those things with naturally sweet and extra flavorful options. There are many ways to add flavor to your meals in such a way that you might not miss sweets at all. Roast veggies on very high heat (450 degrees F.) to bring out a smoky, sweet, and intense flavor. Simply brush with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper or other herbs before roasting. Slowly caramelizing onions over a low temperature with a little oil brings out an amazing flavor to add to sauces or soups. A few drops lemon, lime, orange, or grapefruit essential oil in a glass of water or seltzer can turn something boring into something crisp and refreshing.
7. Drink more water.
Carry a water bottle with you wherever you go to encourage staying hydrated and alert throughout the day. I love to experiment with essential oils and water so I look forward to my eight glasses a day. In the mornings, I often drink a large glass of water with a drop or 2 of peppermint oil. The peppermint wakes me up and gets me going when I’m feeling sluggish. I love citrus oils in my water when I’m trying to eat less. Grapefruit, in particular, turns my water into a sparkling treat I can enjoy for 15 to 20 minutes instead of munching on cookies or chips.
8. Get enough sleep.
It’s amazing how much better I feel when I get a full 8 hours of sleep each night. A regular bedtime and waking time, together with a solid 7 to 9 hours of sleep, make the body feel rested, the mind alert, and emotions stable. And when all of these things are in sync, it’s much easier to eat better. I have more energy to prepare and cook meals. I have more willpower to avoid sweets. I feel less stressed and therefore am not as inclined to turn to chocolate or cheese for comfort. Create a positive and welcoming bedtime ritual by diffusing a calming essential oil each night before sleeping. Lavender, cedarwood, sandalwood, ylang ylang, and bergamot are some of my favorite bedtime oils.
PS For more health tips, tricks, and recipes check out our Good Mood Bootcamp.