Monday, June 18, 2012

Healthy Eating: How to Get Started

Last week, a friend of mine was discussing her quest to cut refined sugars out of her family’s diet, lamenting that she had a pantry full of processed foods that contained refined sugars.  She had watched this 60 Minutes report on the health problems related to sugar and the science behind sugar addiction (yes, sugar is like other addictions).  FYI, in this previous post about health problems related to sugar, I discuss additional concerns to those presented in the news segment.

I have mentioned on this blog several times that I try to feed my family homemade healthy meals using whole foods as often as I can.  Here is what I told my friend when she was overwhelmed by the task of eliminating sugar from her family’s diet.  You start off slowly, making a few of your own snacks and meals and move forward to the next stage once you have integrated one thing into your family meal habits.  While I would love to say that we never eat processed foods, we do from time to time.  Nearly everyone does, but a good goal is to minimize the processed foods as much as you can.  If you are wondering how to do this, keep reading!

So, how do you start?  There are several different options.  When I discuss healthy eating with my students, I tell them to pick one change and focus on that.  For example, if you are not eating salads nearly every day, start there; it’s a great way to get fresh food into your diet, and if you are pressed for time you can make one huge salad that will feed your family for a few days before you need to make another one.  Or, start by eliminating a particular processed junk food or drink, such as soda.

In her book The Unhealthy Truth, Robyn O’Brien explains her method, an 80/20 approach.  She suggests starting with twenty percent healthy meals or ingredients and working your way up until you reach at least eighty percent.  She offers other practical suggestions in her book and on her website.

Another way to begin is to choose a meal or snack time and focus on making that particular eating experience healthy every day, or at least Monday through Friday.  For example, start with breakfast.  Eliminate processed foods from your breakfast: no boxed cereals, pop tarts, frozen sausage biscuits, or microwave pancakes.  To make this easy for you, I’ll list a week’s worth of healthy breakfasts to get you started.  

Monday = oatmeal (old fashioned rolled oats, not instant) topped with fresh, frozen, or dried fruits, cinnamon, and plain yogurt.

Tuesday = boiled or scrambled eggs with whole grain toast and fresh fruit.  Throw some salsa on the eggs if you are inclined.

Wednesday = plain yogurt with fresh or frozen fruit, raw nuts, sunflower seeds, and cinnamon. 

Thursday = barley (cook the night before) topped with fresh, frozen, or dried fruits, cinnamon, and plain yogurt.

Friday = whole grain toast spread with natural peanut or almond butter and topped with sliced fruit.

Saturday = make pancakes or waffles with a whole grain flour.  Top with defrosted frozen fruit, raw nuts, yogurt, and/or raw honey.  

Sunday = omelet with mushrooms, zucchini, and salsa.  Fresh fruit.

Choose five of the suggestions above and try them out this week.  The other two days, eat some of the processed foods in your pantry so you don’t waste your money and your family doesn’t feel the change so much.  If your family is not ready to give up their breakfast bacon or sausage, serve them on the side.  Then, you can “forget” to make them one morning… see if they notice!

Here are some tips to make these meals easy and quick to prepare.

Cook oatmeal and barley (or another whole grain) the night before; when it is cooled, place the entire pot with its lid in the refrigerator and reheat it on the stove in the morning (stir some water into the pot).  Store leftovers the same way to serve as a snack or another morning.

Defrost frozen fruit in a bowl in the refrigerator overnight.

Pancake or waffle batter can be made the night before and stored in the refrigerator.  Freeze the leftovers tor another day; heat up frozen pancakes in the toaster.

Slice the mushrooms and shred the zucchini the night before.  Whisk the eggs with the salsa, mix the veggies in and store overnight in the refrigerator.

You are probably wondering: how do you keep track of what you need to do when?  I make a meal plan chart and refer to it throughout the day.  Write yourself sticky notes or set up a calendar; whatever works.  If you forget, it’s ok; these meals can be made quickly in the morning (except for the barley, but if you put it on as soon as you wake, it will be ready in time).  If you forget to defrost fruit, use fresh or dried.  We always have frozen blueberries, which are small enough to defrost quickly on the counter in the morning.

I would love to hear about your efforts, so don’t be shy with your comments or questions.  If you have other helpful ideas or tips, please share them with us!

P. S. Find a schedule of healthy lunch ideas here.


  1. Elisa,
    Thank you for linking up to my Our Favorite Things link party. I love all your ideas to get started with healthy eating. This was my goal for the year and here I am 1/2 way through and I've never started. This must be my wake up call.

  2. Gracias! Muy buena informacion. Voy a seguir tu recomendaciones.

  3. Good luck, Karri. I am here if you have questions or need support.

    Buena suerte, estoy aquí si usted tiene preguntas o necesita ayuda.

  4. We are working hard on eating healthier at our house and I'm really trying to cut back on diet soda's and eat a salad every day. Thanks for the great info.

  5. Thanks for sending this to me, Elisa! So far we have been cutting back... but we are traveling again this week. My goal is JULY to go full throttle. And thanks for the encouragement and suppport!

  6. I hope you are successful in July, Jessica! I have been thinking about writing a post about healthy eating while traveling, so now I will do it. We will be traveling in a few weeks ourselves, so between now and then will be the perfect time.

  7. Instead of cutting out all sugar, I try to use honey, maple syrup, and natural cane sugar in my recipes. It helps to do it gradually so your taste buds get used to it.
    And I do the salad thing, except with soup. There's always some soup in the fridge that's heavy on the veggies, and it makes it so much easier to get them into your diet.

    1. Great ideas, Magdalen! I'm looking forward to reading about more of the recipes you have tried.

  8. What great ideas and resources! Thanks so much for linking up with "Try a New Recipe Tuesday!" I hope you will be able to join us again this week. God bless, Lisa

    1. Thanks for hosting the link up Lisa and for visiting.


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