The foods we eat affect our well-being.
Making healthy food choices can help you:
- Reduce your risk of heart disease.
- Improve your cholesterol levels.
- Lower your blood pressure.
- Maintain your healthy body weight.
- Control your blood sugar.
With a little advance planning, you can make healthier choices at the grocery store, in the kitchen, and on the go.
Meal planning is key
Meal planning is important whether you’re cooking for yourself or for a family. By planning ahead you eat better, save time and spend less money.
Start by making meal planning a habit.
Try to set aside a specific time each week to write down your meal ideas and grocery list.
- If you relax with a coffee every Saturday morning, that could be a good time to plan the week’s meals and update your shopping list.
- Once your meal ideas are ready, check your fridge and cupboards to see what you need to buy.
- Always keep paper and a pen in the kitchen. As you run out of ingredients, write them down. Then add them to your shopping list.
Top 9 ways to think outside the box.
The best way to eat healthy is to prepare meals at home using fresh, whole foods. To avoid buying pre-packaged convenience foods, think about what you’d like to eat in the coming days.
- Variety is the spice of life.
- Plan to include vegetables and fruit at each meal and snack
- Include beans, lentils and other legumes several times a week
- Stock up on whole grains such as brown rice, whole grain pasta, bulgur, farro, etc.
- Include quick, healthy meals for those nights when there are after-school or evening activities.
- Make extra so you have leftovers.
- Make extra soup or lasagna to freeze for easy heat-and-serve meals.
- Repurpose your leftovers into a whole new meal. Leftover spaghetti sauce can become minestrone soup, meatloaf, or pizza sauce.
- Be inspired by the season.
- If salmon, lamb or rhubarb is in season, seek out recipes with those ingredients.
- If you can, try to buy local.
- It’s often fresher than food that comes from far away. And you’re supporting local farmers and families.
- Food that is less processed is more nutritious.
- Pre-made or pre-packaged convenience foods may be handy. But they are often high in fat, salt, sugar, and calories. If you must eat packaged foods, check the Nutrition Facts label and watch your serving size.
- If you follow a special diet, try to focus on what you can eat, not what you can’t eat.
- If you are gluten-free, for example, there are many naturally wheat-free grains, beans and lentils, and produce. As well, you can enjoy modified breads and pasta.
- Include snacks on your list to reduce temptation once you’re at the grocery store.
- Healthy snacks might include nuts, baby carrots and hummus, roasted chickpeas, hard cooked eggs, tuna and whole grain crackers, air-popped popcorn, whole grain crackers with lower-fat, lower-sodium cheese.
- If you have a family, get them involved in the meal planning.
- Keep a running list of meals your family enjoys, and get your kids to help choose some of your weekly meals.
- Fresh out of ideas? There’s lots of inspiration out there.
Shopping tips for healthy food
Grocery shopping is an important part of healthy eating and a healthy lifestyle. The key is to be prepared before you go, and know how to navigate the grocery store once you get there.
Gather your reusable bags or bins.
Eat something before you leave so you aren’t tempted by snack foods at the store.
Explore the store.
Vegetables, fruit, bread, tofu, meat, fish and dairy will be in the outside aisles.
- Whole grains, lentils and beans will be in the inside aisles. That’s where you will find frozen vegetables and fruit too.
Read the packaging.
All packaged foods have a Nutrition Facts label. Use it to choose food that’s lower in salt, sugar, and saturated fat.
- Treat your body well by choosing products that have at least 4 grams of fibre per serving.
Save time at home.
Divide your snack foods (crackers, nuts) into individual, ready-to-eat servings.
- Be careful with nuts and seeds. They’re tasty and it’s easy to over-do it. Buy raw or dry roasted nuts without added salt, rather than those roasted in oil.
Prepare your produce.
Wash and cut some of your vegetables and fruit so they’re ready for snacking.
- Celery, cucumber, carrots, peppers, grape tomatoes, and snap peas are great on their own or with a low-fat dip, hummus, peanut butter, or salsa.
To wash or not to wash?
Cold, clean tap water is just fine for washing fruits and vegetables.
- Leafy greens: salad, spinach, cabbage, green onions. Wash when you get home from the store. Then wrap in a paper towel and store in a plastic bag or sealed container in the fridge. This way, they’re ready to use and they’ll last longer.
- Food with a rind or thick peel: oranges, cantaloupe, melon, carrots, potatoes. Wash before eating/cooking and if you have a produce brush, give them a little scrub. This removes bacteria on the rind so it doesn’t get in the food when it’s cut or peeled.
- Mushrooms: Don’t wash. Wipe them with a clean cloth just before using. They keep best when stored in a paper bag in the fridge.
- Berries: strawberries, raspberries, blueberries. Wash just before eating otherwise they spoil very quickly.
Check out Half your plate for information on a wide variety of vegetables and fruit.
Healthy snacks are an important part of a heart-healthy diet. Good snacks can:
- Provide nutrients that help protect you from heart disease, stroke and other chronic diseases.
- Help you stay energized throughout the day, especially if you have mid-morning or mid-afternoon fatigue.
- Stave off hunger and keep your metabolism going. This can help you maintain a healthy weight.
Just remember to keep portion sizes small. Snacks are supposed to tide you over, not replace a meal.
Two is better than one.
- Choose snacks that combine at least two different types of foods (fruits/vegetables, lentils/beans, grains).
- Lower-fat, lower-sodium cheese and whole grain crackers
- Celery and peanut butter
- Pita with hummus
- Vegetables and a lower-fat dip
- Nuts with fresh fruit
Combining foods this way will boost your energy and leave you feeling satisfied longer.
Plan ahead for your snacks the same you do with your meals. Include them on your shopping list. This will help you resist unhealthy snack choices that may be high in salt, fat and sugar.
Don’t drink your calories.
Sugary drinks including energy drinks, fruit drinks, 100% fruit juice, soft drinks and flavored coffees have lots of sugar and little to no nutritional value.
Avoid fruit juice, even when it is 100% fruit juice. Although fruit juice has some of the benefits of the fruit (vitamins, minerals), it has more sugar than the fruit and less fibre.
Limit highly processed snacks.
Potato chips, cookies, doughnuts and candy bars add lots of unnecessary calories, fat, sugar and salt to your diet. Unlike healthy snacks, these foods can actually make you feel less energetic.
Beware of healthy foods that aren’t healthy at all.
Some granola, cereal bars and energy bars can be very high in calories, sugar and trans fats (hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils).
At home: Stock your pantry and fridge with quick, easy snacks: Fresh fruit, sliced vegetables, plain popcorn, unsalted nuts, trail mix (make your own), and lower-fat yogurt and cottage cheese.
At work: Keep a large ziploc bag with whole-grain crackers, peanut butter, unsweetened instant oatmeal, cans of tuna, nuts and seeds. It’s a good idea to include a knife, fork, spoon and napkins.
On the go: Make a smaller version of the workplace ziploc for your purse, glove box or briefcase.