Sugary and fatty foods might be tasty, but they aren't usually a good source of vitamins and minerals. To keep your body well-nourished, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends that you:
- Fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables at every meal to help you get a healthy variety of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients, like fiber
- Make sure at least half of the grains you eat are whole grains for fiber and complex carbohydrates
- Choose low-fat or fat-free dairy products for calcium and protein
Getting all of the nutrients that you need each day may sound like a tall order. But if you get creative, you can learn easy—and delicious—ways to add fruits and veggies, whole grains, and low-fat dairy products to each meal of your day.
At breakfast time, you may be tempted to reach for "grab and go" foods like doughnuts or Pop Tarts. This is a mistake, since you'll be missing out on the nutritional benefits of a well-balanced meal. Eating veggies for breakfast might sound odd, but we bet you won't turn your nose up at a mouthwatering omelet with red peppers and low-fat cheese. Try these tasty ideas for healthy breakfast foods high in vitamins, minerals, and whole grains:
- Make a fruit salad, and toss it with low-fat or fat-free yogurt.
- Add fruits like raisins, bananas, or blueberries to your cereal.
- Choose your favorite fruits and make a smoothie, using low-fat or fat-free yogurt, orange juice, and low-fat or fat free milk as a base. If you're feeling brave, try adding a handful of spinach or other greens--many people don't notice the difference and recipes for "green smoothies" are widely available on the Internet.
- Add your favorite veggies to a succulent frittata, or try HealthAhead's recipe for Make-Ahead Frittata Muffins.
- Try toasting whole-grain English muffins, bagels, or bread, and use margarine, low-fat or fat-free cream cheese, or peanut butter as a spread instead of butter. You can make it extra healthy by opting for hummus or slices of avocado and tomato.
Mid-day is a great time to focus on healthy and nutritious foods to power you through your day. When you choose fruits and vegetables as part of your plate at noon, you'll feel fuller with fewer calories. Don't settle for fast food or fattening restaurant fare when you can eat a nutritious lunch:
- Instead of eating potato chips with your sandwich, try baby carrots. According to the Mayo Clinic, two cups of carrots contain only 100 calories.
- If you're going out to lunch, request brown rice or whole grain pasta with your meal instead of white rice or pasta. You can even make your own whole grain pasta salad at home and bring it work--consider Mayo Clinic's recipe for Dilled Pasta Salad with Spring Vegetables.
- Try layering a six-inch whole-wheat flour tortilla with two tablespoons of shredded low-fat cheddar cheese, and stick it in the microwave until the cheese melts. Top it with some fresh tomatoes for a quick dish that's approximately 200 calories.
Dinner is a hectic time in many homes—but it's important not to resort to fast foods or prepackaged meals. Instead, use the dinner hour to eat more vegetable and whole grains. Consider enjoying low-fat milk for a beverage and fruit for dessert:
- Add a side salad to your meal with as many colorful veggies as you can. It doesn't have to be fancy. Just chop up some tomatoes, avocados, carrots, and mix together with some dark leafy greens. Top it with two tablespoons of fat-free salad dressing.
- Always serve vegetables with dinner. Even small amounts make a difference. The Mayo Clinic suggests two-thirds of a cup of green beans or three baby potatoes as options.
- If you're having pizza for dinner, make it with a whole-grain crust with low-fat cheese. Instead of meat toppings, choose veggies like bell peppers, mushrooms, and onions.
Putting it all together
When you take the time to plan three nutritious meals a day with a variety of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy products, you may be able to get the nutrients your body needs while cutting back on extra calories. Making healthy choices also means avoiding foods that are high in calories, but low in nutrients—like many types of junk food and fast food. It's okay to enjoy an occasional treat, but aim to fill the bulk of your meals with more nutritious foods. You may notice it's easier to maintain a healthy weight, and you might just surprise yourself at the delicious meals you cook up.