Healthy Eats From A-Z

By Betsy Hjelmgren MS, RDN, CSP, LDN

Like most women, I think about food all day. Except I get paid to do it. Today I’m thinking about healthy eating habits in alphabetical order. Because that’s the sort of thing you do when you are paid to think about food all day.

Apple a day. The old adage is true. Apples fill you up, give you energy, appease your sweet tooth and clean your teeth.

Beans. Try using beans like a vegetable by adding them to dishes like pasta, stir fry and salad. They’re healthy, fill you up and provide lots of protein.

Cook. Better for your wallet, better for your family and better for your belly. Cooking your own meals is always the healthiest option. So many healthy family meals can be prepared under a half hour.

Dessert. Dessert is great when it’s healthy–like a fruit. Leave the treats for life’s special moments and don’t make a habit of ending every meal with one. The funny thing about a sweet tooth is that it only grows. If you can manage to get your kids (or yourself) to detox for a few days, the sugar craze will start to subside. Then, dessert will become what they’re meant to be—a once-in-a-while very special treat!

Ethnic Food. Most cultures have rich traditions in eating, unlike our American culture of eating everything, all the time, everywhere. Embrace your cultural norms to guide you in healthy eating. Don’t have any? Try French.

Family and friends. Food tastes better when enjoyed with people you love. You’ll eat less if you’re busy chatting, you’ll model healthy eating for your kids and you’ll stay connected to one another.

Granola. Make your own and change your life (or at least your breakfast!). Granola in the morning will keep you full until lunch.

Hungry. With many kids and adults snacking all day long, it’s important to remind ourselves that it’s good to get a little hungry. It likely means you’re ready to eat a meal and will actually eat healthier because of it.

Ingredients. If you can’t pronounce the ingredients or don’t recognize them, think twice before eating the product.

Juice. Avoid it. (See my tip for “W”.) Even 100% fruit juice is full of sugar and none of the natural fibers that help us actually digest it. And as for energy drinks? With the exception of some high intensity sports, most of us can stay hydrated with water.

Kale. It’s not just a trend. When you consider that mankind once foraged for food, you’ll realize we were raised on greens. You just can’t get enough of it. This is one food trend I hope sticks around.

Labels. Watch out for health claims on food labels. If it’s actually healthy, it doesn’t need a label at all.

Meat. Consider using meat as a flavor and not as a main course. It will help your food budget and your belly. Prepare loads of veggies and bite size portions of meat in a stir fry, and no one will miss the steak.

Normal. Try to think about what’s a normal way to eat and stick to it. So often we make impulsive eating decisions because we’re in a hurry. For example, it’s just not normal to eat junk food in the mornings. So don’t! And snacks before bed? Why?!

Out. As in eating out. Try to find restaurants that support your food rules (see my tip for “R”). And “out,” by the way, doesn’t mean out in your car.

Small Plates. We tend to put more food on a larger plate and then we inevitably eat what’s in front of us. Work on portion control simply by changing the size of your plate.

KumQuats. Hey, it has a “q” in it! Why’s it on our list, you might ask (besides our need for a q food)? Because trying new foods keeps eating interesting and models healthy habits for kids.

Rules. Establish some food rules for yourself and your family. Share them with those who know you so that you stick to them. Once you have some reasonable, healthy food rules in place, you’re more likely to follow them. Need some suggestions? Try Michael Pollan’s.

Soy lecithin. This is one ingredient in most processed foods that you’d be better off never eating again. It acts like detergent in your gut. No, thanks!

Technology. Turn off the TV and stow away the phones. See our tip for the letter “F”. Food should be savored and eaten with intention. The more you enjoy your meal, the less hungry you’ll be later.

Umami. What’s umami? It’s when something tastes really, really yummy in a way that’s not sweet, salty, bitter or sour. Must you taste it? No, but I think you should.

Vegetables. I can’t say it better than Michael Pollan, so I won’t: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

Water. Drinking eight cups a day of water is no joke. Sometimes, you eat because you’re actually thirsty. Water keeps you and your kids hydrated and contains only pure goodness. Train your kids to drink water by offering it as the only option (besides milk) from a young age. They won’t miss the juice if they don’t start on it.

eXpert advice. Overwhelmed with my list? A registered dietitian helps make it practical for you and your family.

Yogurt. Yogurt is full of good stuff for your gut, like probiotics. Most brands are more dessert than healthy, though. Instead, buy plain yogurt and flavor it yourself with fruits, granola (see “G”) and a drop of honey or maple syrup.

Zzz’s. Get more sleep and you’ll feel better, eat better and be better. Period.

Betsy Hjelmgren owns and manages Feed to Succeed, focusing on pediatric nutrition in Chicago’s North Shore. When she’s not changing her clients’ lives, she’s busy taking care of her two children.