How can I create a healthier eating plan?

A healthy meal may include vegetables and fruits and small portions of protein and whole grains (breads, pastas, and rice). Here are some ideas on how to create a healthier eating plan for you and your family.

When planning meals for the week, think about including the following:

  • A salad or other vegetables (eat “from the rainbow” of colors)
  • Fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products
  • Fruits (choose a variety of vibrant colors)
  • Lean beef or pork, chicken, seafood, eggs, tofu, or beans
  • Whole grains, like brown rice, oatmeal, whole-wheat bread, and whole-grain cornmeal

Treats are fine once in a while. Just don’t make treat foods like candy, desserts, pizza, and potato chips an everyday choice. Limit sweet treats to special occasions, and keep portions small.

Remember that alcohol, juices, soda, and other sweet drinks contain a lot of sugar and are high in calories.

What if I can’t handle lactose?
If you cannot digest lactose (the sugar found in milk), try lactose-free milk or yogurt. You can also get calcium from calcium-fortified cereal, juices, and drinks made from soy or nuts. Eating dark leafy vegetables like collard greens and kale and canned fish with soft bones like salmon can also help you meet your body’s calcium needs.

How can reading the Nutrition Facts label help me?

Reviewing the Nutrition Facts label can help you choose foods that are high in fiber, vitamins, and minerals and low in these nutrients, which federal guidelines recommend Americans reduce:

  • Saturated fats and trans fats that are solid at room temperature—like butter, margarine, and lard—which are not heart healthy
  • Sodium (salt)—aim for fewer than1,500 mg a day (about 2/3 teaspoon)
  • Sugar

What is the Nutrition Facts Label

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration Nutrition Facts label appears on most packaged foods. It tells you how many calories and servings are in a box or can. The label also shows how many nutrients like fat, fiber, sodium, and sugar are in one serving of food. You can use these facts

  • To track your calorie intake and number of servings
  • To make healthy food choices by selecting items lower in salt, fats, sugar, and higher in fiber and vitamins

For more guidance on reading food labels, check out the webpage How to Understand and Use the Nutrition Facts Label listed in the For More Information section.

How can I handle barriers to healthy eating?

Eating healthy foods may seem hard when you do not have time to cook or you are on a tight budget. Try these tips to get past barriers that keep you from eating well.

“I don’t have time to plan healthy meals.”

Eating well doesn’t have to take a lot of time. Here are some ways that you and your family can eat better:

  • Fuel up every day with breakfast. Try a whole-grain cereal like bran flakes with fat-free or low-fat milk or yogurt. Enjoy some fruit with your breakfast, too, like bananas, berries, or peaches.
  • Invite your kids to join you on the weekend to plan, shop for, and cook a healthy family meal. Make it a game! Children may be more likely to eat dishes that they help prepare.
  • When grocery shopping, choose whole grains like whole-wheat bread and brown rice. These are higher in fiber, protein, and nutrients than refined white grains. They also keep you full longer.

“Eating well is too expensive.”

You don’t have to spend a lot of money to eat well:

  • Avoid buying single portions (like pudding, snacks, or yogurt). Instead, buy in bulk and divide into smaller portions as needed.
  • Check newspaper ads for grocery specials. Clip coupons or print them from websites.
  • Buy fruits and vegetables that are in season (they are cheaper at that time).
  • Try canned beans like black, butter, kidney, or pinto beans. They are loaded with protein, cost less than meat, and make quick and easy additions to your meals.

Tip: Solid fats like butter, margarine, and shortening can have high levels of saturated or trans fats, which are not heart healthy. Instead of solid fats, choose liquid fats or soft margarines. Sources of liquid fats include plant-based oils like corn, cottonseed, safflower, soybean, and sunflower.

How can I eat well when away from home?

Here are some ways to make healthy choices when you are on the go:

  • Avoid heavy gravies, salad dressings, or sauces. Leave them off or ask for them on the side so you can control how much you eat.
  • Order a grilled chicken salad or sandwich with whole-grain bread.
  • Share a meal with a friend or take half of it home.
  • Take healthy snacks with you to work, like apples or fat-free yogurt with fruit.

I can do it!

Set goals and move at your own pace to reach them. Ask your family, friends, and coworkers to help you. They can join you, encourage you, help you with setbacks, and be there to celebrate your successes!

No matter what, keep trying. You can do it!

Thank You NIH NIDDK for this wonderful content!