We all know that when it comes to eating processed foods, less is more right? However, that can be difficult to put into practice when we lead such busy lives and have school, work, and families to think about. Here are some of my best tips and tricks to getting more unprocessed food into your diet.
1. Know your “why” when it comes to eating processed foods
Do your meals include protein, carbohydrates, fat, and fiber? This combination of macronutrients will keep you full for much longer than a muffin and coffee on the way to work in the morning. If you are hitting that afternoon slump and craving some sugar, or find you snack a lot after dinner, it might be a sign that your meals could be a bit more balanced. Maybe try adding more whole grains for fiber or some healthy fats, like avocado or olive oil, to your meals.
Are you always busy and feeling like takeout or packaged snacks are the only option? Been there, done that, got the t-shirt. I’ve found that even just taking 30 minutes on the weekends (or whenever you can make time) to prepare food for a few days makes everything run more smoothly. This could even be as simple as putting together a few snack boxes with crackers, hummus, and raw veggies to stash in your bag on the way out the door, instead of hitting up the vending machine at 3 p.m.
We all have our favorite processed foods (hello Cheez-its)... and there’s NOTHING wrong with that! If you are craving Cheez-its, eat them! However, it’s important to remember to be mindful while eating all food, but especially processed foods. If possible, remove distractions like your smartphone or the TV, and focus on your food. Truly experience the pleasure and satisfaction that meal or snack is bringing you.
Once you know your “why” for eating processed foods, it will be easier to come up with a plan to add more whole foods to your diet. Here are some of my favorite tips:
2. Make Time for Meal Prep
As much as you may not want to hear this, making time for meal prep is essential to not having to rely on processed foods. Even if you are a novice cook, learning to make three or four things that you love to eat will help motivate you to prepare more of your own food instead of relying on pre-prepared options. '
3. Meal Prep Components, Instead of Meals
I will never be someone who can eat the same thing five days in a row - I need room to get creative! Because of that, one of my favorite ways to meal prep is to pick a theme for the week and prepare individual dishes that will mix and match to create many different meals. For example, if I was meal prepping for a Mediterranean themed week, here’s what I would prep:
Prepping all the above ingredients along with having salad greens, olives, feta cheese, roasted red peppers, and pita pockets on hand you could pull anything from a rice bowl to a salad to a pita together in just minutes!
4. Try and DIY it!
I am a cook and baker at heart, so I love trying to recreate my favorite snacks, drinks, or bakery treats at home! This could be as simple as brewing your own cold brew coffee concentrate, or as elaborate as making your own bagels for a weekend project (yes, it’s worth it if you are a bagel person)! The best part about making things yourself is that you know everything that goes into these recipes and can tweak ingredients to your tastes. You may even find that you like your version better than what you can buy at the store. Here are links to some of my favorite treats to DIY if you want to give it a go!
5. Lastly, Remember That It’s Not All or Nothing
The reality is one snack or meal eating processed foods won’t make or break your wellness journey. In the end it truly is all about balance, and how you eat most of the time matters much more than any single snack/meal/day of eating. So, try your hand at meal prepping components, or making your own version of something you love, and when you really want something processed, eat it, and thoroughly enjoy every bite.
Written by Danielle Hooker: Hi there! I am student at the University of Alabama getting my degree in food and nutrition. In my future career as an RD I hope to empower others to make healthy choices with food by developing recipes that are easy, nutritious and insanely delicious! You can most often find me in my kitchen, or on Instagram @DanielleontheDaily
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