Healthy Eating Habits

There are simple ways we can build healthy eating habits. On average, it takes more than two months to turn a new behaviour into a habit, so continue to work towards healthier eating and creating habits that will improve your sense of well being.

Here are some ideas you can implement today.

  1. Eat something before heading out the door. Breakfast is one of the most important meals because it sets the pace for hunger and snacking throughout the day. Fueling the body with wholesome and nutrient rich foods early in the morning can have a beneficial outcome on mood and work/school performance. It also helps prevent overeating at later mealtimes and snacking on less nutritious options throughout the day.
  2. Make simple food and cooking swaps. We all have certain foods we are used to eating, and certain ways we like to cook. Knowing more about preparing healthy foods is the first step to implementing them into your meals. It can be difficult to go from never eating a particular food to having it daily, but the key to success is to introduce unfamiliar foods slowly. Make small changes to start and increase the frequency of healthy food and cooking options.

    Try these changes for healthier eating:
    • Increase the use of whole grain bread. For example, start by making your sandwiches with one slice of the bread you would normally use, and one slice of a whole grain bread. Once taste buds become familiar with the flavours of whole grain, switch entirely to a whole grain sandwich.
    • Try mixing white rice with whole grain options to increase familiarity and add nutrition. Over time make it a complete switch to whole grain or wild rice.
    • Introduce plant-based proteins into your diet by deciding to make just one meal per week plant-based. Like the other suggestions, once your family becomes familiar with plant-based meals, increase the variations of these meals along with frequency.
    • Try lower fat options for dairy products (milk, yogurt and cheese), and for spreads and dressings. Find brands you like so you don’t feel deprived.
    • Instead of fruit juice, drink water. Canada’s Food Guide recommends making water your drink of choice. Instead of fruit juice or fruit beverages, serve the whole fruit. The fruit contains more nutrients and fibre and less sugar than juice or fruit beverages. Read more in Canada’s Food Guide.
    • Use plant-based oils and margarines instead of lard, butter and other sources of saturated and trans fats when cooking and baking.
    • Decrease salt in cooking and season foods with herbs, spices, onion, garlic, lemon and lime instead.
    • Use healthier cooking methods like baking, broiling and roasting foods instead of deep frying. Read more in Cooking Basics.
    • Try using lean ground meats like extra-lean beef, ground turkey or ground chicken for some of your meals.
    • Add hard-cooked eggs and walnuts to your salad instead of croutons and full-fat cheese.

      Read more healthy cooking ideas in Healthy Cooking at Home.
  1. Eat away from distractions. If we eat while distracted by television, working or talking on the phone, we are not paying attention to what and how much we are eating. This can lead to unhealthy over-eating. By removing distractions and creating a specific area for eating, we allow ourselves to concentrate on the meal being consumed. Focusing on the food being eaten will also help you to be mindful of hunger and fullness cues.

    Here are a few things to try:
    • Instead of eating in front of the television, commit to eating in a room designated for eating like a kitchen or dining room.
    • Make your eating space a phone-free zone. It may be difficult to get everyone on board at first, but there are many benefits to putting away the phones. Increased family bonding through meaningful conversations, developing a healthier relationship with food through listening to internal body cues and increased enjoyment of flavours, to name a few.
  1. Set SMART goals regularly. To make healthy eating easier and to improve eating habits, set SMART goals.

    SMART goals are goals that are specific and measurable so you can track whether or not they are being met within the timeframe set out to accomplish them.

    Here is what the S-M-A-R-T stands for:
    Specific – when setting goals, try and make them as specific as possible. If your healthy habit goal is to eat more fruits and vegetables, you can make this more specific by saying “eat an extra serving of vegetable or fruit with each meal”.
    Measurable – how will you keep track of goals being met? Without measurement you will not know whether or not you succeed!
    Attainable – Set goals that can be accomplished. Recognize the barriers to reaching your goals.
    Realistic – Start small with your goals and increase as you are able. Setting a goal to increase vegetable consumption by eating 3 or more servings at each meal may be a bit high and unrealistic. Instead, start low at one extra serving and increase once the goal has been met.
    Timely – Set a time frame for accomplishing the goal (once a day, twice a week, etc.).
  1. Meal plan and prepare ahead of time to make the healthier choice the easier choice. With busy schedules, the idea of creating nutritious meals from scratch 3 times a day, 7 days a week seems nearly impossible. Doing a few things ahead of time can make cooking faster and less of a hassle. Planning your meals ahead and doing food preparation on less busy days will help you make home cooked meals without sacrificing all the other things you need to do. Read more in Menu Planning.

    Here are a few things to try:
    • Prepare snacks and portions of meals in advance
      • wash and cut fruit and vegetables and placing them in containers or bags in the fridge for easier access
      • Batch cooking parts of meals (for example rice, pasta, proteins like chicken, beans/legumes) that will be used in other meals/snacks throughout the work week.
      • Precook and freeze ground beef or chicken pieces. Having cooked meat options that can be thawed quickly makes preparing meals fast and simple.
    • Make breakfast and lunches the night before, so all that is required in the morning is to reheat or add in toppings/dressings.
      • Examples of foods to make ahead of time include overnight oats, fruit parfaits, egg bites, pancakes, salad in a jar, dinner leftovers, etc.
      • Pack your lunch and leave it in the fridge overnight. Add the ice pack in the morning just before you head out the door.
  1. Set reminders of healthy habit goals.
    There can be days when there just seems to be too much going on and healthy habit goals can easily be forgotten. One way to stay on track and keep up with goals is to set friendly reminders:
    • Leave hints around the house. For example, if your healthy habit goal is to drink more water throughout the day, consider leaving a pitcher of water out on the counter to serve as a reminder to intake more water.
    • Make post-it notes with encouragement and paste them on the walls near the computer, tv or an area frequented the most.
    • Set reminders on cell phones to engage in healthy habit goals throughout the day.

With families cooking more meals at home, there is a real opportunity to improve healthy eating habits. Parents/guardians are important role models for healthy eating and getting kids involved in planning and preparing healthy meals will build good habits for the future.

Read these articles next:
Cooking Basics
Understanding Food Labels