(Original story published on December 19, 2016 on CanadianLiving.com.)
By now, we’re quite well-versed in the area of healthy eating. We know what foods are good for us, and we know why it’s important to have a diet that’s rich in superfoods. What we could use help with is the how. How do we ensure we reach for nutrient-dense foods over less healthy options? How do we shop for superfoods on a budget? How do we avoid a #SadDeskLunch that makes us brave the iciest winds to replace said depressing lunch with a more enticing meal option from the greasy take-out joint across the street? To help us put our want for a healthier diet into action, we’re seeking expert advice from Registered Dietitian Julie Bednarski.
CL: How can we ensure we eat well?
JB: I always recommend keeping items in your kitchen that are high in fibre, protein and contain good fats. Healthy eating can be easy and cheap if you have the right ingredients on hand. Grains, including quinoa, brown rice, millet, oats and brown rice pasta, can be used to create many different types of meals from breakfast to dinner. These are high in fibre, contain protein and will keep your blood sugar levels stable throughout the day. Canned beans, dried lentils, canned salmon, eggs, nuts/seeds and nut butters contain protein and healthy fats that will keep your body strong and brain healthy. Fruits and vegetables are essential for maintaining health and should be the star of every meal. Eating an array of colourful fruits or vegetables is important to ensure you are getting lots of different vitamins and minerals. My top fruits and vegetables to have in my kitchen are kale, blueberries, sweet potato, avocado, squash, beets, spinach, strawberries, kiwi, apples and arugula. Many of these are superfoods that are nutrient-rich and especially beneficial for health and well-being.
CL: How do we eat well on a budget? What are the top fruits and vegetables that should always be on our shopping lists?
JB: Kale, sweet potatoes, apples, canned tomatoes, broccoli, frozen berries and carrots. All of these foods are superfoods that contain an array of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Incorporating these foods into each meal ensures that you’re getting the best value and nutrients for your body. Many of these foods are low in price and store well in your fridge or freezer.
CL: How can we guiltlessly eat packaged foods?
JB: Reading food labels is the easiest way to know what you can eat guilt-free. If you don’t know what an ingredient is or you can’t pronounce it, don’t buy it. Look for products that have real ingredients—they can often be found in the organic section. Which leads me to my next point, look for organic or non-GMO food products as these items will have cleaner ingredients and less additives and preservatives.
CL: How can we prep food to help us eat healthier during the week?
JB: Eating healthy is all about planning ahead. Do all of your food shopping on the weekend so you aren’t rushed and make time to prep your ingredients in advance. My top tips for prepping on the weekend are:
1. Wash and chop all your vegetables, then place them into containers so that you have vegetables ready for salads and stir-fry dishes.
2. Make a large pot of quinoa or brown rice on the weekend to add to salads, soups, veggie bowls or to use as a side dish.
3. Roast a whole chicken or bake fish on the weekend to add protein to your meals throughout the week.
4. Make salad dressings in advance and store them in mason jars in the fridge, where they can last for over a week.
CL: How can we snack in a healthy way?
JB: Snacks that are high in fibre and protein and low in sugar are best. Finding ways to incorporate fruits and vegetables into your snacks ensures you’re eating a variety of vitamins and minerals throughout the day. My favourite go-to snacks are my very own Healthy Crunch kale chips, homemade trail mix with various nuts, seeds, dried chickpeas, apple with pumpkinseed butter and veggies with hummus.
CL: How can we organize our kitchens to help us make healthier choices?
JB: When hunger strikes, you’re more likely to reach for easy junk food instead of superfoods, especially if your kitchen is not properly organized. The first step is to avoid storing junk food in your cupboards or fridge. This will keep it out of sight and out of mind. Instead fill your cupboard with canned beans, grains (including quinoa and brown rice), nuts and seeds, and frozen vegetables. When you stock up, be careful not to overload your cupboard! It will make it difficult to see what ingredients you have and easy to fall off track. If you keep a moderate amount of these foods in your home you’ll find that they are easy to cook with, which will help you avoid the temptation to order-in.
For your fridge, store like-foods in the same place so you always know where to find them. Nutrient-packed greens should be together, proteins should be together and you should also have an area where you keep cut-up vegetables and fruit. When at the grocery store, avoid purchasing excessive amounts of food that will go bad if you do not eat them. Overstocking your fridge can be overwhelming, so it’s important to plan your meals in advance and only buy those ingredients.
CL: How can we avoid #SadDeskLunch?
JB: Prepping ingredients earlier in the week makes it easier to make a meal on the fly. I always recommend making mason jar salads that are jammed-packed with fibre and protein. These salads are quick and easy to make if you have ingredients all ready to go. In a mason jar, layer quinoa, chickpeas, spinach, cherry tomatoes, carrots, avocado, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds and dried cranberries. For your dressing, try mixing apple cider vinegar, flax seed oil, maple syrup, dill, mint, parsley and Himalayan pink salt—trust me, you’ll go from #SadDeskLunch to #FabDeskLunch!