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Want to eat healthy? Try getting back to nutrition basics

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — It’s March, and many New Year’s resolutions have fallen by the wayside. But if your goal was to eat healthier in 2018, you’re in luck: March is National Nutrition Month.

This is an opportunity to recommit to healthy eating, says a registered dietitian with the University of Florida.

Popular diets come and go, but the no-frills, evidence-based guidelines are here to stay. Kaley Mialki, youth programs specialist with the Family Nutrition Program, part of the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension, said, “Eating well does not have to be complicated.”

Here are a few tips to help you and your family get back to nutrition basics:

  1. As you shop and eat, practice these habits:
    • Eat a variety of foods from all food groups.
    • Fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables.
    • Make half your grains whole grains.
    • Choose low-fat and fat-free dairy products.
    • Eat a variety of protein-rich foods from plant and animal sources.
    • Read the Nutrition Facts label on food packages to choose foods lower in saturated fat, sodium and added sugar.
    • Eat the amount of calories that is right for you. Go to choosemyplate.gov/MyPlate-Daily-Checklist-input to calculate your caloric needs.

 

  1. Embrace the power of fruits and vegetables.

Eating more fruits and vegetables often can help make us feel better, Mialki said. Eating a healthy diet that includes fruits and vegetables may also lower your risk of developing chronic diseases.

“Fruits and vegetables contain nutrients, including vitamins, minerals and fiber, all of which help keep our bodies working well,” she said. “Vitamins and minerals help keep our skin and eyes healthy, heal wounds, and control our blood pressure. Fiber helps us feel full for longer, maintains normal digestion, helps reduce blood cholesterol and has many other health benefits.”

  1. Sneak fruits and vegetables into meals and snacks.

Consuming more fruits and vegetables can be a matter of tweaking your eating routine. Here are some examples:

  • Add berries or banana slices to cereal, yogurt or oatmeal for breakfast.
  • Include tomatoes, mushrooms or spinach in your omelet.
  • Snack on a piece of fresh fruit or crunchy vegetables and hummus.
  • Swap sandwich bread or tortillas out for lettuce wraps.
  • Blend fruit and leafy green vegetables — spinach and kale work well — together with low-fat yogurt for a flavorful smoothie.
  • Keep fruit and vegetables in sight by placing a bowl of fresh fruit on the counter or placing vegetables in a visible spot in your fridge.
  1. Help kids eat better by making it a family affair.

There are many strategies for encouraging children to develop healthy eating habits, Mialki said.

  • Be a role model for kids by making healthy food choices, practicing good mealtime behaviors and being physically active.
  • Set the menu, meal location and meal time. Let kids decide which foods they want to eat and how much they want to eat from what parents offer. Children may eat better when they feel in control of their food choices.
  • Allow kids to help with food purchasing and preparation. They may be more likely to eat the foods they helped buy and cook.
  • Find age-appropriate kitchen tasks for kids, such as washing produce, measuring ingredients or reading recipe instructions.
  • Keep meal times and food choices positive. Encourage positive conversations at the dinner table, eat together as a family, keep the TV off and respect your child’s food preferences.
  • Teach kids that no foods are off limits, but encourage healthier foods most of the time. Remind kids that foods like ice cream, French fries and sugar sweetened beverages are “sometimes foods,” so we only eat them sometimes.

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Funded by the USDA Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the UF/IFAS Extension Family Nutrition Program teaches low-income Floridians how to eat healthy and stay active on a budget. For more information on classes for youth and adults, visit uffnp.org.

The mission of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences is to develop knowledge relevant to agricultural, human and natural resources and to make that knowledge available to sustain and enhance the quality of human life. With more than a dozen research facilities, 67 county Extension offices, and award-winning students and faculty in the UF College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, UF/IFAS works to bring science-based solutions to the state’s agricultural and natural resources industries, and all Florida residents. Visit the UF/IFAS web site at ifas.ufl.edu and follow us on social media at @UF_IFAS.

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