March is National Nutrition Month

Healthy habits can be difficult to stick to. Your January resolutions have probably fallen by the wayside. Maybe it’s time to renew that energy and March, National Nutrition Month, is as good a time as any to do it.

Even minimal changes, made over time, can add up. Tonya Huenink, a registered dietitian at Sioux Center Health, explained, “Creating a healthy diet requires making small changes that you can stick to.” She suggests focusing on one important thing such as stop drinking regular pop or eating a cup of vegetables at every meal. Starting small is important to lasting changes. Don’t try too many things at once.

Developing a healthy eating style you can maintain is crucial when dining out or planning and preparing meals at home.Huenink said, “The options are endless for healthy eating at home.” She suggests incorporating vegetables in fajitas with lots of onions and peppers, or Asian chicken stir-fry with double the veggies and a smaller portion of rice or noodles. Roasted vegetables, like cauliflower and Brussels sprouts are great when the weather is cold. When it’s grilling season, she adds veggie sides like grilled asparagus or zucchini. “Most people would benefit from spending a little more time and effort on cooking a more interesting vegetable side dish, which makes them much more enjoyable to eat, and can help reduce portions of meats and starchy side dishes,” she explained.

When dining out, restaurants have made it easier by offering healthy well-balanced meal options. Portion size is key. Huenink feels portions are sometimes double what you need. Opting for steamed or roasted items and ordering sauce, dressing and cheese on the side encourages healthier habits and eating less. Huenink said, “Ask for a to-go container and put half away for lunch the next day.” Order a kid’s meal if you can, or skip the high-calorie French fries.

Huenink is very passionate about helping parents raise healthy eaters and feels it’s important to be a good role model for kids. “Many people who are raising kids now were taught to ‘clean their plates’ when they were young,” she explained. The well-meaning advice can actually teach kids to ignore their natural hunger and fullness cues, encouraging overeating later in life. “Kids are amazing at self-regulating their intake, if they are allowed to,” she said.

In Huenink’s home, everyone is offered the same meal, (no short-order cook there!) and she doesn’t negotiate for “two more bites of broccoli.” It might sound crazy, but parents who model balanced eating don’t need to coerce the kids into eating specific amounts of certain foods. “Some meals they will eat a lot, and other meals they may eat very little, but it balances out in the end,” she explained. If you’re concerned the child didn’t eat enough, she suggests asking if they are sure they’re full enough to last to the next meal or snack. The child either decides to eat a few more bites or not, and Huenink said, “That’s the end of the discussion.” Remaining at the table until everyone is finished eating also models healthy eating and encourages family conversations.

You’re not alone if you feel you’re stuck in a nutrition rut. “It can be very difficult to make lasting dietary changes,” Huenink said. She urges you to evaluate the changes you’re making. Is it too much at once? “Pick one small, specific goal, and focus solely on that. When you get to the point that it’s a habit like brushing your teeth, where you do it every day and hardly have to think about it, then choose a new habit to work on,” she explained.

One change that makes the biggest impact on Huenink’s clients is reducing high-calorie beverages, like pop, juice, energy drinks and sports drinks, and choosing calorie-free drinks like water, coffee, tea and sugar-free beverages instead. To get more of the vital nutrients needed, focus on eating at least one cup of non-starchy vegetables at every meal. She suggests reducing portion sizes of higher-calorie foods too.

Huenink urged, “Seek out a registered dietitian to help you on your journey. There is a lot of misinformation about nutrition out there, and a dietitian can help you wade through that and help you reach your goals.” 

(Additional information source: StatePoint)

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