We hear about “healthy eating” all the time, but how does that actually transform into tangible and tasty meals when it comes time to eat? Healthy eating is much more about eating nutrient-dense foods than simply restricting calories. Just because a food is high in calories doesn’t mean that it’s bad for you. And just because a food is low in calories doesn’t make it a healthy choice. Protein, carbs, vitamins, minerals: this is what your body needs to thrive. Foods that have this include fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans and fish.

Decades of scientific research link ultra-processed foods to negative health outcomes including obesity, increased disease risk and early death. Diets rich in highly processed foods, like the typical American one, may also increase the risk of depressive symptoms, particularly among people who get less exercise. Cutting back on things like sugary drinks (especially soda, energy drinks and coffee with all the bells and whistles (syrup, whipped cream, etc.)), processed meats, candy, ice cream, fried foods, fast foods and highly processed/packaged snacks is a must if you want to improve your health. It doesn’t mean you can’t indulge once in a while – after all, you don’t want to be so restrictive that then you binge eat – but the priority should be healthy eating first. When you’re used to a diet high in processed sugar, it can blunt your taste buds. You will get cravings. And you might get cranky if you can’t get a “hit”. After eating healthy for a while, you may find that it opens up your senses in a different way – fruits may taste sweeter, for example. And you may find yourself in a better mood and sleeping better than ever.

When it comes to making meals, keep it simple and think in threes:

  • Protein: eggs, chicken, fish, or a plant-based option like tofu
  • Fat: olive oil, nuts, seeds, nut butter, avocado
  • Fiber-rich carbs: starchy options like sweet potatoes, certain fruits, and beans — or low carb fiber sources like asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower, and berries

If you’re not used to cooking or grocery shopping, break it down into just a few manageable meals in the beginning. Go to the grocery store and shop for the ingredients for a couple of dishes for the week – and keep these recipes simple. Once that becomes a habit, add more meals until most of your meals are prepared at home. The key here is progress, not perfection!

One of Our Breakfasts: scrambled eggs with sausage; yellow or sweet potato with ghee (instead of butter); veggies (small salad with bell peppers, carrots and tomatoes, tossed with olive oil and vinegar, salt/pepper). Or chop up some onions, bell peppers and spinach to throw in with the scrambled eggs. Herbal or black tea (with almond milk). Some fruit, like an orange or berries.

One of Our Lunches: leftovers from dinners; salad (romaine, green leaf or arugula) with plenty of vegetables: carrots, tomatoes, bell peppers, cucumbers, avocado. You can mix it up occasionally with mushrooms, celery, beets, sunflower seeds, etc. Add a type of protein such as tuna, shrimp, sardines, grilled chicken, etc.

One of Our Dinners: This always takes the most time and I’ve found that using an InstantPot can help speed things up, as well as make meals for multiple days, especially when making a stew or nutrient-dense soup. Borsch, a Ukrainian favorite, is pictured. A favorite and easy stovetop dish is kielbasa (sausage) with sauerkraut, along with a side salad. Probiotics in sauerkraut can help with gut health. After many days of travel, with less healthy food options, this is a favorite first meal once back home.

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photo: by Ulyana Peña