Small moves can pay off big time when it comes to making smarter nutrition choices.
In 2021, 45 percent of people made a resolution to improve their diet while 44 percent committed to losing weight, according to a YouGov poll. But the reality, according to a OnePoll survey, is that most people give up on those resolutions within 32 days.
Nutrition goals don’t always require a major diet overhaul. Healthy eating is more about building better habits that you can rely on when you’re busy, short on time, or on the go. Being proactive—by meal prepping, cooking strategically, and keeping your fridge and pantry stocked with multi-purpose staples—can help you make smarter choices even when you barely have the bandwidth to consider microwaving a TV dinner. Here’s how to stay on track through the rest of the month and beyond.
Meal-prepping can help people stick to healthy meal choices when they’re stressed, a 2020 study published in Preventive Medicine Reports found. But that doesn’t have to mean making one thing and eating it for a week straight. Instead, think about preparing meal components, says Vanessa Rissetto, R.D., co-founder of Culina Health—with multiple ingredients ready to go, you can cook something new each day in way less time than starting from scratch.
For example, instead of putting your fruit and veggies in the fridge right when you get home from the grocery store, wash them, slice them, dice them, and put them in baggies or containers, suggests Roxana Ehsani, R.D.N., a sports dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Then, “you have your chopped up broccoli you can throw into a stir fry or chili; lettuce that you can stuff in a sandwich or put some salad dressing on; chopped up spinach, bell peppers, or mushrooms you can toss in an omelet,” she explains.
Certain healthy recipes can feel overwhelming when you look at how much time it takes to prepare the individual elements. Cut down on kitchen time by cooking multiple meals at once. You can either double or triple recipes or focus on specific ingredients (most foods will last in the refrigerator for three to four days or you can freeze them for even longer).
Cooking ingredients that can be used for multiple meals is a great way to be proactive and maximize your time in the kitchen. “I’ll batch cook my vegetables or my carbs, like sweet potatoes and quinoa, then put them in separate containers and save half for later,” says Rissetto. Both could be added to a salad for lunch or used as a side dish for dinner later.
Freezing leftovers is a great option for quick and easy meals. But stopping after the prep stage to put things on ice can pay off later, too. “I’ll go buy ground turkey, season it, and form turkey patties, but then I’ll wrap them individually in plastic and put them in my freezer,” says Rissetto. “When I don’t feel like cooking, I can still defrost and cook one pretty quickly.”
In a case like that, you can also multi-task: “I always keep frozen fish on hand because that’s really easy to pop in the oven and bake,” says Ehsani. “At the same time, I’ll throw a bunch of veggies on a sheet pan and let them roast. You’ll have a whole meal in 15 to 20 minutes.”
And don’t be afraid to use frozen produce, either. There’s this idea that fresh is best, but frozen fruits and vegetables can have just as many vitamins, according to the 2015 research published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. “They’re frozen at peak freshness, so they still retain their nutrition,” says Ehsani. Having them on hand makes for easy morning smoothie additions and side dishes that are ready in about 90 seconds.
For those who are big snackers, keeping bags of chips or crackers in your pantry can be a dangerous game. When you’re hungry, if that’s all that’s on hand, you’re likely to plow through the whole thing—and there’s not much nutritional value there. “Think about how you like to eat healthy things,” says Rissetto, and then fill up your fridge and pantry accordingly.
If you’re trying to eat more veggies but don’t love them, make them more palatable with hummus. If you love cheese, put it on a cracker with some marinara sauce for a mini pizza. If you crave sweets, add Nutella and chia seeds to plain yogurt. “I like to use snacky things as vehicles for protein or fiber,” says Rissetto. Not only is that better for you, but it’s also more filling—so you won’t feel the need to keep snacking all afternoon.
Healthy eating isn’t just about what you put in your mouth, but what you put on your counters, shelves, and in your fridge. “The first thing you see when you walk in the kitchen is what you’re likely to gravitate towards,” says Ehsani. Case in point: People who left fruit on their countertops weighed an average of 13 pounds less than those who didn’t have a healthy snacking option within arm’s reach, a 2015 study published in the journal Health Education & Behavior reported. Whether it’s on the counter or in the pantry or fridge, keep healthy food directly in your line of vision, says Ehsani.
And here’s a fun fact: The neater you keep your kitchen, the less likely you are to make unhealthy choices, too. In messy kitchens, people ate twice as many cookies compared to clean spaces, according to a 2016 study in the journal Environment & Behavior. So make sure to tidy up after all your meal prep.
This may not save you time, but it will help you stay on track. In this 24/7 connected culture—especially with working from home—people rarely slow down for meals. In fact, 67 percent of Americans check social media and 59 percent read the news during lunch, according to a 2019 survey. And people who eat while distracted eat 10 percent more in one sitting than they would otherwise, according to 2013 research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
In the same way that your bedroom should be a sacred space for sleep, make your kitchen a place reserved for prepping, cooking, and eating food. When you’re done with your meal, you can get back to scrolling the internet for the latest updates.