For many of us, healthy eating (or eating at all) may surreptitiously go AWOL from our list of priorities during this busy time of year.
So, I turned to a UBC pro to learn what we can do to keep our diets nutritious—even when we're short on time, money, or both!
Melissa Baker-Wilson has been working as a dietitian for UBC since 2016 through her role as Manager of Nutrition and Wellbeing for Student Housing & Community Services.
According to Melissa, eating well is essential to maintaining our mental and physical health—it helps us concentrate and retain knowledge, feel our best, and reduce our risk of getting chronic diseases.
From cooking on a budget to healthifying takeout, here are her top tips for eating well:
Prepping a balanced meal
1. When grocery shopping, review the nutrition label
Look for foods with low saturated fats, trans fats, and sugar content, and pick foods high in vitamins and minerals to help improve your health and strengthen your immune system. Better yet, choose foods that don’t come in packages at all!
2. Select plenty of diverse, colourful fruits and vegetables
This helps your system get a range of nutrients and antioxidants—though “plenty of” can sound rather broad. Melissa clarifies that we should try to make sure half of every meal is made up of fruits and vegetables. If you’re prepping snacks, try pre-washed, chopped fruits or veggies with a dip you love!
3. Avoid processed foods
Reduce the amount of packaged, refined foods you get, like instant noodles—and add intact grains like brown rice, buckwheat, quinoa, millet, rolled oats, barley, and wheat berries to your diet instead. These are grains that have not been extensively processed, so they contain plenty of fibre and nutrients.
Side note: If you love instant noodles (same, lol), try this healthier alternative!
4. Stay hydrated
When choosing what to drink, avoid sugary beverages (pop, energy drinks, and bubble tea), as these can have detrimental effects on your health if consumed regularly. For example, avoid sweetened drinks high in calories; these offer little nutritional value, and make you feel full...so you can't actually take in more nutritious foods! Instead, stick to drinking water, which can help regulate appetite and boost concentration.
Healthy eating—on a budget
1. Eat at home and reduce waste
Track what food you have in your fridge, and plan out how you can use up each item before it births bacteria. Try cooking a “clean-out-the-fridge” soup or stir-fry if you need to use up a lot of ingredients at once.
2. Consume more plant-based products
Beans, lentils, and tofu are nutritious and cheap. Check out this tutorial on cooking lentils that Melissa suggested!
3. Shop smart
Go easy on your wallet and visit discount sections; produce that look blemished or misshapen (but are otherwise fine) can be great options! Also, head to the dollar store if you’re looking for kitchen staples such as canned foods, condiments, cooking oil, and grains at bargain prices.
Just make sure you don’t buy more than you can actually consume—buying in bulk only saves you money so long as you’re using up what you've bought!
Don’t have time to cook every day?
Try to “batch cook” on the weekends, portion out your meals, and freeze them for consumption throughout the week. Meal planning isn’t always a piece of cake, so here’s a tool from Dietitians of Canada that can help.
Alternatively, Melissa also suggests pre-cooking the components of a meal (e.g. starch/whole grain + vegetables/fruits + protein source)…and then “mixing and matching.” For example, you could throw some brown rice, roasted vegetables, and chopped chicken into a bowl, and top with your favourite sauce or dressing.
Explore quick recipes as well—some meals take only 15 minutes to put together, e.g. whole wheat pasta, canned tomato sauce, and veggies. Get easy #collegestudent recipes on the UBC Food Services site or on Budget Bytes.
Cooking and eating at home may be the optimal option for your health, but hey, sometimes we all just crave some good takeout! So, if you’re treating yourself, here are some tips to consider:
- Choose whole grains (e.g. brown rice) and add a side of steamed or roasted veggies
- Order sauces on the side so you can control how much you want to add
- Avoid deep-fried and heavily processed foods (e.g. bacon and salami)
If your takeout order is rather hefty, consider dividing your meal and saving some for the next day. You could also whip up a side salad (you’re at home, after all!) if your takeout lacks veggies.
Changing up your eating habits
Now that you’ve been introduced to all these nutrition tips, you may be wondering how you can incorporate them into your life—and make your new eating habits stick.
One strategy is to use associative thinking—or as Melissa explains, “When X happens, I do Y.” For “X,” choose something you do every day (such as waking up), and make it your cue for "Y" (your desired healthy dietary habit). For example, when you get up, drink a glass of water, or get a piece of fruit.
Developing healthy eating habits not only benefits your body, but also your mind! Learn more about the connection between nutrition and mental health during UBC Thrive in November. Thrive is a month-long initiative focused on helping you understand and maintain good mental health, so be sure to check out the Thrive calendar for some fantastic virtual events and learning opportunities.
There you have it—a cornucopia of tips to healthify your diet this year!
For more helpful hints and recipes on nutrition, head to the UBC Foodie Blog (where you can find even more of Melissa’s fantastic advice), and follow @ubcfoodie on Instagram to get content right in your (wait for it)...feed!