We all know what we should eat. Fruits and vegetables top the list. But many people of all ages find the healthiest foods among the least appetizing and enticing. Cheryl Houston, director of dietetics at Fontbonne University, is out to change that.
“There are two things everyone can do to make eating a heathy diet more appealing: Change your attitude and develop your skills,” Houston says. “Usually, it’s easier to begin with the skills because learning what to do with your healthy ingredients is key.”
Houston offers several tips for making foods both nutritious and delicious:
• Choose foods that are in season. “We can have virtually anything we want year-round, but that doesn’t mean a strawberry is at its best in the middle of winter,” she says. In fact, Houston says it’s no wonder people turn their noses up at out-of-season produce, which is often flavorless and mushy by the time it reaches grocery shelves.
However, fruits and vegetables purchased when they’re at the peak of their natural growing season have a completely different character. A tomato purchased in January is a pale shadow of the flavorful, firm fruit plucked from the vine in July. To find out which fruits and vegetables are in season, Houston recommends visiting local farmers markets and checking online resources. University of Missouri Extension offers a free ‘Seasonal and Simple’ app that provides lists of seasonal produce throughout the year.
• Spice things up. “We like to say it’s good to know the ’50 Shades of Green,’ adding delicious flavor with herbs and spices,” Houston says. If using herbs and spices seems intimidating, Houston suggests looking for local cooking classes, checking out new cookbooks and referring to online guides. “Be adventurous,” she urges. “Try growing your own herbs and explore ethnic cuisines that excite the tongue with sharp, pungent flavors.” Over time and through experimentation, you’ll learn which spices you like best paired with various foods.
• Color your plate. “Remember how excited you were in kindergarten when you had a new box of colorful crayons?” Houston asks. “Go back to those days by getting excited about the color arrays you can use in your meals.” In general, healthy foods are bright and beautiful. Un-healthy foods tend to be less colorful. Fried foods are often brown, for instance. “Pick colors that look appealing—reds, blues and deep purples, bright greens, and yellows,” she says.
While learning what to do with healthy foods is important, Houston notes that the other aspect of embracing healthful eating is a matter of attitude and belief. “Consider whether you tend to self-soothe or treat your own anxiety with food,” she says. “Really ask yourself why you eat the things you do. And if you’re simply eating to comfort yourself, think about how you can substitute other activities like journaling, reading or taking a short walk.”
Family meal-planning and getting kids involved in growing and preparing vegetables often makes healthy foods seem more exciting to children, she adds. “Kids who are allowed to be in the kitchen, to get their hands on the food, to make a mess, tend to become more adventurous cooks and eaters.”