Picking Healthy Foods to Eat = Choosing a Better Life to Live
We run on calories. Fact. Given the parole of three meals and three snacks or other familiar guidelines, it’s a moot point that those calories play a dramatic role in how functional we are going to be during the day. Think about the last time you had a nutritious meal loaded with fruits and veggies instead of finger food or a McDonald’s drive-through. If you’re anything like me, you must have felt much more energised when you picked some more conventional healthy food.
Full disclosure: Recently, a colleague and a friend defended her PhD thesis. She was happy with the result, and there was quite a bit of celebration. While treating ourselves to drinks and snacks, I mostly went for deep-fried or sugary options, and, surprise, surprise, by the time I got home, I was exhausted, sluggish, bloated, and uncomfortable. To make matters worse, I was still hungry and craving even more sugary snacks. Let’s say it was not a pleasant evening for my stomach.
A calorie may be a calorie, but not all calories are created the same. You’re already familiar with the macros (carbs, proteins, and fats), but where they come from definitely affects how you feel. And trust me, healthier choices are not necessarily more expensive or more difficult to make. However, let me underline that just because some foods get bad rep, it doesn’t mean that you should completely ban them from your diet – it’s all about balance and I strongly suggest moderation both in your approaches to health and nutrition.
Healthy Breakfast Foods
Let’s start with the most important meal of the day. Having a well-structured morning routine should include breakfast. If you have to leave your house early and can’t eat, you should prep some food the night before or at least buy something on the healthier side. Skipping breakfast has been shown to increase cravings later during the day, leading you down the sugary and fatty rabbit hole.
Some healthy breakfast foods you could try include:
- (Overnight) oats with nuts and fruits
This fibre-rich dish requires almost no time at all. All you need are some steel-cut oats, a bit of milk or yoghurt (plant-based or otherwise), and any fruit you have at hand. Add a few nuts of choice for a satisfying meal that will keep you full for hours. You can also prepare it the night before and store it in the fridge if you’re short on time in the morning.
- Colourful smoothies
Notice how I didn’t go for any specific colour? That’s because smoothies are so wonderfully versatile. The basic ingredient for each is a banana (ripeness is totally up to you), a splash of milk, and any other fruit you like. For an extra taste punch, I suggest a bit of cinnamon or a tablespoon of honey. If you want a green power-smoothie, use some kale or spinach.
- Healthy granola bars
Some days are just a mess. You wake up too late, your shower takes forever to warm up, and you realise your shoe has a broken sole, so you need to dig up another pair from under the bed. The result? You don’t have time for proper breakfast. If you know you’re facing a busy morning, you can prepare some of the most convenient healthy food out there: delicious granola bars. All you’ll need are some dates, an assortment of your favourite nuts, a bit of honey and spices, and the old reliable oats. Mix them all in a bowl until you get a thick, sticky consistency. Then press it into a square dish and store it in the fridge until you’re ready to hit the door.
- Eggs on toast
Everyone loves a bit of crunchy toast in the morning. To round it up into a nutritious meal, fry a sunny-side-up egg and roll it onto your already toasted bread. Cheese goes marvellously with this!
- Healthy breakfast muffins
These, too, require some forethought, but everyone needs to know how to bake a batch of muffins. Mix 3 eggs, some 30g of butter, half a cup of yoghurt, and a sweetener of your choice in a bowl. If you like, you can add berries or chopped apples, cocoa, and even some chocolate chips into the mix. Add baking powder and flour until the mixture is sticky and thick, and then pour it into the muffin mould. Twenty minutes at 180° will save you at least two days of breakfast planning.
- Breakfast burrito
Another crowd favourite that requires little to no work. Burritos are super friendly when it comes to choosing what goes into them. All you need is a wrap (go for wholemeal wraps) that you can fill with ham, cheese, pickles, mushrooms, tomato sauce, tofu strips, boiled eggs, or whatever you feel like eating that morning. Some chilli spice will give you a true Mexican feel as well!
Healthy Food Ideas for the Rest of the Day
Whether you prefer to have a big meal in the evening or around midday, some of these dishes never fail to delight:
- Curry and rice
Curry is a wonderful, flavourful home-cooked meal that can be altered to fit any nutritious meal. Chicken, pork, vegetarian, or vegan – curry comes in all shapes and sizes. The staples include potatoes, carrots, lots of garlic and onions, and at least one apple to make it particularly tasty. Throw in some coconut milk or cream for a Thai Curry, and add lots of spices. Rice adds complex carbs to the mix, making you full and energised.
- Healthy vegetable pasta
Anyone can cook up a pot of pasta, but while you’re cooking, why not throw in some greens? Broccoli, spinach, kale, or Brussel sprouts and some cheese and pesto are guaranteed to keep you happy and healthy. To add more value to your carbs, go for wholemeal pasta.
- Rich tuna salad
Fish is the true star of this meal – it is high in protein and adds enough healthy fats. Throw in enough greens and some radishes, cucumbers, and tomatoes to enjoy a summery lunch. Lemon dressing will make this salad even better!
- Chicken hummus bowl
Starring: One sizzling chicken breast and a few spoons of hummus on top of any vegetables of your choice. Add some delightful rice or couscous.
- Potato frittata
Ah, nothing better than dishes that just make themselves. For this beauty, you’ll need some potatoes cut into slices, onions, garlic, a few tablespoons of Greek yoghurt, a bit of mango chutney, and 2 to 3 large eggs. Whisk all the ingredients together and let loose with spices like cumin, curry, turmeric, mustard seeds, and coriander before grilling it all together in a frying pan. You can even put it into a deep dish and give your oven something to do.
Short on Time? Try These Quick and Easy Healthy Food Options
Some days I feel like a truck has run me over twice, just to make sure I’m quite dead. Then I remember that I have to cook on top of it all. I’m sure you have such days too, but luckily, there are fast and easy options to save the day that pack a nutritional punch.
- Oven-made fish and chips
Hello, there’s not a single person who hasn’t done the good old fish and chips downtown dinner. Still, you can avoid high sodium concentration and somewhat questionable frying oil from the fast-food shop and do it yourself at home (AND save some cash). All you need to do is cut potatoes into thin strips, coat them with olive oil (can be left out) and spices of your choice, and toss them into the oven with any store-bought fish you like. Pub food right in your kitchen; who could say no to that?
Fun fact 1: The name ‘French fries’ has nothing to do with France. In fact, I hear they’re not overly fond of the dish anyway. It comes from the verb ‘to french’, which means to cut something into long, thin strips.
Fun fact 2: Fish and chips™ are considered the first-ever fast food! If you go for these oven-made, you’ll know why!
- Toast Hawaii
Let me introduce you to this German delicacy (and my regular Friday-night dinner). You’ll need toast bread, optional butter, some ham, cheese (ideally cheddar), and sliced pineapple (canned ones will do). Assembly manual: toast the bread, add optional butter, ham, pineapple slice, cheese, and an optional cherry in the middle. Bake in the oven at 180° for about 10 minutes. Enjoy the flavourful punch!
- Stir-fry vegetables
I am a big fan of frozen veggies from the supermarket, but if you prefer fresh produce, feel free to use those. Toss anything you have into the pan, add some soy sauce, salt, pepper, and any herbs you have on hand and stir occasionally until the veggies are crisp and cooked through. You can, of course, add any protein sources to the pan – tofu, seitan, chicken, fish, or pork, as well as a combination of beans, peas, or chickpeas.
- Pasta in tomato sauce
I won’t go as far as to name this Bolognese, but the idea is there. Boil some water for pasta (don’t forget the salt). As it cooks, heat a bit of butter in a pan. As it starts to sizzle, add a dash of flour and mix until you get a thickish, light-yellow mixture. Add tomato sauce and a cup of pasta water, and let it cook for a while. Again, feel free to add any meat or replacements into the sauce mix and let it cook for some 20 minutes. Spice it up as you prefer and finish the pasta according to the package instructions. If you find that the sauce is too thin, mix a spoonful of flour with two spoonfuls of water and pour it into the mix. Stir until combined and the sauce will thicken.
- God bless sandwiches
You know what, sometimes you just crave a good sandwich. To add a nutritional spin to your clubs, you can play with spices (e.g. chilli boosts metabolism), add some hummus or mashed avocado (make sure it’s responsibly sourced), or cottage cheese for extra creamy comfort food.
- Thai pad noodles with veggies
Another dish that practically cooks itself. Cook the noodles according to the instructions on the package and stir-fry your favourite veggies. Garnish everything with spring onions, some soy sauce, or even wasabi if you’re brave.
Are There Any Healthy Fast-Food Options Out There?
Of course, we all like a good burger from our favourite fast-food place! Still, I cannot help but remind you that fast food is loaded with sodium, flavour-enhancers, sugar, and oil, which is not changed as often as it should be! Nevertheless, if you’re down on inspiration and loaded with coupons for Burger King or KFC, some of these healthy foods can keep your caloric needs met without major hindrances to your health.
- McDonald’s: Southwest Grilled Chicken Salad
Although it’s not the first association with McDonald’s, this salad is actually quite tasty (and not because it has mystery spices and ingredients that promote addiction to fast food). Corn, black beans, tomatoes, and spinach balance it out nicely and make for an indeed happy meal.
- Chipotle: Burrito bowls
Burrito bowls tend to be a healthier option than simple burritos bought in fast-food chains because they are more likely to mix more greens in. Pick the ones with a variety of different veggies and proteins, and make sure you go for low-sodium and/or low-sugar dressing. In fact, any burrito bowl is a fine choice, not just the ones at Chipotle’s.
- KFC: Grilled chicken breast with green beans and mashed potatoes
Yes, I know, KFC is all about endless chicken wings, deep-fried and dunked into delicious sauces, but hear me out: this little gem is just as tasty, and there’s even actual chicken flavour to it (and not just the taste of oil and curd).
- Have a thing for Chinese food? Try grilled teriyaki chicken
I personally believe that most dishes you order at your favourite Chinese restaurant tend to be nutritious and healthy, although those that swim in various dressings and sauces are likely to be more caloric. Grilled teriyaki chicken usually comes with a side of veggies and is lower in fats and sugars. Give it a try.
- Ordering pizza? Go easy on the condiments
To be frank, pizza is just so good that you need to have it on your menu at least sometimes. When you’re not making it yourself (and honestly, self-made pizza is the best), order the ones with mozzarella cheese, some veggies (corn looks great on pizza), and simple spices. Avoid too much ketchup or mayo, these are not necessarily your friends.
Healthy Brain Foods – Quick Snacks to Boost Your Day
There are some foods that have been proven to increase brain function, and luckily for all of us, lots of them are pretty convenient as snacks.
- Dark chocolate – Rich in antioxidants, energising, and metabolism-boosting. Need I say more?
- Tuna fish – Cheap and available all over. Go for the ones in their own juice rather than oil. Fish can lower the chance of brain deterioration, as shown in patients with Alzheimer’s disease.
- Nuts and seeds – The best friends of students on the run! Walnuts in particular can boost memory.
- Eggs – Boiled, fried, poached … and they delay cognitive decline – sign me up!
- Avocado – There’s a reason why everyone’s hyped up about it.
- Coffee – Boosts energy and brain? Awesome. Unfortunately, diet culture tells us to drink black coffee only, but I’m here to remind you to make it as you like it!
- Berries – Full of micronutrients, berries can improve memory. Stock up before your exams hit.
Healthifying Your Life
There are many ways to make your nutrition healthier. As you can tell, I am a big fan of oven-baked dishes because they tend to reduce the amount of oil necessary for cooking. Additionally, the best way to improve your overall diet is by adding lots of fruits and vegetables to your meals and some healthy fats (nuts, seeds, fish, or nut butter). Another pro tip is to avoid condiments and dressings; they carry a good load of mystery ingredients, too much sugar, and ‘bad’ kinds of fats.
A word of the wise: Don’t be too preoccupied with various health trends or even hyped-up foods. Trends come and go. Quinoa and chia seeds may be all the rage, but if you have no need for them, don’t worry about them too much. Similarly, if you prefer milk chocolate to dark, by all means, go for it. Try to practise moderation with some less healthy foods, and you’ll be just fine.