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June 2003
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Make Healthy Eating a Habit

Alice Henneman, MS, RD, Extension Educator
ahenneman1@unl.edu
University of Nebraska Cooperative Extension - Lancaster County

 

The perennial best-selling book by Stephen Covey is titled "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People" -- NOT "The Seven OCCASIONAL BEHAVIORS of Highly Effective People."

Habit has been defined as "something which you do often and regularly, sometimes without knowing that you are doing it." <dictionary.cambridge.org>

The philosopher Aristotle (384-322 BC) said "We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit."

Congressman and Olympic medalist Jim Ryun puts it this way: "Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going."

"By determining when, where and how a behavior will occur, we no longer have to think much about getting it done," according to best-selling authors Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz in The Power of Full Engagement. Loehr and Schwartz give several examples where people who made a specific plan followed through, unlike those who failed to plan.

Many of us know what foods we SHOULD eat, but haven't formed a habit of eating them. Here are seven possible healthy eating habits and some tips to help you develop them.

1. Divide & Conquer

Whenever possible, make it a practice to divide a large portion at a restaurant in half BEFORE you start eating. You'll halve BOTH the calories and the cost of your meal!

Think "planned-overs" rather than "left-overs." Some people even make it a practice to ask for a "doggie bag" at the beginning rather than end of the meal. They remove half their food immediately so it's out-of-sight and remains out of their mouth!

NOTE: To handle take-home food safely, TWO hours from the time of serving is the maximum time perishable foods should be at room temperature, ONE hour if it's 90 degrees F or above. For best quality and safety, eat take-home foods in a day or two or freeze them for longer storage.

ACTION PLAN: Try this the next time you're served a large portion when eating out.

2. Keep Track to Stay on Track

A bite here, a taste there and the calories mount. To stay on track, keep track of those tiny tastes. A simple way to do this is with a golf stroke counter. You can purchase one in sports stores and golf shops for under $5.

Attach it to your belt or put it in your pocket and keep count of each time you eat something between your planned meals and snacks. Continue to keep count daily until you've formed new habits and brought your "score" to a level you consider "par."

ACTION PLAN: If you like this idea, record in your calendar/planner right now when you'll purchase a counter.

3. Think 7'S When Grocery-Shopping

If you run short on food by the end of the week and making a complete grocery list just isn't for you, think in 7's. For example, if you need meats for 7 meals, write "7 meats." If you need 3 fruits a day for snacks and meals, write "21 fruits." Then pick up what appeals to you when at the store.

ACTION PLAN: Put a big "7" where you'll see it before your next trip to the grocery store. For example, place a reminder on your refrigerator door.

4. Develop a CAN-do" Cupboard Plan

There's a limit to how long you can keep fresh foods and to how much space you have for frozen foods. Assure you always have nutritious foods on hand by starting the habit of keeping your cupboard stocked with some canned foods.

Canned foods can be as healthy for you as other forms of foods. According to the American Dietetic Association, <www.eatright.org/nfs/nfs0601.html> "The nutrients in canned fruits and vegetables are sealed in because the fruits and vegetables are harvested at the peak of quality and usually canned within a few hours after they're picked." Also "... studies show that recipes using canned ingredients are similar in nutritional value and taste appeal to the same recipes made with fresh or frozen ingredients."

Here are two quick and nutritious ideas from a can of peaches. For more canned food recipes, check www.mealtime.org

Just Peachy Parfait

COOK'S COMMENT: Use whatever size of canned peaches you have on hand; freeze any remaining peach sauce in ice cube trays and use in the "Just Peachy Smoothie" recipe following this recipe. Make and refrigerate the peach sauce part of this recipe before you start the rest of your meal so the flavors have time to blend.

1 can of peaches in a light or extra-light syrup
Dash of nutmeg or cinnamon
Low-fat or fat-free vanilla ice cream or frozen yogurt
Sprig of mint or fresh strawberry (optional
  1. Drain canned peaches.

  2. Make a peach sauce by pureeing the peaches in your regular blender or with a handheld immersion blender -- adding a dash of cinnamon or nutmeg -- until fairly smooth. Leave a few small chunks for texture. Taste, and add more cinnamon or nutmeg, if desired. Freshly grated nutmeg is especially nice!

  3. Layer with ice cream or frozen yogurt in a pretty glass for a special touch. For added color, top with a sprig of mint or fruit of a contrasting color, such as a strawberry.

  4. Enjoy!

  5. If you have extra peach sauce, try making peach smoothies by freezing the sauce for later use (see following smoothie recipe). Freeze the sauce in ice cube trays for about 2 hours or until frozen. Remove from tray and transfer to a plastic freezer bag. Squeeze as much air out of the bag as possible. The quality of food declines faster when excess air is left in the package. Label the bag with the type of food and date frozen. Plan to use within about 8 months.

COOK'S TIPS

  1. Eating peaches canned in an extra heavy syrup can give you more calories from the syrup than from the peaches! Choose a light or extra light syrup for guilt-free AND good-tasting eating.

  2. Try using other canned fruits, such as apricots, for quick fruit sauces.

Just Peachy Smoothie

COOK'S COMMENT: Use leftover frozen peach sauce cubes from the "Just Peachy Parfait" recipe above or follow the directions below for freezing fruit sauce for smoothies.

Frozen peach cubes (recipe below)
Non-fat or fat-free yogurt: vanilla or any flavor you would enjoy with peaches
Sprig of mint or fresh strawberry (optional)

Frozen Peach Cubes

1 can of peaches in a light or extra-light syrup
Dash of nutmeg or cinnamon

  1. Drain canned peaches.

  2. Puree the peaches in your regular blender or with a handheld immersion blender -- adding a dash of cinnamon or nutmeg -- until smooth. Taste and add more cinnamon or nutmeg if desired. Freshly grated nutmeg is especially nice!

  3. Freeze the sauce in ice cube trays for about 2 hours or until frozen. Remove from tray and transfer to a plastic freezer bag. Squeeze as much air out of the bag as possible. The quality of food declines faster when excess air is left in the package. Label the bag with the type of food and date frozen. Plan to use within about 8 months.

Smoothie

For each smoothie, place 6 to 8 ounces of yogurt in your blender. Add 3 or more frozen peach cubes, depending on size of cubes and how thick you want your smoothie. Blend until smooth. For added color, top with a sprig of mint or fruit of a contrasting color, such as a strawberry.

COOK'S TIPS

  1. As a variation, make smaller smoothies and serve them as a dessert "drink." As an extra goody, pass a plate of small, luscious chocolates as an accompaniment.

  2. If you have a larger blender jar that is fairly wide at the bottom, you may find it harder to blend single-serving smoothies but will be successful making bigger batches. A blender that is wider at the bottom will send food out toward the sides rather than up and then down toward the center and the blades. The new "smoothie" blenders on the market are narrow on the bottom.

ACTION PLAN: If this is an idea you like, you CAN do it. Record "buy canned food" in your calendar/planner on the next day you plan to buy groceries.

5. The 100-calorie Snack Attack Plan

"... often for snacks, people only need 100 calories to help control hunger. Only they're reaching for a candy bar or a bag of chips that in a small amount may be giving them more calories than they need. And it's not in a very big portion so it's not very satisfying," according to Dr. Barbara Rolls, author of The Volumetrics Weight-Control Plan: Feel Full on Fewer Calories.

Fight back when you have a snack attack with some of these snacks that offer about 100 calories. (NOTE: Very active people may need larger portions or a combination of these snacks.)

2-3 cups of popcorn (check label)
1 apple
1 orange
1/2 ounce of nuts
1 banana
1 8-oz. glass skim or 1% milk
6 to 8 oz. fat free yogurt, artificially sweetened
1 hard-cooked egg
Small bowl cereal with 1/4 to 1/2 cup skim or
     1% milk (check label for cereal portion size)
1 pear
1 piece string cheese
1 piece whole-wheat toast spread with 1 teaspoon
     spreadable fruit
1/2 to 1 cup fruit canned in light or extra light syrup
     or its own juice (check label)
1 bunch grapes
2 whole cups strawberries for 100 calories!
1 tube of yogurt
Small bowl of broth or tomato-based soup (check label)
1 ounce soy nuts (check label)

Check the calories in your favorite snacks online at www.nal.usda.gov/fnic/cgi-bin/nut_search.pl

ACTION PLAN: Keep this list somewhere, such as in your car, wallet or handbag, so it's always available when you shop. Put it there today.

6. Use Your Feet More So You Can Eat More

The more you exercise, the more you can eat. And the easier it is to meet your nutrient needs when your diet is less limited.

Build in opportunities to walk more. Buy a pedometer and track your steps -- try to build up to 10,000 or more a day. Here are some ways to add more steps to your day without starting an "official" walking program:

  1. Use the bathroom farthest from your office at work. Use a bathroom on a different floor at home. Likewise, do the same when you're away at conferences and meetings.

  2. Put on a backpack and walk for errands of about 1-mile away or less. For example, walk to buy an item from a nearby shopping center or to pick up your medications from the pharmacy.

  3. Buy the type of carry-on luggage that makes it easy to walk in the airport when waiting to catch planes. For example, use a backpack or rolling luggage. There are many new models of rolling luggage small enough to put under your airplane seat in place of the tote bag you may be carrying.

  4. Take the stairs instead of the elevator whenever possible.

  5. Take a "foot" rather than a "food" break when you need some time away from your work. Walk up and down a hall, walk around the building or block, go up and down the stairs, etc.

ACTION PLAN: The next time you're on your feet today, see how far they can take you!

Stressed Is "Desserts" Spelled Backwards

Rather than "medicate" yourself with food when the day is hectic, try this idea by Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese monk and internationally acclaimed author. He suggests we use the ringing of the phone as a reminder to relax. He advises we stop whatever we're doing for a few seconds and take a deep relaxing breath during the first ring or two. And smile.

You'll feel better and, with the smile reflected in your voice, you may make the caller feel better, too! And that also may improve your mood.

ACTION PLAN: Try this the next time the phone rings today. And remember to smile.

Start Your Plan

Remember, the more specific you are about when, where and how you'll start healthy new eating habits, and the more you repeat them, the greater your success. As well-known author and speaker Ralph Waldo Emerson, said "The secret of your future is hidden in your daily routine."

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ABOUT FOOD REFLECTIONS

Food Reflections is a FREE monthly e-mail newsletter from the University of Nebraska Cooperative Extension and also is archived at lancaster.unl.edu/food/archives.htm. It provides a "how-to" message on food, nutrition, or food safety for health professionals, educators, and consumers.

  • Author: Alice Henneman, MS, RD, Extension Educator.

  • Permission to Copy: You may reproduce for educational but not sales purposes. Please credit: Food Reflections Newsletter, University of Nebraska Cooperative Extension in Lancaster County (lancaster.unl.edu/food/foodtalk.htm)

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  • Contacting Us: Send your comments and suggestions to: ahenneman1@unl.edu

  • For More Information: For personalized answers to food, nutrition and food safety questions, contact your local Cooperative Extension office. Find your Extension office at: lancaster.unl.edu/office/locate.htm


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