How to Start Eating Healthy in 5 Easy Steps, According to a Dietitian

By Mary Stewart, RD, LD

If you—like so many of us—are resolving to eat healthier, you’re not alone.

But where to start? While cleaning up your diet can seem daunting, it’s easier than you think if you stick to these healthy-eating tips that stand the test of time.

Here’s 5 ways to start eating healthy, and stick with your new eating plan for years to come.

5 Easy Steps to Start Eating Healthier

Choose Color Over Calories

Do you think our ancestors counted calories or macronutrients? No! The next time you cook or plate your food, think about how colorful your plate is. Instead of counting calories, aim for three different colors on your plate. This helps foster a healthy relationship with food, while putting nutrients ahead of calories.

RELATED: 7 Delicious, Easy Grain Salads That Are Filled With Vegetables

Of course, when I talk about “color” on your plate, I’m not talking about food coloring. I’m talking about a diet rich in fruits and vegetables. Eating foods in a variety of colors—such as kale, cucumber, lentils, bananas, and cabbage—helps promote gut health and ensures you’re getting tons of disease-fighting antioxidants. 

Make Your Own Meals

Over 36%of Americans eat at a fast-food restaurant on any given day, according to the CDC. Although there’s nothing wrong with eating out occasionally, in most cases, we’re in the dark about how this food is prepared and what actually goes into it. What type of oil is used? How are the ingredients sourced? But choosing to cook in your kitchen means you control the quality, quantity, and nutrient density of your meal.

Don’t feel like you have enough time to cook at home? Try these hacks to save time:

  • An Insta-pot or crockpot is the perfect kitchen tool for one-pot dinners. Dump in all your ingredients, carry on with your day, then come back to a complete meal. Clean-up is easy, too!
  • Buy frozen veggies to sauté and create a “build-your-own” bowl. Despite what you may think, frozen veggies still maintain their nutritional integrity, so you won’t sacrifice nutrition for convenience.

Honor Your Hunger

Diet culture has created confusion about what to eat (and when). The first step you can take to quiet the noise is to remind yourself that food is your friend. It’s essential for living, and you should enjoy it.

To shift your mindset, first tune in to your body’s hunger level. Ask yourself, “How hungry am I right now?” By listening to your body and not waiting until you’re starving, you’ll make healthier decisions (not ravenous ones!). The goal is to feel slightly hungry to satisfied throughout the day, avoiding extremes.

RELATED: The Best Portion Control Hack to Avoid Overeating

One of the best ways to honor your hunger level is to plan ahead. You may decide to snack right before a long meeting or eat a little more at lunch before an afternoon flight. Remember your snacks need to be balanced (read: snacks that are a good source of fiber, like an apple, and have some protein/fat, like almond butter). I generally don’t leave the house without a snack in my bag. I’ve been caught too many times hungry with no food, so I’ve learned to be ready.

Keep Your Portions In Check

In addition to tuning into your hunger level, educate yourself on portion control. Portion control is the amount of food you should consume, based on your individual needs, which vary with factors like activity level, age, and weight. Don’t know what your ideal portion is? This is where seeing a dietitian or nutrition coach can be helpful  (You can also check out the Nutritious Life portion control primer for more info.)

Portion control is important, because even though the quality of your food matters (see above!), you can’t ignore quantity, either. One appetite study even shows that people trained in proper portion control make healthier food choices and choose lower-calorie foods in high-portion situations.

Balance Your Plate

Whether you’re preparing a meal (or a snack) at home or ordering lunch at your favorite café, eating a balanced meal is one of the best things you can do for your health. A properly balanced, nutrient-dense plate will regulate your blood sugar, provide satiety, and boost your energy to conquer your day.

You may already know this if you follow the Nutritious Life healthy-eating principles, but it’s worth repeating: The key to balancing your plate is focusing on the right portions and proportions. Incorporating the right proportions of high-fiber carbohydrates, high-quality protein, and healthy fats is essential for creating a balanced plate.

A good rule of thumb when building a balanced plate is to fill at least half your plate with non-starchy vegetables such as greens, asparagus, and broccoli; a quarter with high-quality protein such as grass-fed beef, wild-caught salmon, beans, and nuts/seeds; and a quarter from whole grains such as oats, quinoa, brown rice, or starchy veggies like potatoes.

To help hit your veggie requirements, I recommend preparing your vegetables in advance for the week. Stock frozen greens to add to smoothies for breakfast; chop carrots, cucumber, celery, and bell peppers to add to a chicken salad for lunch; and roast a large sheet pan of parsnips, kale, and cauliflower to pair with dinner.

(Photo: Shutterstock)


About Mary Stewart, RD, LD
Mary is a Registered Dietitian, Founder of Cultivate Nutrition and has been in health and wellness for over 15 years.

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