In the United States, we have become an overweight society: Our busy lifestyles and the abundance of convenience foods have fostered our expanding waistlines. Our society supports working long hours followed by responsibilities to our families, children, homes, pets, social clubs and other things that take up time. Convenience food items and fast food restaurants provide a quick meal for people constantly on the go. A November 2010 Consumer Reports National Research Center report noted that many Americans think they eat healthier than they do, with dietary intakes of refined sugars and saturated fats higher than most realize.
Convenience food items like fast food, pizza, prepared frozen meat or pasta dishes, boxed rice or pasta side dishes, soups, snack bars, breakfast pastries and single portion frozen meals are an easy solution when daily demands reduce meal preparation time. It’s important to remember, however, that many of these items contain high levels of sodium, saturated fat and preservatives. It’s difficult for a menu full of convenience foods to replace the nutrients and fiber that can be found in a menu containing fresh produce, whole grains, lean meat and low-fat dairy. Convenience foods should be eaten only in moderation, with a focus on preparing fresh foods whenever possible.
Paying attention to portion size is important in a healthy diet; another pitfall in American society is the growing size of our portions. Portion sizes of restaurant meals and packaged items available in grocery stores have been increasing since the 1970s. It’s important to understand what constitutes one portion as well as pay attention to internal cues when eating. One portion of beef, chicken or fish is the size of a deck of cards; a rounded handful is about the same size as one half-cup of pasta, and a golf ball is about the size of one portion of dried fruit or nuts. A good rule of thumb to prevent overeating is to stop eating when you feel satisfied, before allowing yourself to feel full.
Most food items can be included in moderation in a healthy menu, and this includes sweet treats. Many treats are available in reduced-fat or fat-free versions, like reduced-fat or fat-free ice cream, peanut butter or snack foods. These do offer a healthier alternative to their full-fat counterparts; however, it’s again important to remain cognizant of portion size. Fat-free does not mean calorie-free, and many reduced-fat foods may contain additional calories from another substance to improve their flavor. Check food labels to determine the size of one portion.
With a little practice, eating healthy can become a habit and can fit into a busy lifestyle. Keep nutritious foods around the house for easy snacks, such as pre-cut vegetables or easy-to-grab fruits like bananas, apples or oranges. Plan to cook a few healthy meals at one time and freeze portions to heat up quickly throughout the week. Crock pot meals are easy to set up before work and can deliver dishes like vegetable chili, hearty stews, or robust soups by the time the work day is through.