Since the start of 2018, we’ve been providing you with practical advice to become healthier in the new year—how to stay motivated, how to stick to your New Year’s resolutions, and how to weed through trendy diets to find a sustainable regimen that works for your goals. February is sure to pose new challenges—celebrated as National Chocolate Lovers’ Month and focused around indulgent holidays like the Super Bowl and Valentine’s Day, the shortest month of the year can feel like the longest when it comes to keeping up your healthy eating resolutions. Luckily, it’s possible to partake in these festivities without completely breaking the calorie bank (and certainly without compromising on decadent flavor)—all while sneaking in a few extra nutrients.
Sneak in vegetables wherever you can: February is the perfect month for a warm bowl of mac ‘n cheese, whether you’re heading in from the slopes or unwinding after a long day. Make your bowl healthier by adding pureed vegetables, like butternut squash, into the mix. A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that subjects who were served casseroles made with pureed vegetables ate 200 to 350 calories fewer per meal—with no changes in meal satisfaction or satiety. Plus, added veggies mean the added benefit of extra fiber and micronutrients. Try it at breakfast, too—add pureed pumpkin to your oatmeal and shredded zucchini or carrots to your pancakes.
Make your desserts work for you: Nutritionally speaking, most desserts have nothing going for them. Ideally, the calories you put into your body should play a functional role in your health, and luckily there are a few simple swaps you can make to sneak healthy nutrients into your favorite desserts. Try replacing half of the fat (oil / butter) in a muffin or quick bread recipe with an equal amount of Greek yogurt or pumpkin puree. Use avocado in chocolate mousse, pudding, or frosting recipes, or turn your pie upside down and use an almond and oatmeal crumble instead of a heavier pie shell. You’ll get your sweet dessert, plus nutrients that contribute to your health and wellness.
Choose quality over quantity: We all have our favorite indulgences, whether that’s once-a-year Girl Scout cookies, your mom’s made-from-scratch pesto, or Kraft Mac & Cheese. There’s plenty of room in a healthy diet for these foods, as long as it’s an every-now-and-then occurrence and not an everyday one. When you’re presented with an indulgent food that doesn’t really do it for you, ignore it—those grocery store cookies left over from an office meeting? The extra chicken nuggets on your kid’s plate? Pass. Skipping out on the foods you don’t love makes plenty of room for the ones you do love. And luckily, you get to define what quality means to you!
At the end of the day, remember this—a few bites of full-fat, real ice cream every now and then isn’t going to harm you in the long run. As I mentioned in my post ‘The Secret to Healthy Indulgence’, what matters for your health is the overall context of your diet-—not that one time you ate two brownies instead of one. Aim to fill most of your diet with fresh vegetables, fruit, lean protein, beans, legumes, nuts, seeds, and other unprocessed foods, and enjoy indulgences when you crave them the most. But if you find yourself craving a little something sweet and you don’t have to have that specific cupcake / slice of pizza / cheeseburger, these indulgence hacks are the way to go—you can satisfy your craving while adding nutrients to your diet.