Diet and nutrition advice tends to get complicated, doesn’t it? Eat this, don’t eat that, drink this, don’t drink that, try this, avoid that – it sometimes seems like eating well and serving your family healthy meals requires too much time and energy.
So for those of us who are too busy to sort through complicated nutrition information or follow complex eating plans, I’ve pared the advice down to one healthy eating strategy. I call it the 2 x 3 + 1 Rule. If you follow this rule, you’ll end up following many of the complicated nutrition “rules” and improve your diet without even trying. Are you ready for it? Here it is:
The 2 x 3 + 1 Rule – Eat 2 fruits or vegetables 3 times a day (i.e., at every meal) plus 1 as a snack.
That’s it. If you can’t make any other changes to improve your diet, just make this one – include 2 fruits or vegetables in every meal and one as a snack. Why? Because that one change will trigger a cascade of positive changes. It will increase the amount of vitamins, minerals, fiber and other nutrients in your diet. And it’s likely to decrease the amount of salt, sugar, calories, and unhealthy fats. How? By replacing low-nutrition foods (e.g., a packaged rice mix for dinner or chips for a snack) with high-nutrition foods (e.g., baked sweet potatoes for dinner or grapes for a snack).
Now, I said that this strategy is simple, and it is. But I know it isn’t necessarily easy because, let’s face it, prepping and serving fruits and vegetables requires a bit of work. And making sure that you have enough on hand for 3 meals and 1 snack every day requires some planning and effort. But if you’re only making one change, and it’s a change that really pays off in terms of a healthier diet and better nutrition, I think it’s worth the effort. Here are 4 ways to make the 3 x 2 +1 Rule work for you without driving yourself crazy:
- Make a menu for the week. Before you go grocery shopping, make a menu plan that works with your family’s schedule for the week. Include all meals and snacks, and write down which fruits and vegetables you plan to include with each one. Even if your plan changes during the week, a menu helps to ensure that you’ll have enough fruits and vegetables on hand.
- Organize your refrigerator. It’s easier to eat fruits and vegetables if you know which ones you have on hand and can grab them easily. Plus, wasting them because they got lost in the back of the refrigerator is a cryin’ shame! So take a few minutes to clean out and organize all the areas where you store food, then take 10 minutes every weekend to keep them organized. (I did this over the last two weekends, and now I know where everything is in the refrigerator, both freezers, and the pantry! It’s a great feeling, and makes meal planning so much easier.)
- Keep it simple. Serving fruits and vegetables doesn’t have to be complicated. As a matter of fact (especially with kids), simpler is generally better. So choose the simplest options whenever possible. For example, serve baby carrots, sugar snap peas, grapes, apple slices, orange slices, bananas, simple green salads, simple stir fries, baked sweet potatoes, or baked winter squash on your busiest days. Put out a simple vegetable plate (carrots, pepper strips, cherry tomatoes) with hummus or homemade ranch dressing for an afternoon snack or as part of an easy dinner, like grilled chicken breasts and whole grain pasta. And don’t be afraid to eat the same thing often. For example, I eat plain Greek yogurt with a cup (or more) of berries almost every morning. It’s delicious and healthy, and I can fix it the night before or early in the morning (even before my coffee kicks in!) without thinking.
- Wash and cut up fruits and vegetables before you need them. One of the things that keeps busy women from eating and serving more fruits and vegetables is the time it takes to wash and prep them. If it’s 6:00, everyone’s hungry, and the salad vegetables haven’t been washed and cut up, then a salad probably isn’t going to happen. But, if some lettuce, pepper, cucumber and tomatoes have been washed and are ready to go, then quickly putting together a salad becomes an easy dinner option. (And if a simple homemade salad dressing is ready and waiting, even better!) So take some time on the weekend, or on a less-busy night of the week, and wash and prep the fruits and vegetables you’ll need for the next few days. Get your children involved – talk to them about healthy foods while showing them how to wash and cut up different fruits and vegetables. (This will take more time at first, but can save you time in the long run.) Then package the ones you, your husband, and the children will need for school/work lunches or snacks in grab-and-go bags or containers.