5 Easy Steps to Eat More Healthfully in 2022

Make these five easy shifts and you'll be on the road to a more energized, healthy you in 2022.

woman chopping fresh vegetables
Photo: yulkapopkova

Get Healthy In Five Easy, Do-Able Steps

We've all tried it. One minute you are lamenting your snug waistband, the next you are promising to never eat x, y, or z ever again. Whether you swear off pizza or pancakes, the ban just can't hold. That's because you're slashing away something you love, and you feel deprived. Old habits die hard. But a really effective way to get on track is to stop focusing on what you can't eat and start crowding the plate with what you can.

It's a mental trick of sorts, to add instead of subtract, but it works. By striving to take these five simple steps toward adding the kinds of nutrient-rich, fiber-filled plant foods that your doctor recommends, you'll be adding energizing, filling plant foods to your life. By the time you get to the not-forbidden foods, you'll be full enough to eat reasonably, or even give them a pass.

Step One: Just Add Beans

Want to keep your food budget in line and do your body a favor? Savvy cooks know that dried beans are one of the most economical, flexible, and easy-to-store pantry items. By adding one bean-based meal to your week, you'll reap many health benefits, and save money, too.

Legumes, whether you go for lentils, beans, tofu, or even bean flours, provide plenty of protein, for far less money than meat. If you've heard that the protein is "incomplete," don't worry, beans are lacking in some amino acids, but your body is very efficient at finding them in other foods over the course of the day, so you don't need to plan meals around protein-combining.

A diet rich in legumes is associated with lowered risks of heart disease, diabetes, and certain cancers. The fiber in beans is incredibly beneficial, helping to remove cholesterol, keep the colon healthy, and even feed the good bacteria in your gut. It also stabilizes blood sugar and helps you feel fuller longer, making beans a great food for losing a few pounds.

If cooking dried beans is too much to take on, remember that lentils only take 20 minutes. Canned beans take no time at all, and can be added to foods you already make, like salads, pastas, and soups. Prepared hummus, canned refried beans, and other bean products are convenient, too.

Don't forget about edamame, tofu and tempeh, made from soybeans, the one bean with complete protein. Whether you like them in stir fries, or transformed into meatloaves and burgers, they are legume all-stars.

If you haven't tried bean flours yet, chickpea flour is a delicious way to eat beans in a new way. It's available in the gluten-free flours section at the store. Try it in socca or even chocolate chip cookies.

Gluten-Free Chickpea-Flour Chocolate Chunk Cookies with Peanut Butter and Oats
Gluten-Free Chickpea-Flour Chocolate Chunk Cookies with Peanut Butter and Oats. Kim

Step Two: Veggie Power

We all know that we should eat our vegetables and fruits. We've all had days when we grabbed meals on the go, and our veggie consumption was way below the recommended 2 1/2-to-3 cups for adults.

It's very easy to have a bowl of cereal, a quick sandwich for lunch, and pizza for dinner, with barely a vegetable in sight. If we make adding more fruits and veggies part of our planning, it makes a big difference. At every meal, ask yourself, "Can I add some vegetables?" Then do it.

Breakfast. Start your day on the right foot. Plan to add fruit to your cereal, even a handful of raisins will do, or even try a quick scramble with veggies.

Lunch. When making or ordering a sandwich, pile on tomatoes, spinach, avocado, olives, jarred roasted peppers, and any other veggie that looks good.

Dinner. When preparing a recipe, like this Mexican chicken soup, double the veggies called for.

In many pasta recipes, it's easy to substitute a package of zucchini noodles for half a pound of pasta — just stir them in at the end so they won't get soggy.

zucchini noodle salad
Zucchini Noodle Salad with Lemon-Garlic Vinaigrette. lutzflcat

Stir-fries are a great way to get more vegetables. You can even make a recipe that serves 4 and use half the protein-giving you the flavor with double the veggies. Try this recipe for Lemon Shrimp Pasta.

Take the time to prep vegetable sides, or buy pre-cut veggies that you can pop in a steamer. Keep condiments on hand to jazz them up, from Sriracha to seasoned salts. If you serve them with a drizzle of vinaigrette or a sprinkle of spice, you'll crave them next time! Try this Orange Chicken Stir Fry.

Step Three: Default to Whole Grains

We've all heard that eating whole grains is good for your health, and whole grains reduce the risks of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and many other diseases. If you've been slow to make the switch, the good news is that manufacturers have been hard at work, making whole grain products tastier and easier to find.

The first, easiest way to add more whole grains to your life is to start replacing the cereals, breads, crackers and snacks you already buy with whole grain versions. Cereals are the easiest, just look for 100-percent whole grain cereals with under 2 grams of sugar per serving.

When buying bread, look for whole wheat flour as the first ingredient. Crackers are easy, and the whole grain versions are just as crisp and tasty as the white-flour ones. Snacks like tortilla chips and popcorn are whole grain, so if you ditch potato chips for popcorn, you are making a step in the right direction.

Cooking and baking with whole grains is also a great move. Instead of white rice for stir-fries, cook brown, or even a mix of white rice and quinoa. Add barley to soups, and try a side of farro instead of potatoes.

When baking at home, you can usually substitute 1/3 to 1/2 of the white flour in a recipe with whole wheat without any discernable difference. You may find that making whole wheat pancakes, waffles, or biscuits is really popular with your family, since those are served fresh and warm, with a pat of butter and drizzle of syrup or jam.

Chef John's Whole Wheat Ciabatta
Chef John's Whole Wheat Ciabatta. David

Try these whole-grain recipes:

Step Four: Spice is the Spice of Life

Is your spice drawer up-to-date? Maybe it's time to jazz up your life with some new herb and spice combinations. Clear out those jars that are over a year old and invest in fresher herbs and spices, for a start. Herbs and spices are an often overlooked way to add not just flavor but also healthful antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds. A well-balanced seasoning can make up for cooking with less fat, salt, and sugar, making spices and herbs essential to a more healthy way of cooking.

It's easy to forget how easy and delicious a little spice can be in your everyday cooking. Those scrambled eggs would benefit from a sprinkle of paprika, or a few pinches of thyme, basil or dill. Canned soups and frozen vegetables are crying out for a few pinches of herbs and spice. Try this Homemade Herb Salt.

A pot of rice or a pan of roasted potatoes becomes sunny yellow with the addition of turmeric, a potent antioxidant. Curry is a great way to eat more spice, so add more Indian food and you'll be reaping the benefits of spice. Try these recipes for Raghavan's Curry Blend and Garam Masala Spice Blend.

Roasting your vegetables is more exciting with spice, too. Try this recipe for Moroccan Spiced Roasted Carrots.

Moroccan Spiced Roasted Carrots
Moroccan Spiced Roasted Carrots. France C

Step Five: Keep the Treats, Just Shrink Them

You might think that a healthy diet is draconian and joyless, because there can't be any dessert. That's absolutely not true. The key to balance is to really, really enjoy your treats, in moderation.

One winning strategy is to just make desserts smaller. Shot glasses of chocolate mousse or cheesecake have become popular at high-end restaurants for a small, very satisfying bite at the end of the meal. You can do the same at home.

Try these recipes:
Avocado Dessert
Pumpkin Coffee Tiramisu
Mini Dessert Brownies with Raspberries
Lemon Soufflé

Another way to enjoy treats is to eat desserts that deliver real food like fruit, nuts, and dark chocolate along with a little sugar. Crisps and crumbles have less crust than a double crust pie and can contain healthy oatmeal and nuts along with fruit. Crepes can be a lovely dessert, and you can stop at one.

Try these recipes:
Tart Apple Cranberry Crumble
Pear Crisp for Two
Mini Peach Cobbler
Dessert Crepes

Instead of half a pint of ice cream, try a lighter sorbet, perhaps garnished with fresh fruit. Try these recipes for Triple Berry Sorbet or Dark Chocolate Sorbet.

Check out our collection of Healthy Recipes.


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