The key to eating healthier is as simple as reading food labels, planning ahead, and understanding that there are no good or bad foods.
"Everything fits in moderation," said Corrine Kanetski, a registered dietitian with Blue Mountain Health System.
If you're ready to start improving your eating habits today, look at the big picture. All meals are made of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. Focus on these three areas to make each meal healthier, says Kanetski.
You can find carbohydrates in many foods, including breads, fruits, and vegetables. Carbohydrates are both naturally occurring, such as the carbs in bread and fruits, and added to foods, like the added sugar in a sweet cereal or fruit juice.
Carbohydrates are a healthy part of all diets, but they aren't all created equal. It's possible to find both healthy and less healthy carbohydrates.
"Choose carbohydrates that aren't loaded with added sugars, and carbohydrates that have more whole grains and fiber," says Kanetski. When looking for cereal, "look for something that has a bit more fiber, perhaps Cheerios instead of a puffed corn product."
Protein is found in animal products and some plant products like soy. Look for lean, lower-fat sources of protein to keep your family full and heart-healthy.
"If you go into the meat section, you want to go with leaner cuts of beef and white meat poultry," said Kanetski. Fish, including salmon or tuna, is also a good source of protein and healthy fats.
Fats also play an important role in our eating habits. Fat makes you feel full, is needed in the body, and a small amount makes meals taste better. Look for unsaturated fats and limit the amount of saturated fats in your family's meals.
"You want to choose foods that are lower in saturated fats. Starting at a very young age, saturated fat can start to cause heart problems. It's an eye opener," said Kanetski, noting that doctors are now seeing adults in their 30s or 40s with early heart disease, often caused in part by a diet high in saturated fats.
"In the dairy section, you'll want to look for low-fat products," she added, noting that most people don't need the fat in whole milk or whole dairy products. "Children need the calcium in milk for bone growth, but once a child is older than 2 years old they don't need the fat that comes in whole milk. They just don't need it."
Overwhelmed by the options in the grocery store? Read food labels and make your family's diet as varied as possible. Instead of serving the same foods each day, eat lots of different, colorful fruits and vegetables and different sources of carbohydrates and protein.
"Variety is important," she said. "They say to eat the rainbow, because different colors have different nutrients. If you have more varied choices, you're getting a more well-rounded intake of vitamins and minerals."
Finally, don't forget that food is meant to be enjoyed. A healthier meal starts with taking the time to choose and prepare the food, and then finding a few minutes to sit down and enjoy the meal.
"Make food part of your day," said Kanetski. "Not something that's a nuisance, but something that you look forward to."