How to start eating healthier?

I’ve just moved into a place of my own for the first time and I was wondering if anyone has any recommendations for fast, cheap and easy to make meals that are at least not too unhealthy for you?

No exotic ingredients either please!

Thanks in advance

If you could define exotic that would help.

If you are starting with a tabula rasa [blank slate] on your own then don’t put anything with high sodium [canned soups, mixes, sauces etc…etc…] in your pantry. Do you like red meat? Never freeze it, it’ll only tempt you to eat it. If you want a steak or burger buy it from the store fresh and don’t eat a lot of it. Stay away from eating high starch foods late at night, unless you plan to take a late night jog to burn it off.

Basically, read the labels on things until you have a good idea what is in what. So many people think they are eating healthy only to find their cholesterol and blood pressure through the roof due to sodium and dyes in their foods.

Buy organic as much as possible, finds fruits andf veggies you like and eat them, not in excess. Find a balance by picking and chooseing what you want to eat that is healthy and stick with it.

I eat usually a high fiber high protien breakfast, then a small lunch, and a large high protein, vitamin and mineral rich dinner and I’m fine.

Things to avoid at all costs are salty foods, hydrogenated oils, large quantities of cheese and red meat. But non of this will work for you if you are forcing yourself to eat something you hate. So find healthy foods you like and stick with those.


If you want to go more rustic, you are looking at great foods based on beans rice and veggies, with meat more as a seasoning. Spicing and condiments can make or break food. Rice and beans can be french, italian, carribean, south american, middle eastern or oriental depending on the spicing and specific beans. [there is a fantastic rice and bean dish made with rice, mung beans [not sprouts] and garnished with a small amount of fried onions.]

I can recommend going online and looking for salsa recipes…I found a fantastic pinapple mango tomatilla salsa that would make a cardboard box taste good and is not overly expensive for a large amount. I also recommend going to a good spicer and buying a basic assortment of spices, and shopping around for condiments like soy sauce, hot sauce, fish sauce, all sorts of stuff that seems expensive really isnt because a tiny amount goes a long way in flavoring foods!

There are also a fair amount of threads on cheap eating on the dope …

When I lived on my own, I ate a ton of veggie stir-frys. Black bean quesadillas were also a staple. It’s a bit on the wheat-germ and tofu end of the spectrum, but the Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Homehas lots of relatively easy, healthy recipes.

This is advice from somebody who doesn’t eat healthy, but does know how:

“Eat as close to the farm as you can”, meaning rather than eating canned vegetables eat fresh, rather than eating cookies eat fruit, lots of spices as mentioned above, and CUT OUT PROCESSED FOODS WHEREVER YOU CAN (or to use the catch phrase for some diet, “Have you ever seen a mayonaisse plant or a cookie tree?”). Steaming and microwaving preserve the most nutrients of vegetables, boiling them until their limp or, of course, frying (as in grease) the least.

Try Cooking Light.

They have tons of recipes. Not all are healthy - they have great dessert recipes! But many of them are, especially the main dish recipes, and a lot of them are very simple. They do have more exotic & difficult to make recipes, but I don’t think they’re the majority. I don’t think I’ve ever made a recipe from Cooking Light that I didn’t like, either.

One good rule of thumb to get you started is to avoid the center of the store–they usually put the produce, dairy & meat around the edges, and all the pre-packaged, preservative- and additive-enhanced foods in the center. Make your own food from fresh ingredients, control how much fat & salt you add.

Buran, what did you eat when you weren’t on your own? What do you eat now? Are you healthy?

Like previously mentioned, I do my grocery shopping on the outside of the aisles. I start in the fruit and veggies and stock right up, then move to dairy and then meat. Really, that’s all you need.

The most important thing I do is buy groceries once a week, for the week, then when I get home I cut all the fruit and veggies up and put it in containers. Then, if I come home and I’m tired, I can toss some chicken and veggies in a pot and make a quick 10 minute stir-fry rather then making a frozen pizza or eating cereal.

I usually make a little extra dinner so I have a good lunch for the next day.

If you eat bread/rice/etc., buy the whole grain types.

Drink skim milk or soy rather then whole.

By and large, the less a food has been touched by human hands, the cheaper (and frequently healthier for you) it is. There are a few exceptions, like frozen veggies, but it’s a good rule of thumb. Whole raw chicken is cheaper than cut-up whole chicken, which is cheaper than skinless, boneless breasts, and all of those options are cheaper and better for you than an equivalent weight of microwavable chicken nuggets. Loose corn in the full shuck is cheaper than those packs of partially cleaned ears, that sort of thing.

Build up a stable of fairly easy, inexpensive recipes that have interchangeable ingredients or that you can roll one night’s leftovers into the next day’s meals. This will take a bit of time, but it’s not too hard once you get used to thinking about meals in terms of their common ingredients. It means you’ll have to plan your meals in advance, which takes a little getting used to but is well worth it.

One of my personal favorites in this vein is a whole roasted chicken. Roast the chicken one night, and serve it with…well, whatever you feel like, really. The next day, pull of some of the meat and put it in a pita with some chopped onion and shredded cheese and nuke it. There’s your lunch. For dinner you can make a big salad and put some of the meat on there with a bit of cheese and whatever fruit you have handy, maybe a few nuts. Tomorrow you can have quesadillas, or pour a little barbecue sauce on, or…you get the picture. If it’s just you, you’ll probably get tired of the chicken before you run out of meat or ideas.

Invest in freezer bags or containers. Most recipes make enough food for four or so people, so instead of cutting it down, make the full amount, eat one portion and freeze three. This is especially nice for nights when you drag in late, worn out and starving–instead of having to cook, or grab a burger someplace, you can just pull a container out of the freezer and nuke it.

Learn to love your slow cooker. If you don’t have a slow cooker, either buy one or put it on your Christmas list. You can make damn near anything in one with very little effort, and there are tons of healthy recipes out there. Even recipes that aren’t meant for the cooker can be adapted, especially soups, stews, bean dishes, and roasted meats. If it’s meant to be cooked low and slow, the crockpot is the way to go.

I would second or third the Moosewood cookbooks and Cooking Light. Both are excellent resources, though Moosewood recipes often have lots of ingredients. Still, it’s worth it - every recipe I’ve tried has turned out wonderfully. Cooking Light also has some great 20-minute recipes that work very well.

I’d also say, if there’s a food you usually get out, and you have a huge craving for it, try cooking it at home. Yes, if it’s unhealthy in the restaurant, it’ll still be unhealthy if you make it at home, but if you absolutely must have it, making it at home gives you the control to a) make is less unhealthy and b) eat less of it. Plus, you can re-constitute it later on for another meal. Good example of a food made less unhealthy at home: french fries. If you eat them out, they’re deep fried and laden with salt. If you make them at home, you can elect to use sweet potatoes (typically better for you than plain) or white potatoes and bake them instead of frying and salt them less. That way you get your starch fix but you don’t get all the oil.

Also, take your lunch to work or school, don’t get it somewhere out. You’ll save a ton of money and you can control what you eat.

Changing my eating habits was a pretty gradual thing. What the others have posted is great advice, but generally calls for a pretty radical change to your life.

What I did was look at what I liked eating and sought substitutes that were almost as good, but better for me.

Instead of potato chips, maybe tortillas? Instead of tortillas, maybe multigrain tortillas? Instead of tortillas, maybe rice cakes?

Instead of fruit loops, mini wheats? Instead of mini-wheats, raisin bran?

Portion size is also big. Try 6 small meals instead of two or three big ones. That way you’re never starved and in a super-hurry to find ANYTHING to eat. It takes some time to get some good snacks lined up. Again, you can make it gradual. Instead of a chocolate bar, how about some chips? Instead of chips, how about bits and bites? Instead of bits and bites, how about nuts? Or maybe yogurt? Or some veggies?

I guess the overall message is don’t beat yourself up for not being perfect. Make small, positive steps and take the long view. You’re going to be in that body for a long time, just make sure you’re going in the wrong direction. Maybe you don’t want a salad for lunch today, but keep an open mind and maybe in a year or two you’ll love a good Greek Salad instead of a greasy burger.

Best of luck!

PS In Canada, we have these huge selling cookbooks called Looney Spoons, Crazy Plates, and Eat, Shrink and Be Merry I highly recommend them.

This is great advice. If you have access to a microwave, you can bring last night’s leftovers. If not, you can still pack sandwiches on whole wheat bread, fresh fruit and yogurt.

I almost never buy cookies or cakes at the store. If I want something sweet, I bake it myself. Not only do you know exactly what goes into it, but you avoid weird processed stuff. Sure, butter and sugar aren’t great for you, but they’re tastier than palm oil and soy lecithin.

When you are cooking for one, the hardest part can be portion control. It’s also important to shop smart: don’t buy foods that are unhealthy and make sure to read the nutrition labels before you buy stuff.

As far as meat is concerned, divide it up into smaller baggies after you buy it and stick it in the freezer. I never use more than a half pound of ground beef for a dish.
There’s a lot you can do with just a little ground beef: vegetable soup, chili, pastas… Most of these dishes can last for several meals. Chicken breast is also a good option since its cheap and is easy to cook in the oven. Its great with some BBQ on top or marinated in Italian dressing.

I would also suggest getting a small crock pot. You can find some really easy recipes online and you will look forward to going home for dinner all day long.

I second (or third) the recommendation to make changes slowly. And do what’s right for you. Whenever I read health columns in magazines or newspapers or whatever, I nearly panic because I’m not doing everything exactly right, and it’s easy to want to give up and throw in the towel. It’s far better to make a few small changes and then make more gradually than to get discouraged and give up.

In that vein, I have a slightly different take than some of the other posters here.

  1. If you’re young and don’t have blood pressure issues, and especially if you work out a lot (so you sweat a lot) salt is not the enemy. No, you shouldn’t eat boat loads of it, but some salt is not going to kill you, and is actually necessary when you sweat. Also, if one of your meals needs to be something prepared (i.e. canned soup or a frozen dinner) and you read the label and see that it contains ~25% of your daily sodium, remember that if you eat 3x/day, each meal may contain ~1/3 of your sodium so 25% in a bowl of soup isn’t the end of the world. (Watch out for the portion sizes on the labels though - one serving is usually 1/2 a can of soup so if you eat the whole thing, now you’re up to 50% of your sodium, which is a lot for one meal.)

  2. It is better to make homemade food, but you probably don’t *always *have time. That’s ok. Look at the labels on processed foods. Hydrogenated oils, high-fructose corn syrup (despite what the corn council or whatever is saying), etc. really aren’t very good for you. Kashi makes some great pre-made foods that use lots of whole grains and vegetables and are all natural (i.e. no HFCS or hydrogenated oils). But even Lean Cuisine’s ok once in a while. Don’t feel bad if you don’t suddenly start eating 100% homemade food.

  3. Canned and frozen vegetables are GOOD for you. I don’t have a cite at the moment, but research has shown that there are more vitamins in canned tomatoes and frozen (plain, not with sauce) vegetables because they’re picked when they’re ripe and immediately canned or frozen instead of being picked less-than-ripe and then spending days on a truck “ripening” on the way to your store. Plus, they’re often cheaper than fresh. Bags of frozen veggies are great to keep in the freezer and then pull out one serving at a time to microwave with dinner or to throw in to casseroles, skillet meals, etc. at the very end so they just have enough time to thaw out and heat up but not get over cooked.

  4. I don’t believe in cutting anything entirely out of my diet. Everything in moderation. Vegetables, fruits, and whole grains should make up the majority of one’s diet. But… not all of us can live up to the gold standard every day, and you shouldn’t feel bad if you pick up a burger on the way home occasionally.

  5. Organic is not necessary, especially if you’re on a budget. Yeah, it’d be nice if we could all eat organic and protect the environment. But… reality is, most of us can’t. But what you can do is buy from your local farmers’ market during the growing season. The less time you food spends on a truck, the fresher it’ll be, the better it’ll taste, the less fuel is used to get it to you, and often, the cheaper it’ll be because you don’t have middle men involved. When you’re there, ask the grower what’s best this week and how they prepare it. It’s a great way to learn what’s in season in your area and new ways to use it.

Here’s a quick and easy and (by my definition within the guidelines laid out above) healthy recipe:
In a large skillet, combine ~1/2 a jar of your favorite salsa, 6 oz of egg noodles, and enough water to cover them. Boil for ~6-7 minutes or until the noodles are not quite soft. Add in about 2 cups cooked, cubed chicken. (This is a great use for the leftover chicken that **CrazyCatLady **mentioned. Or if you don’t have time to roast a chicken, pick up a rotisserie chicken at the store and use the leftovers from that. It’s not as good, but it’s not a bad way to go either.) Toss in some (~1 cup) frozen corn. Bring back to a boil and cook just until the noodles are soft and the corn is warm. This should make about 2 servings. NOTE: This method ends up condensing the salsa a bit so if you start with medium, you end up with something pretty spicy. I generally stick with one level of heat less than I would normally eat.

As a first step to getting used to cooking and eating at home, keep a jar of spaghetti sauce and a box of (preferably whole grain) pasta on hand. It takes ~15 minutes and only one pot to bring water to a boil, cook the pasta, leave it in the strainer, throw the sauce into the pan until it’s hot and add the pasta back in. No, it’s not the ideal that others have talked about, but when you’re just starting to cook for yourself, it’s quick, easy, and healthier than takeout. Just read the labels on the spaghetti sauce and watch out for the various ingredients that different posters have discussed.

These are just my opinions, and I do realize that they aren’t the epitome of healthy cooking/eating. But I know how hard it is to get started, and I wanted to provide some easy suggestions from someone who remembers being a beginner and trying to cook healthy for one.

If you like mayo, make it yourself! It’s dead easy.

I must respectfully disagree with advice to eat organic food. They are the biggest rip-off in the grocery store.

One of our favourite, easy, mostly-healthy meals - a bagged ceasar salad with a drained can of tuna added to it. I make it with about half of the provided dressing, added parmesan cheese, a splash of lemon juice, fresh ground pepper and bacon salt, and it is better than most restaurants’ ceasar salads.

I second advice to make your baked goods yourself. Butter has a really bad rep, but you do need about 30% of your diet to be fat, and dairy fat is not the worst fat out there. I’d take my homemade chocolate chip cookies (with real butter) over a packaged cookie any day for healthy. Moderation in all things, including your dairy fat from cookies is a good thing.

Moving thread from IMHO to Cafe Society.

If you can afford it there are places like Seattle Sutton which have excellent meals that you can pick up. It costs but if you don’t buy any other food, it works good.

The best way to start eating better is to simply half the salt of every thing you make. After a bit you get used to less salt. Then use less sugar, and keep decreasing till you get to the point where it still tastes good.

Milk go to skim. Again, till you get used to it start with whole milke and do a half whole, half skim, and keep decreasing till you’re used to the taste.

I used to simply cook my meals on Sunday and pop them into the freezer then each night pop them into the microwave.

Keep fruits you like around the house for snacks. Bananas and oranges for me.

Eggs are good for breakfast. Oatmeal is awesome for breakfast.

Experiment and find a salad you like

" " spaghetti recipe you like

" " chili recipe you like

I agree with whoever said black bean quesadilla. Mix the black beans with salsa, top with cheese, dip in sour cream (“light” sour cream if you’re fatphobic but I think the stuff is good for you in reasonable quantities.)

Watermelon is a great dessert.

Don’t try to be Mr. or Mrs. Healthfood Eater of the Year right off the bat. You’ll turn yourself off.