10 healthy eating hacks we use everyday

January 21 | Guest post by Amber Linthakhan

healthyhack.pngEating healthy can be hard work! We have two growing boys who seem to shovel the food in their mouths most days. I'm not sure if you know this, but growing boys eat. They are also grazers. They like to graze throughout the day so we have to supply them with healthy snacks otherwise they will graze upon whatever is available. Candy, sour milk, stale cookies they find hiding in the couch cushions, literally anything.

I'm not real big on feeding them candy or sour milk. Stale cookies… I'm debating. So instead of letting them scavenge the couch cushions for breakfast, I've found that with a little prep work after a big shopping trip can be worth it.

These aren't your typical what to eat. But tricks to keep you eating healthy…

1. Create a snack shelf

Create a shelf in the fridge where all the snacks go. Easily or not easily accessible to little hands, your choice. I keep ours stashed with yogurt, apple sauce, cut up fruits and veggies, hard-boiled eggs, cheese sticks, and a jug of water.

2. Pre-wash veggies

No brainer right? Just listen: As soon as you get home from the store fill up your (clean) sink with a vinegar and water solution and wash all fruits and veggies right then and there. Dry fruit and put away. No more getting up from Facebook to wash that piece of fruit your toddler is having a melt down over.

eating healhty jars

3. Snack Jars

Reuse those old spaghetti sauce jars, pickle jars, and jelly jars to hold some good healthy munchies. Keep a variety of sweet, salty, and savory.

4. Bulk spices

The health benefits of using spices in your cooking can be amazing! Not to mention the flavor benefits as well. Make your own taco seasoning, steak seasoning, etc. Another wallet-friendly tip (it's ok to love me at this point)… check your local international markets as they usually sell bulk spices much cheaper than grocery stores.

5. Keep fresh produce. Always.

Find out what you use all the time and keep it stocked. Staples we always have on hand: lemons, limes, garlic, ginger, green onions, cilantro, lettuce, apples, oranges.

6. Freeze fruit

We have bags of berries in our freezer that we picked throughout the summer and stashed away for the winter. No, it's not as good as fresh. But they are great to make smoothies with, add to oatmeal, or just munch on. Frozen fruit is like the ultimate treat for the Juniors. Better than ice-cream… almost.

eating healhty tea altar

7. Create a tea shelf

Nothing fixes things like a pot of hot tea. Making a tea altar for yourself is just good karma. Keep a well-stocked shelf with a variety of teas to drink between your cup of coffee and glass of wine (both of which I support, in moderation of course). I'd recommend loose leaf, but we all can't be amazing all the time. Don't forget a little Buddha figure, and a tiny blessing bag blessed from the Monks in Thailand, because everyone has those lying around. And a jar of expensive chocolates, if it's expensive you'll think twice before indulging and just treat yourself to one piece once in a while.

8. Get rid of your microwave

We've survived over a year without one. Check out the benefits, and get rid of it.

9. Make items from scratch

With Pinterest out there, you can find so many homemade recipes and snacks. Things from fruit snacks, or doughs, to homemade granola bars and ice-cream. They tend to be more healthy and more wallet-friendly, too. We are always trying to make things from scratch instead of buying them at the store prepackaged. (Try these homemade Coconut Mounds bars.)

10. Make Healthy eating FUN

Make Peanut Butter Toast faces with bananas, raisins and almonds. Use cheese sticks and pretzels and make a scooter. The options are limitless! It's not hard to make food new and exciting. You think this is just for kids? No way, make yourself some Lego-shaped cheese chunks, or get fancy and do some fruit flower carvings. Call it art.

We are always trying to come up with new ways to keep our diet clean and healthy. Now it's your turn: have fun healthy hacking, and let us in on your tips!

  1. Love this! Keeping healthy, easy snacks is the way to go!!

    One of my big hacks is to bring my breakfast and lunch to work instead of using the canteen.
    We dont have access to a fridge so I use a cooler bag with a cooler block. This means that if I dont eat it then its wasted and I wont allow myself to waste food! Keeps me away from the processed food and gives me a yummy, balanced diet throughout the week!
    It's a little difficult at first but with planning, equipment (cooler bag / thermos / bento box) and some practice it becomes part of your daily routine!

    5 agree
    • Yup! I do this as well – I've recently gotten a lunch bag that's actually a freezer pack in itself – so you just put the bag in the freezer and it freezes. It's nice because you don't get the sweating that a typical blue ice would give you.

      Typically, I don't have enough time to eat at home before I have to go to school (I'm a grad student) so I will pack a couple yogurt, and some granola for breakfast and then for lunch I typically do leftovers. I also throw in 3-4 fruit cups or fresh fruit and a couple (standard sized) carrots. While today that's not so healthy (nachos!), it's certainly better than the hamburger I'd use otherwise.

      2 agree
  2. The best thing I've done is to create dry soup bags. Dry soup is actually an invention of hiking and outdoors culture where any cooking beyond boiling water is simply too much. You basically take all the dry ingredients for a single serving of soup, apportion them into a bag and leave them. When you want the soup, you boil water, dump the stuff in, wait a few minutes, and haha, soup.

    Basically, you start with powdered stock. Then you add pasta, noodles, etc. Then you add veggies that can be re-hydrated. Mostly, this means mushrooms, dried peas, etc. However, I've had success dehydrating differnent veggies. Keep in mind you can also always just add a handful of fresh or frozen too, if you're at home. You add spices or dried herbs, and you can actually even add dried meat jerky (yes, it can rehydrate) if you swing that way. I know it's not everyone's bag because it's not fresh stuff, but it's nutritionally sound (dehydrating is a great way to preserve stuff if you have a salt aversion). Eating this way basically saved my fragile mental state after having a baby. This is the website I relied really heavily on: http://www.onepanwonders.com/index.html

    An aside – I have never been able to repurpose pickle and sauerkraut jars for anything. Even though its glass, I have never been able to get the odors truly out. So we just wind up reusing them for the same things.

    4 agree
    • I thought I'd mention that it's the lids that retain the odors of the jar's content! I solve the issue by replacing the lids with new ones, it takes a bit of research and not all the sizes are available, but it works perfectly.

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  3. I'd also add CHOP those veggies to that washing step. When you get home from the store, chop all the things (well, all the things that are intended for snacking) so that it's easy to grab a few celery sticks or cucumber slices when you're hungry.

    For me, eating healthy HAS to be convenient, otherwise I"m not liable to do it. So I keep a lot of things around that can be easily snacked on with MINIMAL prep needed: Greek yogurt, applesauce, slices of lean meat and cheese, nuts, and lots of raw fruit and veggies – chopped in advance whenever possible. I also avoid ever buying cookies and such from the store; if I want a cookie, I make myself bake it from scratch. (Sometimes that's inconvenient enough for me to just eat carrots instead.)

    17 agree
    • Additionally, realize that you can chow down on an whole entire carrot and (IMO) they taste better than baby carrots.

      For years I had this mental block – I'd buy the whole carrots because I like the way they taste more, but I'd never want to chop them and then they'd go bad. But it's actually really easy to just throw a couple into your lunch box without chopping or peeling them. And they taste great.

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      • Heh, and if there isn't space in your lunch box and/or you don't want to look like Bugs Bunny when you eat it, who says they have to be chopped? Break that sucker in half.

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  4. I definitely agree on the chopping. When we buy our lettuce, we always come home and chop it up immediately so that it's ready for anything from salads to sandwiches. It's so much easier than having to chop it up for every meal we want to serve it with.

    I'm also a big fan of the frozen organic veggies that can be steamed in their pouch in the microwave. Some days, when I'm throwing together a quick dinner, the ability to have steamed green beans or peas in three and a half minutes is the difference between a veggie being on the table or not.

    Finally, I love my air popper for popcorn. I can buy the kernels in bulk and season it to whatever flavor I so choose once it is popped. It takes no time at all and leaves me with a highly satisfying snack.

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    • How long does the lettuce keep chopped up, versus whole? I want to chop the lettuce up but I'm hesitant to do so as I'm not sure how much shorter it will last for.

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      • I throw mine in a big container (ziploc brand) after washing and chopping it. I put a paper towel in the bottom and it keeps for well over a week. My MIL swears by the paper towel trick and does hers in bags. The trick is to either have your lettuce or your paper towel be slightly damp. The romaine in my fridge has been there for ten days and is just starting to turn pink. It's been crisp and fresh tasting the entire time.

        2 agree
      • My fridge is TERRIBLE (yay renting!). I have to keep it unwashed until right before I use it. And my fridge seems to be extra humid with no way to control it, so I put a dry paper towel in a large plastic or glass container and put the whole head of lettuce in there. The container (as opposed to a bag) prevents it from getting squished by other things in the fridge. Squishing bruises the leaves, which accelerates decay. I can get away with prewashing and chopping for a couple days if I dry it really well in a salad spinner.

        1 agrees
    • Lettuce and other salad leaves grow brilliantly in small planters – I usually keep some pretty indoor window boxes filled with salad plants (spinach / lettuce in warmer months, oriental greens in the colder ones) – I just go to my kitchen window with a scissors and cut off what I want!
      You can do the same with very small varieties of tomatoes and even spring onions – salad from you're kitchen window!!!

      3 agree
  5. I have taken to keeping unhealthy snacks in the freezer rather than out or in the fridge. Sometimes a cookie is just necessary. When they're in the freezer, they are still yummy, but I'm able to prevent myself from eating more than one or two. I'm also much more likely to forget they are there.

    I am also a big fan of tea as a replacement for snacking. I always want to put things in my mouth (oral fixation!). Instead of a snack, I can have tea instead.

    11 agree
    • I love replacement snacking. I'm switching up candy and chips for gum and soda for water. So far, I FEEL better. I still pretty much always have the munchies – but I think that's more boredom than hunger…

      Water and gum are saving me right now

      1 agrees
  6. If you are using your microwave only (or mostly) for preparing convenience foods that are unhealthy, then getting rid of it might make sense. Or, you could learn to use it to prepare healthy foods much faster than in/on a stove or in a toaster oven.

    In our household, we mostly use ours for preparing vegetables, which I often buy frozen. (Studies have shown that frozen vegetables are just as nutritious as fresh.) Using the microwave to cook vegetables also means we have fewer dishes to wash, as we can cook them in the same bowl we will serve them in and there is no pot or steamer insert to wash. We do like steamed vegetables, we just don't always feel up to cleaning up after them.

    22 agree
    • I agree in that I disagree with getting rid of the microwave.

      My husband and I are often really busy during the week. We make extra meals at weekends and freeze them. Then when we get in late we can just use the microwave to defrost and reheat a tasty healthy homemade ready meal rather than have take away or toast for dinner because we're too tired to cook.

      At the moment I've got in there:
      * a lentil and cauliflower curry
      * a spicy butternut squash, kidney bean and rice thing
      * a tofu and vegetable pie
      * a lentil and vegetable shepherds pie
      * vegetable and lentil soup
      all in one or two portion containers.

      There is no way we'd be eating as healthily if it weren't for the freezer and microwave.

      20 agree
      • I also freeze meals and reheat them in the microwave, and I also use it for reheating leftovers throughout the week β€” I work from home, and I'm prone to just not eating lunch if it isn't convenient (which is as bad as, or maybe even worse than, eating unhealthy food, especially since I'm on the border of underweight), so being able to microwave leftovers makes sure that I actually eat lunch.

        9 agree
        • I have a history of "inexplicable weightloss" that is, near as I can tell, always caused by me being too lazy to bother eating. It is not uncommon for me to not eat anything until I start getting lightheaded. At which point, preparing anything that requires me standing (or just waiting) for an extended period of time is not the best idea. The microwave is awesome in these moment. Eat something small, quick, and warm and then I can figure what more I can do from there.

          I am also a big fan of making bulk soups and freezing them. These CAN be thawed on the stove top, but that makes a lot of extra dishes.

          6 agree
      • Yeah, I like to make a big pot of something on the weekend and then warm up portions as needed. It might be different if I was cooking for more than 2 people. And warming it up in the bowl you eat out of saves dishes.
        Also, would you like to stock my freezer too? All of those things sound delicious!

        6 agree
        • Yes! On the weekends, I often make up a big batch of something (lately it's been usually some kind of soup) since my husband works an extra weekends-only part-time job that often overlaps with dinnertime (and sometimes lunch, too). It's nice for him to be able to pop something homemade in the microwave when he gets home–and nice for me, because I don't need to make him something homemade from scratch when he gets home. (Yes, he could make his own dinner, but he would probably be more likely to opt for something packaged/frozen or a sandwich because by that point he's really very tired. Also, I won't deny that I'm a better, more experienced cook.)

          It's nice to have a microwave for reheating certain types of leftovers, at least. Still, when it comes to small reheating appliances, we get a ton of use out of our toaster oven, and I use it easily as much, if not some days more, than our microwave. It's also great for cooking small amounts of food you would normally pop into the oven, as it doesn't require the extra preheating time and uses less power than heating the whole oven for a serving or two of something.

          5 agree
          • Yeah, I really hate admitting that I cook for my husband a lot of weeks because gender stereotypes suck. To be totally fair, he does about 99% of the dishes. My husband can (and sometimes does) cook for himself, but I have this intense need to feed people I love lots of vegetables. So if you find me dangling broccoli in your face, you know I'm fond of you.

            5 agree
          • Ooh, can we talk about this "admitting I do most of the [cooking / cleaning / laundry / insert traditionally "women's work" task here]" thing? 'Cause we have very good reasons why I do most of the cooking, cleaning, and laundry β€” and I don't mind it in practice, but in principle I have a bit of trouble with it, and I definitely have trouble letting others know how those dynamics go down in our relationship, since I don't want to be judged as "un-feminist"…

            11 agree
      • Can we get your recipes? Those foods sound good, and I'm always looking for more freezer meals… πŸ˜€

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      • I agree that reheating frozen homemade food is a great use of the microwave. We've often done that as well, and I'd like to do that more now that I have a job that often means I'm not home at mealtimes.

        Do you have any recommendations for homemade frozen foods that reheat well in a microwave that does not have power level controls? My work microwave has only 100% power, no 50% settings that I often use for reheating delicate leftovers. I found it dried out one chicken dish I tried to reheat in it. Still eatable, but not the most tasty. I'm guessing that more vegetarian meals would be helpful with this, as it seems to be meat that dries out at full power. I have a great Indian lentils and rice recipe that I should probably make and freeze more often, but I could use some additional suggestions.

        2 agree
        • Soups, curries, wet stuff. Lasagna actually does pretty well, too. But really, for freezing and reheating, the wetter the better. I will note, though, that potatoes and carrots always seem to come out weird-textured, unless they're pureed (I love me some pureed soups β€” potato leek, carrot ginger, and half a dozen variants on butternut squash all freeze really well).

          2 agree
          • Second ALL of this!
            Try turning your leftovers into a soup or a stew to put in the freezer for later. Pot roast with all the fixin's becomes beef stew, lentils and rice becomes a lovely vegetarian option, anything with tomatoes becomes cream of tomato soup (try lasagna!).
            Agreed that cooked, then frozen, then reheated potatoes come out funky – a bit rubbery.
            And get a blender. Even a cheap blender can turn roasted vegetables into a totally amazing soup; milk with fruit into tasty healthy smoothies.

            2 agree
    • I agree. We haven't had a microwave in several years, but we're about to have a baby and are planning on getting one simply because I know that if I'm busy or distracted it's much more likely that I'll get something good to eat if I can just pop it in the microwave.

  7. I love the tea idea. I have mine buried in a cupboard and tend to forget about it!

    1 agrees
    • You should put the teabags into airtight containers though (jars, or neat little tin boxes). Tea loses it's aroma when exposed to air (as in the cardboard boxes). And bugs and moths like tea, too πŸ˜‰

      1 agrees
  8. I don't see the need for keeping coffee "in moderation" – it's not that much more caffeinated than tea (although the caffeine does hit you in a different way) and also has a lot of health benefits. And you can rub the grounds into your scalp once in awhile (or just put some coffee in a spray bottle and spray your hair before washing it) to encourage hair growth!

    I recommend skipping the commercially-produced chai and instead having a jar of your own chai spice to add to black tea (looseleaf or bagged, doesn't matter much – Taj Mahal from an Indian supermarket is good bagged tea for chai, for loose leaf if you can get your hands on some good Tea Tang tea leaf powder or Ceylon Kandy tea that'd be great). It's really simple and keeps for awhile – you'll want a good combo of whole nutmegs, whole green cardamom pods, whole cloves and cinnamon sticks. You could throw a few star anise or allspice in there if you are so inclined (another recipe calls for fresh ginger – dried galangal also works if you are sick of ginger going off in your fridge – check the SE Asian markets – but if you do this skip the cardamom). Bash up everything but the cinnamon into rough pieces – no need to get it to powder, just break things up a bit – in a mortar and pestle. Boil water, add spices, turn water off, wait about one minute and add tea. Steep for your preferred time and add milk and sugar. I like to go heavy on the cardamom.

    I also recommend keeping cardamom pods around for coffee – bash them open (no need to powderize the insides) and throw two or three on top of the coffee grounds in your coffee maker before brewing.

    3 agree
    • I just want to share, since I find it Quite Interesting, that a single cup of tea has a lot less caffeine than a single cup of coffee. Pound for pound, tea has more caffeine, but tea leaves are MUCH lighter than coffee beans, so you use less per cup, thus making the amount of caffeine much les for what you drink. At least, I believe this is true. πŸ™‚

      And your homemade chai sounds amazing. I will HAVE to try it.

      4 agree
      • Maybe if you're using a tea bag – but I find it to be about the same. I make my tea Chinese style (loose leaf, pack it heavy with leaves, but steep them for far less time than most Americans do – we're talking 1/3 cup of leaves for a cup of tea but steeping for maybe 30 seconds at most after a quick rinse of the leaves) because that's the habit I've picked up in Taiwan, which if anything is more tea per cup of water than coffee beans!

        • The way I make tea (and I'd hazard to guess that most north americans make it about the same way) is about a teaspoon of loose-leaf tea leaves (scooped loose) to a cup of water, steeped three to five minutes. Caffeine does release more over time, but I'm guessing that my cup of tea still has significantly less caffeine than yours, since I use about 1/16th as much tea per cup.

          4 agree
    • If you're worried about caffeine content in tea versus coffee, be mindful that almost all of the caffeine in brewed tea is steeped out after about 1 minute. So if you steep your tea a second time, that second cup will have almost zero caffeine, but still have that flavor you want (although admittedly a bit weaker).
      My mom and I have this worked out so I always get the first cup with caffeine, and she always gets the second cup, without caffeine. She is much more sensitive to it than I am.
      As for coffee, a regular brew is about 3 minutes, and that gets just about all the caffeine from the grounds. So if you brew a second cup from your grounds (such as with a Keurig or other pod coffee-maker) the second cup will have almost no caffeine.

      3 agree
  9. My favorite snack hack is plain yogurt – seriously! I mix a scoop of yogurt with jam or honey for DIY fruit-on-the-bottom, at way less cost than buying individual servings. We always have multiple jars of jam/jelly sitting around that we don't use, so we buy large containers of plain yogurt and make our own flavored yogurt. I sometimes create a masterpiece by mixing all the jams together and calling it Van Gogh-gurt.

    5 agree
    • We do this too! Except instead of buying plain yogurt, we make our own. It's delicious, and an excellent accompaniment to breakfast, a tasty snack, or a delicious side with curry. Bonus: it's probiotic! We can go though a gallon of yogurt in about a week, just the two of us…

  10. I have successfully lost 25 lbs and kept it off for over a year. The biggest thing for me was to measure my portion sizes. I have several sets of measuring spoons and measuring cups, sitting right on the counter top, to help me keep portions in check. This way I keep myself honest, so I really get a full cup of broccoli, and limit myself to only 1 ounce of nuts.
    My measuring utensils are sleek and modern-looking, but there are lots of choices to match your kitchen decor so you can keep them right in plain sight, so you're more likely to use them.

    The best friend to this hack is to then read the packaging of the food you're eating to make sure you only eat one serving. A serving of vegetables is 1 cup, and a serving of fruit is 1/2 cup or one medium fruit – these items typically don't having serving sizes listed on the package.

    1 agrees
  11. My boyfriend just created a tea shelf in our kitchen!
    To save space, he emptied all the half used boxes of tea bags and organized them into old berry baskets he had saved (he saves everything). 6 types of tea bags lined up in two baskets saves a lot of shelf space compared to six half empty boxes of tea!

    3 agree

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