Have you ever looked in your pantry or refrigerator and thought, “I don’t have a thing to eat” – when, in reality, there’s plenty of food? The truth is: there may be nothing you want to eat. You may be suffering from what’s known as ‘palate fatigue.’ Even though you have choices, they’re unappealing. The solution? You need to add some variety and excitement to your meal plan! Let’s look at some ways this can be accomplished so you can wake up your plate with flavorful, nutrient-dense foods that also satisfy your exploratory side.
How to add variety to your diet
The simplest way to get reacquainted with foods that can help you add variety to your diet is to revisit the five food groups. Here’s a quick refresher of what they include and the benefits they offer:
Grains are foods made from wheat, rye, rice, oats, cornmeal, barley or another cereal grain. Grain foods include bread, pasta, breakfast cereal, grits, tortilla, rice and oatmeal. Whenever possible, choose 100% whole grains.
Whole grains supply many B vitamins, fiber, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus and selenium. Some of the health benefits of whole grains include helping to lower the risk of diabetes, heart disease and obesity – and they can can support healthy digestion and may help with weight management.
Vegetables come in an array of colors, flavors, textures and forms. They can be eaten raw or cooked, and you can buy them fresh, frozen, canned or dried/dehydrated.
Vegetables are organized into four subgroups:
- Dark green: broccoli, collard greens, kale, spinach
- Red and orange: acorn squash, carrots, pumpkin, tomato, sweet potatoes
- Starchy (corn, green peas, white potatoes)
- other vegetables (eggplant, beets, cauliflower, Brussel sprouts, green beans, onions).
Vegetables provide nutrients, such as potassium, dietary fiber, folate (folic acid), vitamin A and vitamin C, vital for health and maintenance of your body.
Loading your plate with wholesome vegetables as part of an overall healthy diet may reduce the risk of heart disease, may protect against certain types of cancers, and may help prevent chronic diseases. And remember, all vegetables count!
Also available in every color, flavor, texture and shape imaginable, fruit can be enjoyed fresh, frozen, canned, dried, raw, cooked, whole, cut-up or pureed.
Fruits are a source of many essential nutrients including but not limited to potassium, dietary fiber, vitamin C and folate (folic acid). It is important to consume a variety of fruit, because different fruits contain different vitamins and minerals. Remember, you want to try to “eat a rainbow” when it comes to fruits and vegetables, in order to expand your intake of nutrients.
Consuming fruit can help reduce blood cholesterol levels, may lower the risk of heart disease, aid in proper bowel function and may protect against certain cancers.
We often get stuck in the pattern of eating the same fruits each week. Favorites like bananas, apples and grapes are great, but there are so many other fruits out there to explore! Look into choices such as citrus (different varieties of oranges, grapefruit, pineapple), berries (blueberries, strawberries, raspberrie) and fruits that grow on trees such as apricots, cherries, peaches, plums and mangos.
The presence of fruit in your refrigerator, on the kitchen counter, or in a bowl on the kitchen table increases the likelihood that you’ll eat it. Make sure fruit is readily accessible, whether you prep it beforehand so you can grab and go, or stocking fruit cups packed in 100% juice.
Proteins function as building blocks for bones, muscle, cartilage, skin, blood, enzymes, hormones, and vitamins. When we think of protein, we often think of meat; but we also get protein from seafood, eggs and plant-based sources such as beans, nuts and seeds.
It’s important to choose lean protein when possible, to decrease consumption of saturated fat. Saturated fat may increase risk of heart disease or high cholesterol levels.
Seafood (tilapia, shrimp, lobster), lean beef and pork (sirloin, tenderloin, loin chops, 90% lean ground beef), skinless poultry (chicken, turkey, Cornish game hen) eggs beans, peas and lentils, nuts (almonds, pistachios, walnuts), seeds (pumpkin, sunflower, squash) and soy products (tofu, tempeh, veggie burgers) are all considered lean protein options.
Just as it is important to eat a variety of fruits and vegetables, this is also the case with protein. It is recommended to eat 8 ounces of seafood per week, as seafood provides omega-3 fatty acids, which may help reduce the risk for heart disease.
For balanced eating, try to have one serving of protein at each meal.
The diary group includes milk, yogurt and cheese More recently, dairy-free alternatives have become popular as a new option for those with lactose intolerance, with a milk allergy or who avoid dairy for other reasons. This is now considered a subgroup of dairy.
Foods in the dairy group provide many nutrients including calcium, phosphorus, vitamin A, vitamin D (in fortified products), riboflavin, b12, protein, potassium, zinc, choline, magnesium and selenium. For dairy free alternatives, make sure they’re fortified with calcium and contain low to no added sugar.
The importance of adding variety to your diet
Just like everything in life, an ideal diet is all about balance. If your plate consists only of protein, how will your body get the calcium it needs? If your plate is filled with only fruits and vegetables, how will you get protein? Finally, if dairy and meat are the only foods you consume, how will you get fiber and vitamin C? Our bodies need all foods and nutrients working together to be at optimal health.
The pathway to variety
Vibrant colors. Use the rainbow as your inspiration to add eye appeal, and choose a different color food each week. Consider trying to eat one fruit or vegetable each week.
Array of flavors. Take a class on blending herbs and spices, or experiment with some of the seasonings on your rack to enhance your favorite vegetables or protein foods.
Rich in fiber. Plant a new vegetable in your garden and add to your kabob or stir fry.
Include a food from a different culture each month.
Ears to hear with. Give your meal, snack, soup or salad some crunch for a variety of texture. Consider incorporating a new crunch, such as toasted chickpeas or dehydrated vegetables.
Take action today. Retry foods from the past. They may taste different now.
You got this. Each week find a food you are curious about, look up recipes and prepare it.
Now you have some tools available to change the way your plate looks with nutritious foods from all food groups. These are just a few ways of adding variety to your day. The plate that works best is the one that is consumed by you!