How to Make Every Bite Count


USDA and HHS released the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025 on December 29, 2020. Two of the big changes were the new guidelines for infants and new limits for sugar.

The video above introduces another change in focus. Pointing out that most of us don’t actually follow the guidelines for health eating, the USDA asks us to think about food in a different way. 

It takes about 85% of the calories we eat (or should eat) to meet our nutritional needs. That means we have just about 15% of our daily intake to use for “discretionary calories” — stuff we eat just for fun. 

Recreational eating

If we distinguish between the food we eat for healthy fuel and the food that’s mostly recreational, we’ll probably notice that we grab a soda and chips for the pleasure of the sugar and salt and bubbles, not to feed our bodies.

When we try to make every bite count, we’ll probably still have a piece of birthday cake at a party and maybe some chili cheese fries on game day. But we can begin to get in the habit of eating and drinking for the good of our bodies more than just for fun.

Ways to make more of our bites count

Here are three eating habits that can help us get into the habit of trying to make every bite count:

  • Fill half of every plate with fruits and vegetables. If you get in the habit of filling half your plate with produce at every meal, you will naturally eat more fruits and veggies and get more fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Plenty of lunches include a sandwich (maybe with a lettuce leaf and a slice of tomato) and chips and a cookie. Let that be half the plate and fill the other half with some carrot sticks and orange segments. You’ll still enjoy your lunch, but more of your bites will count toward your nutritional needs. Do the same at each meal!
  • Find a nutrient-dense snack you enjoy. Nutrient-dense foods have lots of healthy nutrients like vitamins, minerals, protein, and fiber. They’re the bites that count when ti comes to nourishing your body. A lot of us choose snacks that have very little to offer us nutritionally: candy, chips, and cookies, for example. But there are probably nutrient-dense foods that you can enjoy as a snack. Nuts, fruits, whole grains, and protein foods can make satisfying snacks. Take some time to experiment with shrimp cocktail, veggies with hummus dip, whole grain crackers with cheese, or healthy trail mix. Once you find nutrient-dense snacks you really enjoy, get in the habit of choosing them more often.
  • Shop the perimeter of the store. When you do your grocery shopping, try to buy mostly fresh foods, not processed foods. Limit the amount of processed foods you buy, and it will be easier to limit the amount you eat. For some of us, a basket full of fresh veggies and whole grains can be daunting. If you don’t know how to get those basic ingredients onto a plate, take on the project of learning to cook some great go-to meals. Ask your mom, check out You Tube cooking channels, or by a basic cookbook and expand your skills. Gradually add new recipes to your repertoire, focusing on those nutrient-dense foods.

By the end of the year, these three manageable habits can make a big difference in how healthy your eating habits are!

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