12 Simple Steps to Cleaner Eating

Many New Year’s resolutions involve eating better. But with such a lofty goal, it can be hard to know where to start. Fortunately, just a few simple changes make stepping in the right direction easy. This list, organized starting with the easiest steps to implement, makes cleaner eating accessible no matter what.

1. Don’t deprive yourself.

You’ll set yourself up for failure if you start by quitting your favorite unhealthy foods cold-turkey. While cutting out things like sugar or red meat entirely can be good as a long-term goal, start with something attainable, like cutting back to eating red meat twice a week. Or, if a sugar craving kicks in, allow yourself a piece of dark chocolate. This will make healthy choices sustainable for the long term.

2. Turn off distractions.

Being distracted by activities that take you out of the present moment, such as looking at a screen, contributes to mindless eating, which can make the meal feel less satisfying and cause you to eat more than you need. Your mind and your eyes will benefit from the screen break. Check out more ways to eat mindfully here.

3. Reach for brown carbs.

Next time you’re grocery shopping, make a simple swap from white carbs to brown. Think brown rice and whole-grain bread instead of white. Brown carbs are more nutritious and filling than white, and it’s a simple change to make.

4. Don’t calorie count.

Trying to do it by the numbers will only stress you out. Focus on content instead and use proven calorie-cutting methods like eating plant-based meals, steaming or baking foods instead of frying, and swapping out butter for olive oil.

5. Focus on foods, not supplements.

Vitamins and supplements can be good, but should never take the place of healthy eating. If you’re inclined to take more vitamin C in the winter months, for example, pick up your favorite citrus fruits next time you’re at the grocery store. Eating whole foods is a more effective way to get the nutrients you need.

6. Add fresh fruit to yogurt.

Flavored yogurts are delicious, but are often made with extra sugar or artificial flavors. Instead, buy plain yogurt and add fresh fruit to it. Not only is it healthier, but it also feels like a decadent treat.

7. Use spices instead of salt.

When cooking at home, using salt can be an easy trick to add flavor. But spices can add more flavor without the extra sodium, and they have many added health benefits as well. Stock up your spice cabinet and get creative with your recipes. (Many spices can be bought in bulk at a natural foods store or even some mainstream grocery stores, which allows you to try a small amount of a new -- or pricey -- spice.)  If you still feel the need for salt, use sparing amounts of sea salt to taste.

8. Eat leaner meats.

If you’re a meat-eater but want to cut back on the most unhealthy meats, figure out where you’re willing to compromise. Some people just can’t give up pork bacon, but a turkey burger instead of a beef burger might be a less noticeable change.

9. Use the color method.

When it comes to whole (not processed) foods, the method of putting a variety of colors on your plate is a good way to ensure balanced meals. When you’re at the grocery store, try to buy a rainbow of fruits and vegetables and work them into your daily diet.

10. Shop grocery store perimeters.

At almost any grocery store, the healthy whole foods are kept at the edges, while the processed “fast” foods are in center aisles. Stick to the perimeters while you’re shopping and see how much better your cart looks.

11. Switch to stovetop popcorn.

Microwave popcorn has a convenience that’s hard to give up, but stovetop popcorn is a much healthier option, with fewer chemicals and your own preferred butter and salt quantities. There’s also something tastier and more authentic about it. Have fun with different topping combinations, like olive oil and fresh grated parmesan cheese, or nutritional yeast for a vegan option. And in a pinch, try the microwaved paper bag method.

12. DIY salad dressings

Even if you’re not much of a cook, salad dressings are an easy thing to put together. Start with a base of olive oil and vinegar (try balsamic or red wine). Add herbs and spices like oregano or pepper to get the flavor profile of your choice. It doesn’t need to be complex—get creative and use what you have.