On Nutrition

March is National Nutrition Month, which always feels odd to me, because nutrition is important every single month and every single day. But here we are, it’s March, and this year’s theme is “Eat Right, Bite By Bite.” Specifically, this means eating a nutritious diet doesn’t have to be restrictive or overwhelming, that setting small goals and making small changes can have a cumulative positive effect on our health. Every nutritious bite is a step in the right direction.

Nutrition science evolves gradually over time — no overnight paradigm shifts, despite what so many nutrition-related headlines, tweets and posts would suggest — and so does our thinking in how we approach nutrition. This includes the growing awareness that factors like education, income, living environment and discrimination affect our health, in part because of how they either contribute to — or help protect us from — chronic stress. Struggling to maintain a restrictive diet or to make nutritional changes that feel overwhelming is not only stressful, but it buys into the false idea that we can disease-proof ourselves with food.

When you make changes that are doable, you can maintain them and then build upon them. But that’s a hard bite to swallow given our society’s propensity for black-and-white thinking. Go big or go home! Do it perfectly or don’t do it at all! Well, perfection is the enemy of progress — I’ve said it many time before, and I’ll say it many times again. What seems like a drop in the bucket will add up over time. Want to start eating better, bite by bite? Some tips:

Eat a variety of nutritious foods, every day

Are you in a rut, maybe eating the same few vegetables, fruits or protein foods week after week? Broccoli, sweet potatoes and salmon certainly make a nutritious meal, but the fact is that each “member” of a food group offers a slightly different nutritional package. For example, broccoli and red bell peppers don’t contain the exact same nutrients. Both are excellent sources of vitamin C, but the peppers are winners for vitamins A and B6, while broccoli wins for vitamin K. Both are rich in antioxidants, with some that are unique to each veggie. Getting variety over the course of the day, week, month and year — hello, seasonal produce — helps you nourish your body better.

Plan your meals

Yes, it takes time to plan, make a grocery list and shop, but that up-front time investment rewards you with less stress and better nutrition as your week progresses. Planning includes not just what you’ll eat for your daily meals but what — or where — you’ll eat when you’re traveling (or simply out running errands all day).

Learn skills to create tasty meals

Feeling more confident in the kitchen makes it easier to experiment with new flavors and foods while also reducing food waste — something that’s good for the environment, our wallets and our morale.

Finally, take time to enjoy your food

And do so with friends or family when possible. When you take the time to plan, shop for and prepare a meal, why rush through the actual eating experience? Slowing down a bit and actually paying attention to your food has multiple benefits. You’ll better understand your likes and dislikes and will be more likely to notice when you’ve eaten enough — your internal sensations of fullness and satisfaction are better indicators that it’s time to put your fork down than simply eating until your plate is empty.

You can learn more about National Nutrition Month at Eatright.org/NNM.