March is National Nutrition Month, and we're halfway through! Step up your game by trying these challenges to reconnect with your food and become more informed about what you’re eating.
1. Go on an intentional grocery store visit
Reconnecting with your food often times means disconnecting from some of life’s other distractions, and really focusing on the task at hand — understanding what you’re buying and feeding your family. Carve out some extra time to visit the grocery store and really compare products to see what is most nutritious and best for you. Make sure you go on a full stomach and without a strict timeline so you can avoid rushing and impulse purchases. Some stores and organizations like Cooking Matters give grocery store tours and provide tips and tricks for healthy shopping.
Pay attention to product marketing as you go. Consider what is being represented on the product labels, and compare to the actual ingredients (more on this next!) to make sure you’re not being influenced by pretty labels that falsely imply clean ingredients or farming practices. If packaging is working really hard to convince you of something, consider what they may be hoping you overlook (e.g. processed neon orange cheese touting itself as “a good source of calcium.”
2. Learn to read a nutrition label
Understanding how to read a nutrition label will help you compare different foods. The label provides a serving size, calorie count, and nutrient information for your daily diet. (Tip: When evaluating products, make sure you’re comparing apples to apples with the same serving size or accounting for the difference when you’re looking at other nutrition facts.)
This tool from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has a great diagram that explains the parts of a nutrition label. This helps you know what nutrients a food provides are good for you (like Vitamin D, Calcium, and Iron) as well as what you are getting that you should generally limit (like Sodium). Watch out for foods with saturated fats and choose foods that are 100% whole grain over foods made from bleached white flour.
3. Investigate where your food comes from
Eating is often a passive act. This month, make it a point to learn about where your food is coming from. Visit a farmer’s market and talk to purveyors about how and where they are growing their food. Farmers markets tend to have different kinds of produce than you would find in your supermarket. Plus, a lot of farmers offer samples of their products, so it’s a great place for taste tests. Bonus challenge: Keep a running a list of your dinners for the month and see how many origins you can identify!
4. Grow your own food
Inspired by your farmers market visit, but can’t commit to farm life? Not a problem! Get hands-on and have fun growing your own fresh, healthy ingredients right on your windowsill in just a few simple steps (no green thumb required!). Check out options for growing organic mushrooms, tomatoes, basil, cilantro, and more at backtotheroots.com. Bonus challenge: Read through our curriculum to learn about the science inside the growing process as you go!
5. Plan snacks
It’s easy to grab some chips or a not-so-healthy-bar as you run out the door, but planning out snacks and pre-packing them will help you keep healthier and more filling eats on hand. Keep foods on hand such as carrots, celery, apples, oranges, almonds, and yogurt. Cut up fruit and vegetables and separate out nuts and cereals into snack size portions and pack them in advance so they are easy for grab-and-go. Bonus challenge: Cut out your guiltiest pleasure for the full month of March!
6. Take a cooking class
Cooking is a fun (and delicious!) way to be mindful about what goes into making a meal. Learn a new skill this month by taking a cooking class. There are basics classes from knife skills to tutorials for first-timers whose idea of cooking might usually be the microwave defrost button. If you’re already a confident cook, take a class in a cuisine you’re not familiar with. If your family has children, involve them, too. Kids love to be involved in meal prep if they are given age-appropriate tasks. By taking a cooking class you’ll learn about new ingredients and their nutritional benefits, as well as their taste.
7. Have a family or friends dinner party
Big family dinners are a lot easier when everyone pitches in. Host a potluck-style family or friends dinner (or breakfast or lunch). In the spirit of National Nutrition Month, have everyone bring something healthy and encourage conversation about what ingredients are included and where they came from. Bonus challenge: try to host a meatless dinner and see if you can make your meal plant-based.