Healthy Eating

Young women's version of this guide
waist up of man holding frying pan lid.

What is “healthy eating?”

Healthy eating is a way of balancing the food you eat to keep your body and mind strong, energized, and well nourished. Healthy eating is an important part of taking good care of yourself.

  • Aim for regular meals (usually 3 meals per day; one in the morning, afternoon, and evening) and healthy snacks (when you are hungry or need extra energy)
  • Eat foods from all of the food groups (grains, fruits, vegetables, proteins, dairy, and healthy fats) each day to meet your nutritional needs
  • Balance nutrient-rich foods with small amounts of less nutritious foods, such as sweets or fast foods
  • Listen to your body. Eat when you are hungry and stop when you are feeling full and satisfied

Healthy eating is a great way to:

  • Have energy all day long
  • Get the vitamins and minerals your body needs
  • Stay strong for sports or other physical activities
  • Reach your maximum height (if you are still growing)
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Prevent unhealthy eating habits, like skipping meals and feeling overly hungry at the next meal

Tips for Healthy Eating

  1. Don’t skip meals – plan meals and snacks ahead of time.
    • Believe it or not, eating 3 meals with 2-3 healthy snacks in between is the best way to maintain your energy and a healthy weight. You are more likely to choose foods that are not as nutrient-rich when you skip meals and become overly hungry.
    • Eat breakfast! Skipping breakfast can lead to over-eating later in the day. Beginning your day with a balanced breakfast gives you the energy you need to start the day and focus at school or work.
    • Eating away from home? Don’t leave yourself stranded—pack foods with you or know where you can go to buy something healthy and satisfying.
  2. Learn about simple, healthy ways to prepare foods.
    • Try healthier ways to cook foods such as grilling, stir-frying, microwaving, baking, and boiling instead of deep frying.
    • Try fresh or dried herbs (basil, oregano, parsley) and spices (lemon pepper, chili powder, garlic powder) to flavor your food. Other ways to add flavor include using lemon juice, lime juice, hot sauce, or olive oil to foods.
    • Trim the skin and fat off of your meat—you’ll still get plenty of flavors and it’s more nutritious.
  3. Limit sugary foods or sugar-sweetened beverages.
    • Sugary drinks, such as soda and juice, are big sources of empty energy. This means that they contain a lot of energy (in the form of calories) but they don’t contain a lot of nutrients (vitamins, minerals, or fiber). Try sugar-free drink mixes, water (plain or you can add fruit to your water), and seltzer water instead of soda or juice. Even if labeled “natural” or “100% fruit juice,” juices are missing an important nutrient found in whole fruit: fiber. Without fiber, the sugar from the fruit will give you quick energy, but it won’t last long and you may find yourself feeling tired soon after drinking. If you are going to drink regular juice, try to limit the amount you drink to 4-8 ounces, one time per day and consider adding water to “dilute” it
    • Lots of sugar is also found in foods such as cakes, cookies, and candies. Whole grain desserts may contain less sugar. It’s okay to enjoy these foods in small amounts as long as they don’t replace healthier foods.
  4. Aim to replace solid fats with liquid fats.
    • Foods with solid fats such as butter, cream, hydrogenated oils, or partially hydrogenated oils contain saturated and possibly trans fats. This can be a big source of empty energy, without many nutrients. Try heart healthy oils such as olive or canola oil instead.
    • Fat found on meat is also a solid fat. Try lean proteins such as beans, fish, and poultry without the skin.
    • As with sugar, solid fats can be found in desserts too. It is okay to enjoy these foods in small amounts, as long as they don’t replace healthier foods.
    • Creamy sauces and dressings such as alfredo or ranch are often high in saturated fat. Use these sparingly; with sauces like this a little goes a long way.
  5. Be mindful when eating
    • Slow down when you eat. Try to relax and pace yourself so that your meals last at least 20 minutes, since it takes around 20 minutes for you to feel full.
    • Listen to your body. Eating when you are hungry and stopping when you are full will help your body balance its energy needs and stay comfortable. Ask yourself: Am I eating because I’m hungry? Or am I stressed, angry, sad, or bored?
    • Eating naturally fiber rich foods, such as whole grains, vegetables, and fruits will help you feel comfortably full.
  6. Avoid “diet thinking.”
    • There are no good foods or bad foods. All foods can be part of healthy eating, when eaten in moderation.
    • You do not need to buy low carb, gluten-free, fat-free, or diet foods (unless told specifically by your medical provider to do so). These foods are not necessarily lower in calories—they usually have lots of other added ingredients to replace the carbohydrates or fat.
    • YOU are more important than your weight or body size—believe it! Your health and happiness can be hurt by drastic weight loss plans. If you have not yet reached your adult height, rapid weight loss could interfere with your growth. Instead of trying extreme approaches, focus on making small lifestyle changes that you can stick with for life. This approach will leave you feeling healthier and happier in the long run.
If you want to make some changes in your food intake, it’s a good idea to talk to your health care provider (HCP). You may also want to ask your HCP for a referral to see a dietitian (a person who has studied nutrition and knows about healthy eating). Learning about nutrition can help you make healthier choices, but it’s important to think of food as just one important part of your life.