Eating the same go-to meals week after week is easy and convenient. It saves time on meal planning and it makes calorie-tracking a breeze.
Sticking to a limited menu can get boring, though, which can prompt you to seek out extra snacks and treats. Worse, it can undermine your nutrient intake, and possibly your health.
The good news: adding new foods to your meal plan can combat menu fatigue and provide vitamins, minerals, and protective phytochemicals your diet might be missing.
Why variety matters
A varied diet, long considered a key component of healthy eating, means eating foods across all food groups. It also means diversifying your choices within food groups.
Researchers define a diverse diet as one that includes at least five food groups including fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy, and proteins.
Greater dietary diversity is tied to a lower risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, asthma, depression, and anxiety. It may also have cognitive benefits for older adults.
Tips to break a dietary rut
If you eat similar meals day in and day out, consider the following suggestions to infuse more variety – and nutrients – into your diet, food group by food group.
If a leafy green salad is your go-to vegetable at lunch and dinner, that’s certainly nutritious. But make a point of eating other colourful vegetables (and white ones, too).
Try cruciferous vegetables (e.g., broccoli, cauliflower, Brussel sprouts, bok choy) which offer phytochemicals with anti-cancer properties. Enjoy them cooked or raw added to salads.
Include bright-orange vegetables, packed with beta-carotene, in your regular diet (e.g., carrots, sweet potato, pumpkin, butternut squash). Beta-carotene supports a healthy immune system and is thought to protect against cardiovascular disease.
Vary how you prepare vegetables. Sauté chopped Swiss chard, spinach or kale, for example, with garlic and chili flakes. Or, roast carrots and parsnips with a spice blend such as curry powder, harissa, or ras el hanout (my favourite).
Berries are a staple in many diets and for good reason. They’re an exceptional source of brain-friendly flavonoids called anthocyanins.
But enjoy fruit that’s in season as well. Apples and pears are good sources of pectin, a prebiotic fibre that helps fuel the growth of good gut bacteria.
In winter months, reach for citrus fruit to increase your intake of vitamin C and flavanones, a type of flavonoid shown to protect brain cells, strengthen blood vessels and reduce inflammation.
Expand your grain menu beyond bread.
Add raw large-flake oats to smoothies or soak them overnight for an easy breakfast. Cook a batch of farro or freekeh, nutrient-rich whole grains high in fibre and protein, to add to grain bowls, green salads, roasted vegetables, chili, and soups.
Switch up oatmeal by making porridge with other grains such as quinoa, millet, teff or amaranth.
Think beyond chicken, salmon and lean meat, as nutritious as they are. You’ll also get muscle-building protein from beans and lentils, along with lots of folate and fibre which animal proteins lack.
Add a variety of beans to your next chili. Make hummus from chickpeas, white beans or black beans.
If your usual snack is a handful of almonds, vary it up to get different nutrient profiles. Try walnuts for omega-3s, pistachios for extra vitamin B6, or pumpkin seeds for a boost of magnesium.
To increase calcium, include protein from dairy or dairy alternatives such as pea milk or soy milk. There’s no reason why Greek yogurt can’t sub in for turkey at lunch.
Try kefir, a fermented milk beverage, if you haven’t. Besides, protein, vitamins and minerals, kefir delivers probiotic bacteria. Use it for overnight oats and smoothies or pour it over granola.
All research on this web site is the property of Leslie Beck Nutrition Consulting Inc. and is protected by copyright. Keep in mind that research on these matters continues daily and is subject to change. The information presented is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. It is intended to provide ongoing support of your healthy lifestyle practices.