At some point, most of us have heard or been told that “variety is the spice of life” (1). While that may be true in more ways than one, it’s absolutely accurate when it comes to health and balanced nutrition!
Our bodies require three major macronutrients to function properly: protein, carbohydrates, and fat. However, did you know that there are also numerous micronutrients that our bodies need to function properly? These little champions are better known as vitamins and minerals. While we don’t need massive amounts of them, we do need to incorporate each and every micronutrient in our diet because our bodies cannot produce them (except for Vitamin D) (2). You’ve most likely heard about many of these micronutrients, such as iron, folate, magnesium, Vitamin A, the B vitamins, etc. They have a whole slew of roles, ranging from immune system support to muscle and nerve function (2). Honestly, each macronutrient deserves its own spotlight for what foods it can be found in and its role in our overall health. However, we’re going for simplicity and minimal stress here, so let’s keep things simple!
How can you be sure you’re getting all the macro and micronutrients you need without getting overwhelmed then? Through variety, of course! I’m talking about variety on your plate, not in your supplement cabinet. Yes, there are vitamin and mineral supplements galore these days. However, the reality is that you cannot out-supplement imbalanced nutrition, and oftentimes, the most effective way to get all the nutrients you need is through the food on your fork (or spoon).
Now, I know what some of you might be thinking, “eating a variety of foods sounds great in theory but in reality, it adds time and takes effort!” I hear you and share this concern. However, you can add variety without creating more stress for yourself AND without adding more time to your current meal and snack-time routine! Let’s take a look at some simple tips and tricks to help you get the nutrients you need, easily!
Curate your Go-Tos
Create a quick list of your go-to recipes and snacks that’s easy to access (think GoogleDoc, note in your phone, email folder, etc.) That way, you have a handy list of meal and snack ideas to pick from when you fall into a rut of preparing and eating the same thing over and over. To help you get started, I’ll share some of my favorite go-tos:
Breakfast: steel cut oats, almond milk, puréed zucchini, almond butter, & collagen powder
Lunch: brown rice, ground turkey, shredded cabbage, & homemade spicy peanut sauce
Dinner: sheet pan meal of boneless skinless chicken thighs, diced sweet potatoes, sliced red onions, cherry tomatoes, olive oil, salt, pepper, & fresh thyme
Snack: homemade trail mix with roasted pistachios, dried tart cherries, pumpkin seeds, & a chopped up square of dark chocolate
Switch Up the Protein
Look at your go-tos and try making them with a different protein. There are so many different options, even for vegetarians and vegans! Aim to pair a protein that goes well with the existing flavors in the dish. For example, the flavors in most fish and seafood dishes pair nicely with poultry and vice versa. Below are some examples of easy swaps for each mealtime:
Breakfast: Make a tofu scramble instead of scrambled eggs or switch between almond butter and peanut butter in a smoothie.
Lunch: Swap chicken out for a hard-boiled egg in your salad or make a quinoa bowl instead of a rice bowl.
Dinner: Trade lean ground beef in for lean ground turkey or try making a pork dish with salmon instead.
Snack: Sub in some veggies with an individual hummus cup instead of veggies and jerky.
I have no doubt you’ve got the swing of things by now! Let’s look at some other simple switches you can make and tricks you can incorporate to bring more variety into your meals.
Sub In a Different Grain or Legume
Go for color here. Grains and legumes aren’t typically thought of as colorful but they absolutely are! If you usually turn to black beans, mix in some red pinto beans. You can also easily switch between red and green lentils in a dish. Rice doesn’t have to be just white or brown, there’s also black rice and it is delicious. Next time you’re picking out your grains and legumes at the store, look at the options next to what you typically buy and see if there’s something new you can try!
Build a Different Flavor Profile
Sometimes, all a dish needs to bring new life to it is a different sauce or spice combination. You can alternate between a red tomato-based sauce and a fresh pesto for a lot of Italian-inspired meals. Another simple swap is taking a Southwestern flavor profile and making it Cajun by subbing taco seasoning for Cajun seasoning from the spice aisle. Or, if you usually make something with dried herbs, try using fresh herbs every so often (just remember dried herbs are more concentrated in flavor so you won’t need to add as much).
Play with Different Vegetables
When it comes to veggies, the more color the better! If you usually buy green cabbage, try out the purple variety. If red bell peppers are your favorite, mix in some yellow and orange peppers every now and then. When substituting vegetables in your go-tos, aim for options that have a similar texture and cooking time, for best results. Traditional carrots can easily be replaced with rainbow carrots or parsnips. Different kinds of onions can also be easily swapped out for one another. You can alternate heartier vegetables like Brussels sprouts for broccoli or cauliflower. When it comes to greens, try buying something different week to week like baby spinach, kale, mixed greens, or arugula, to name a few.
Cycle through Seasonal Fruit
Just as with vegetables, aim for a rainbow! Also, when you’re swapping out fruit in a recipe, opt for options with similar texture and water content. If you’re always using frozen berries in your smoothies, try other frozen fruits like cherries or mango. If you grab an apple as an on-the-go snack, try subbing in a banana every now and then. You can also build variety throughout the year by buying fruits that are in season, in your area!
We’ve gone through several ways you can simply and easily build variety into your snacks and meals. The goal is still to keep things simple though so try one or two of these ideas at a time and make it work for you! If you’re someone that cooks a different meal every day, then you may have more opportunities to bring variety in daily. If you’re a meal prepper like I am, it can be tough to get daily variety in. Don’t sweat it though, you can mix up your meals week to week and still get all the nutrients your body needs. If you’re interested in learning more about your individual nutrient needs and how you can better tailor these ideas to help you live your healthiest life, the best place to start is talking with a registered dietitian. Now go spice up your nutrition with variety and don’t forget to have fun with it!
William Cowper Quotes. (2020). Quotable Quote. Retrieved from https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/65554-variety-s-the-very-spice-of-life-that-gives-it-all
About Micronutrients. (2020, 04/29/2020). Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/nutrition/about-micronutrients/