By Jennifer Michaelchuk, RD
The other day, my nine-year-old asked me why we couldn’t have spaghetti (his favourite) every day for dinner. I told him we would get bored with having only spaghetti, and that we need many different foods to keep us healthy. It made me think. “Choose a variety of healthy foods” is something that I, like many dietitians, stress. But is that advice too vague? Here is my take on why it is important and how to translate it into everyday life.
How important is it to eat a variety of foods?
Variety is pretty important, and here is why:
- Eating a variety of foods makes sure we do not get bored with eating. Food is meant to be enjoyed, and mixing things up helps us do that.
- Eating a wide variety of foods ensures we get the nutrients we need. No single food contains all our required nutrients. Even within a specific food group, like vegetables and fruit, different ones offer different nutrients. For example, oranges are high in Vitamin C, bananas are high in potassium and spinach is high in folate.
- Not eating the same food day after day protects us from getting an excess of one nutrient.
What does variety mean?
Variety is not an exact science; it is somewhere between eating the same thing day in and day out, and eating different foods at every meal, every day, all the time.
We are all different with respect to our likes and dislikes; yet, within that, we can find variety. For example, I usually pack carrots and cucumbers in my boys’ lunches because that is what they like, but then I make sure to have different vegetables for dinner and snacks. I’ll add a different veggie in the lunch bags once in a while, too!
Do you like to have an apple every day? That’s great, but then mix up your other fruit choices for snacks or meals.
Did you have whole grain toast for breakfast and a sandwich made with a whole grain bun for lunch? For variety, try brown rice for supper.
Do you always have meat at dinner? Why not try a meatless option every few weeks?
Variety isn’t an excuse to overindulge
It may be easier to overeat when you have too many choices. Have you ever noticed you often dish up more at a buffet because you want to try everything?
Keep less healthy treats to a minimum, and increase the variety of things you want to eat more of, like vegetables.
Variety isn’t something to obsess about. While variety is important, it is not something to get hung up on. If you feel you are in a variety rut, try these tips.
My two top tips to keep variety in your diet
- Mix up your vegetables and fruit.
Choose different colours, varieties and in-season options of vegetables and fruit. In the winter, when there seem to be only apples, oranges and bananas that are readily available and affordable, take advantage of frozen and non-perishable options. I like to keep frozen berries and peas, canned tomatoes and peaches, dried apricots and applesauce on hand.
- Try a new recipe
By using new recipes, I keep mealtimes from being repetitive and encourage my family to try new foods. Even changing how I prepare my favourites, like switching up my spinach salad for soup, adds variety.
Variety summed up
Variety is about balance and keeping things interesting. We are so fortunate to have the wide variety of healthy foods available. Go ahead and enjoy!
This article was originally posted on Nourish Move Thrive as Eat a Variety of Healthy Foods: Not Just Something Dietitians Say.