Are You in the 9-to-5 Food Rut?

Does this sound familiar? Despite being a fan of a variety of foods, you find yourself eating the same healthy foods repeatedly because it’s part of your routine—it’s easy, tastes good and you can automatically get what you need at the grocery store without having to think about it. If this sounds like you, you’re not alone. We’re the first to admit that we have love affairs with a handful of our meals for these very reasons and we could eat them every day without ever getting bored. But what could be so bad about eating the same foods all the time, especially if the foods are healthy ones?

Why Should I Add Variety to My Diet?

Although it’s not a complete nutritional faux pas, there are reasons why we constantly work to bust out of these food ruts.

For starters, imagine that grilled chicken and steamed spinach is your go-to meal. (For us, it doesn’t take much imagination. Been there, done that. And done that again...on the Foreman Grill.). Although steamed spinach is healthy and provides fiber and phytonutrients like carotenoids, as well as flavonoids and other antioxidant nutrients including vitamins C and E, beta-carotene, manganese, zinc and selenium, when you eat it every night with grilled chicken, you’re also missing out on a whole slew of other nutrients found only in other vegetables.

Each vegetable or fruit (or any wholesome food for that matter) has a unique array of nutrients that protects your body in different ways. So by eating spinach daily, you may be protecting your eyes, but not your kidneys. But if you did the same with red bell peppers, which are rich in lycopene, you’ll protect your kidneys against cancer, but you’ll miss out on some of the advantages that spinach or other produce has to offer.

Also, consider that certain foods are prepared or grown in certain environments, so eating the same food exposes you to the same pesticides and negative things that may come with that food. For instance, several months ago researchers discovered alarming levels of arsenic in rice. If you were a rice fanatic (as many health conscious Americans are), and every night you had been eating heart-healthy, fiber-rich brown rice with salmon, you may unknowingly have consumed a significant amount of arsenic. If you had been eating more quinoa, whole-wheat pasta or oatmeal, however, you may have felt less threatened.

What Can I Do to Bust Out of My Food Rut?

  • Start by taking a look at your current loves. Is it an egg omelet with peppers? Cereal with yogurt? A peanut butter sandwich?
  • Next, start slowly and rotate some foods. Take a look at the following lists; instead of your typical choices, choose a new option from each list and create a new, well-balanced meal.
  • Start by looking at the carbohydrate in each of your meals in list A and replace it with a new carbohydrate in this list:

LIST A: Carbohydrates

Do you always choose brown rice? Whole-wheat bread? Swap your carbohydrate several days a week for any of the following, all of which can be prepared in five minutes or less.

  • Oatmeal
  • Whole-grain corn tortilla
  • Quinoa
  • Bulgur
  • Whole-grain waffle
  • Millet
  • Whole-wheat pita
  • Whole-grain English muffin
  • Whole-wheat pita bread
  • Whole-wheat pasta
  • Brown rice
  • Sweet potato
  • Corn

List B: Protein

Next, look at the protein in your typical standby meal. Is it always Greek Yogurt? Salmon? Swap it several days a week for one of the options below:

  • Tuna, canned or fresh
  • Sardines
  • Poultry breast
  • Black beans
  • Garbanzo beans
  • Split peas
  • Lentils
  • Eggs
  • Low-fat cottage cheese
  • Low-fat cheese
  • Tofu
  • Tempeh
  • Low-/non-fat yogurt
  • Low-/non-fat Greek yogurt

List C: Vegetables

Do you love baby carrots or always eat steamed broccoli? Get adventurous and try a new vegetable:

  • Carrots
  • Celery
  • Bok choy
  • Fennel
  • Cabbage
  • Cucumber
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Cauliflower
  • Bell pepper
  • Mushrooms
  • Tomato
  • Broccoli
  • Onions
  • Spinach
  • Romaine
  • Swiss chard
  • Kale
  • Beets
  • Turnips
  • Avocado
  • Sweet potato
  • Corn
  • Jicama

List D: Fruits

Do you love fruit, but always choose bananas or berries? Switch up your fruit choices (even better, choose what’s in season).

  • Watermelon
  • Cherries
  • Blueberries
  • Blackberries
  • Peaches
  • Strawberries
  • Raspberries
  • Pineapple
  • Banana
  • Mangoes
  • Plums
  • Orange
  • Clementine
  • Mango
  • Grapefruit
  • Pear
  • Nectarines

So, if your standby was a brown rice and chicken stir-fry with broccoli, you may now find yourself going for a bowl of quinoa with edamame, kale and pecans! Not only will you nourish your body with nutrients, but you’ll learn how to prepare new meals so you can impress your friends and family with your cooking skills!