If you’re a busy person, have a hectic routine, or just don’t like cooking much, it’s easy to fall into a pattern of eating the same, or similar, meals nearly every day.
That might mean your diet is lacking in crucial nutrients.
It’s possible to eat the same meals, day in and day out, and still be healthy, but it entirely depends on what those meals are, according to registered dietitian Brigitte Zeitlin.
“If you’re eating pizza for dinner every night, you’re missing out on an opportunity to get in other, more nutrient-dense foods. If you have the same vegetable stir-fry and it’s loaded with greens, then it’s full of nutrients even if it’s the same things,” Zeitlin told Insider.
A consistent daily menu can also have some benefits, like reducing the stress of meal planning and adding some structure to your routine. Here’s how to avoid the potential pitfalls, according to Zeitlin, by including a smart balance of nutrients in your diet.
Consistency can be great for healthy eating
For most people who stick to a similar daily meal plan, one of the major benefits is convenience.
“It cuts down on preparation and time. That can be a good thing if it makes your life less stressful in a time when everything is so damn stressful,” Zeitlin said.
It can also help create a routine, which is a benefit if you’re trying to build healthier eating habits. Planning ahead and eating the same things each day can reduce the stress of daily decision-making, whether you’re trying to cut back on less healthy options, like processed foods, or add more fruits and vegetables to your diet.
Those healthier choices are also more likely to stick if you repeat them over and over again.
“Consistency is a good thing when we’re trying to make and keep new habits. If you’re trying to eat healthier, that can be really helpful because you know exactly what you’re going to have,” Zeitlin said.
Never scrimp on protein
If your chosen meals lack certain nutrients, you’re setting your whole week up for a fall. Nutrient deficiencies can leave you feeling low-energy, mentally foggy, or unsatisfied with your food.
To prevent this, Zeitlin recommends including protein at each meal, whether that’s meat, chicken, fish, eggs, or beans. Getting enough protein is crucial for a healthy metabolism, muscle growth, strong bones, and energy.
This doesn’t have to be complicated, even if you’re very busy, Zeitlin said.
Zeitlin recommends looking for pre-cooked protein sources like rotisserie chicken or grilled fish that can last for multiple meals, and oven-roast an assortment of vegetables to pair with it.
“Eating healthy does not need to be elaborate,” she said.
Aim for 3 different colors of produce in every meal
Micronutrients like vitamins and minerals are also essential for health. To get enough of these, Zeitlin advises trying to eat at least three colors of fruits and vegetables each day.
That’s because the different colors in produce — from dark red berries to leafy greens to brightly-colored peppers and squash — signal different phytochemicals, or plant-based compounds with important nutrients and health benefits.
Dietitians commonly refer to this strategy as “eating the rainbow,” but you don’t need to make every meal a salad to get the benefits. Instead, try including a few different types of fruits and veggies every time you eat.
“We don’t eat food in isolation, the whole day matters,” Zeitlin said.
Try your favorite recipes with slightly different ingredients
“Part of food and nourishing ourselves is enjoyment. You want to be able to look forward to a meal and have it feel comforting or exciting, and typically that comes from changing up our palate,” Zeitlin said.
If you’re not a fan of cooking, you can still shake things up a little without adding to your stress by using the same cooking techniques on different types of protein and vegetables.
Zeitlin recommends a stir fry with peppers, onions, and tofu. You can try the same strategy using chicken, broccoli, and mushrooms instead.
Think about the way you cook your food
Finally, use healthy cooking techniques such as oven-roasting, steaming, stir-frying, or sauteing in olive oil and similar healthy fats. This can help make sure you get the most nutrients out of your food, without adding too many empty calories or saturated fats.