The “health-o-meter” approach to eating

This weekend,  turned to me and said, “Mom, I wish I could invent a health-o-meter, a machine where you could input a DK Donut and something healthy would come out.”

Though he might make millions if he could invent this sort of contraption, I’m not sure what a donut transformation might look or taste like!

The sad truth is that we can’t put processed foods, sugary drinks and unhealthy snacks into our bodies and expect them to produce something that looks and feels good. We are what we eat, and if we put junk in, then we get junk out. On the other hand, if we input healthy foods, our bodies will supply the energy we need to think, work and perform.

According to

Americans eat 31 percent more packaged food than fresh food, and they consume more packaged food per person than their counterparts in nearly all other countries. A sizable part of the American diet is ready-to-eat meals, like frozen pizzas and microwave dinners, and sweet or salty snack foods.

Let’s turn those stats around with five simple steps to health-ometerize popular unhealthy foods.

Salty snacks

After my post on “Skipping the Chips,” I challenged my family to give up this salty snack for the month of October.  The family member who best adjusted to our dietary omission was undoubtedly Luke. In fact, one night when we contemplated eating dinner at a Mexican restaurant, he said, “Mexican restaurants serve chips, so we can’t go there.” (And sshh….no one has realized it’s November and the new tradition carries on.)

Potato and corn chips are a bad habit – they are easy to grab when you’re eating a sandwich for lunch, facing an energy lull in the afternoon, or waiting for dinner to be served. They are a source of unneeded fat, calories and sodium, and contain few, if any, nutrients to make us feel good.

The next time you reach out to grab salty snacks to fill a hunger void, try some of these healthier alternatives instead:  nuts, fruit, yogurt, cheese/crackers, and veggies/hummus.

Soft Drinks.

The number one selling item at the grocery store, posting $12 billion in sales last year, was soft drinks. If you’re imbibing the sugar-filled version, you are consuming a lot of wasted liquid calories.

As I mentioned in a post last week on soft drinks, if you omit them altogether, you’ll save money and calories. But if you’re having trouble going cold turkey, try the no-calorie alternative. Try to wean off juice drinks, chocolate milk and all those tasty but deadly coffee beverages, too. Instead, drink the much-needed and often under-consumed healthy beverage: water.

Fried food.

I am a Southern girl, and I know and appreciate tasty onion rings, fried oysters and fried chicken. Now that I live in Idaho, I am laying witness to some of the finest French fries in America.

But I’m also a changed girl. Leaving the South meant changing my eating habits, too. I realized years ago that that baked or broiled fish tastes much better than the fried version. Baked sweet potato “fries” are wonderful, and there are even ways to slim down fried chicken.

If you experiment with healthier ways to prepare dishes, and you will be amazed to discover how good these foods can taste.

Microwave dinners.

When I was a little girl, TV dinner night was a most special treat. Not only did we get to watch Room 222 and the Partridge Family while we ate, but we also got to sample those “tasty” frozen TV dinners. Though we now have Lean Cuisine, Healthy Meals, Weight Watchers and Smart Ones, just to name a few, there are other easy fixes that are healthier that these processed foods.

A while back, I wrote a guest post entitled “Healthy Dinners for Nightmare Nights,” for evenings when a frozen entrée seems to be the easiest fix. Ways to whip up something quick include stir frying it, slow cooking it, marinating it, and making it ahead. To view the article for more ideas, click here.


Another one of America’s top-selling grocery items, pizza is a beloved meal for people of all ages, including my family. But not all pizza is created equal. They don’t have to be loaded with cheese and fatty meats to taste good. And even the crust can be made with whole wheat.

You can also make healthy pizzas at home without spending all night in the kitchen. Using a food processor or mixer, it takes very little time to make home-made crust. Or buy ready-made crust at a local pizza joint if you don’t want to go to the trouble.

You can add veggies to pizzas, chicken and/or shrimp. You make white pizzas and pesto pizzas. The sky is the limit, and they are so tasty when made at home. Our favorite is a chicken pesto pizza with capers and portabella mushrooms.

The next time you’re thinking about eating junk food, just remember Luke’s health-o-meter: what goes in cannot be transformed (not yet anyway).


Melinda Hinson