Put Your Best Fork Forward

By Ann Thelen

Whether you’re cooking at home or eating out, a healthy eating style can go wherever you go. Every year, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics proclaims March as National Nutrition Month®. This year, the Academy is encouraging people to “Put Your Best Fork Forward” by using smart-eating strategies to plan ahead, consider menu options and choose foods carefully.

The Iowa Food & Family Project recently sat down with Dr. Amy Michelle Willcockson, director for Live Healthy Iowa. An Iowa native, Dr. Amy Michelle is a Doctor of Chiropractic and a Certified Chiropractic Wellness Practitioner. For two decades, she owned her chiropractic practice. Today, in her role with Live Healthy Iowa, she travels the state – meeting with Iowans of all ages, health and fitness levels, and from all walks of life – advocating wellness and nutrition.


Dr. Amy Michelle Willcockson

In conjunction with National Nutrition Month, in the tips below, Dr. Amy Michelle shares three key strategies for “putting your best fork forward” when it comes to nutrition.

  1. Eat real food.

    We need to get back to the basics of eating, back to a time when families gathered around the table to eat “real food.” I classify real food as food by God – meat, potatoes, vegetables, fruit and milk. Too often, anything with a package or label that has multiple ingredients is food by man. I encourage people to look for more food without the plastic and complicated label. Shop the perimeter of the grocery store first for the healthiest food choices.

    Once people began moving away from traditional family meals – and lives became busier – we moved away from what we grew and prepared and became more sedentary. We started to eat food based on convenience, fads and trends, including things that were “fat-free” and “sugar-free” and a bunch of packaged and processed snacks. A bit now and then is OK, but we’ve gotten so far off track from what we were designed to eat; foods that are fresh and homemade. As a result, health and obesity rates prove that people who eat this way are headed down the wrong path.

    Most people don’t have an awareness of what real food is and are substituting “fake food” into their diets. An apple is real food. A steak is real food. An egg is real food. When you can’t spell, or pronounce what you’re eating, or it’s laden with substitutes, that’s a problem. And, the bigger problem is that these substitutes or complicated ingredients generally don’t have any nutritional value and may actually be harmful to your health.

  2. Take stock and look at your diet.

    Take an honest look at what and how you’re eating on a daily or weekly basis. Are you substituting convenience for nutrition? Make a list of all the foods you are consuming and break it into two categories – 1) Food that is man-made; and 2) Food that is made by God or nature. The list in Category 2 should be significantly longer. With this simple assessment, you’ll be able to gauge if you should make changes to your diet.

    Like a car, your body performs the best and is the healthiest when it has the best fuel powering daily activities. Food is fuel. Look at the list and start by replacing unhealthy options with real food options. Once you start adding more nutritious foods into your meals, you will start to experience changes in how you feel – whether that’s increased energy or a better skin tone. Plus, the “fake food” choices you once craved will slowly lose their appeal. At first, your taste buds may not sense the differences as they have become desensitized by the chemicals in processed foods. Over time, your taste buds will change back to the way they are supposed to be and you’ll prefer real food.

  3. Plan once, shop once, cook once, and eat all week.

    There is a misperception that eating healthy costs more or takes significantly more time and that’s not the case. By implementing meal planning into your routine, you can save time and money by going to the grocery store once a week. I plan, cook and shop during the middle of the week, and then I eat for several days. When I do my cooking midweek, I use marinades, spices and herbs to enhance the flavor of foods. I may be cooking chicken breasts or a pork loin but the way I season them and pair them with vegetables or other protein sources creates variety. My refrigerator is stacked with ready-made meals – ones that I’ve prepared – for nutritious, delicious, on-the-go options. I never rely on a vending machine or an unhealthy fast food option for my next meal or snack. Try involving your kids and family in your meal prep time to make it fun, teach them good habits and have quality time together!

    I also encourage people to buy local – get to know the farmer who is raising your beef, pork or eggs – and buy in bulk. Iowa has a bounty of Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farms where you can purchase meat, dairy, fruits, vegetables and other homegrown products. You also can find their products in your grocery stores. I know that farmers have real food in their soul, and I trust how they work with the land to grow and raise healthy products. It’s sometimes easy to take this concept for granted because in Iowa farmers are right in our backyard. Instead, we need to cherish the work they do and consume the quality and healthy food options they provide.

    You can apply the same principles when you’re eating out. Choose smart options on the menu and often, local restaurants feature local products.

As you master Dr. Amy Michelle’s simple strategies for making nutrition the most important priority in the foods you are choosing, she also recommends to “get moving.” Eat better, move more and think happier. Your body will thank you!