From Carbs to Veggies: Creating Healthy Habits

I’ll admit it- I’m a carboholic. With two European parents, I grew up with the simple diet of bread, cheese, and more bread. During my four years at UNC, my palette just barely expanded. So here I am- a post-grad longing to crave fruits and veggies. But how? How do we change what we know and love? How do we balance our diets – especially in college?

My investigation began by doing my own research. Some blogs suggested detox diets, others ranted about the beauty of a gluten-free life. I was torn in so many directions! So I made an appointment with Toni Hartley, the fabulous UNC dietitian.

I explained to Toni that I wanted to work on a more balanced diet, healthier recipes, and a little weight loss. I also confessed that I can (and do) eat an entire pound of spaghetti in one sitting- and that can’t be good for my body. BUT much to my surprise- she tells me…

“Pasta isn’t bad, Helene– and ‘in moderation’ aren’t words to live by!”

Really? I can still be a carboholic and be healthy?

Here’s the thing– it’s all about balance and variety. I was shown the FDA’s food plate (see below) suggestion– and our meals should consist of half a plate of fruits and veggies, a quarter plate of grains, and a quarter plate of protein (this includes, meats, nuts, tofu, beans – yum!).

Colored plate diagram showing how foods should be divided at meals
Image courtesy of

If this is how we think of every meal – if we look at our plates and envision this simple separation of our foods- we can do it. We can balance!

My main problem was the fruits and veggies. I love cheese, I love meat, I love bread. So she gave me a list of fruits and veggies (I’ll admit I still don’t know what a turnip looks like), and told me that this is my new grocery list. And goodness- it was a long, long list. And I was terrified. How do I cook this stuff? How do I make myself want this stuff?

My list included: Carrots, Broccoli, Zucchini, Peppers, Spinach, Kale, Mushrooms, Hummus, Whole wheat wraps, Eggs, Turkey, Apples, Grapefruit, Bananas, Onions, Cheese, & Tuna (quite different from my original spaghetti & cheese grocery list)

Just having the foods in my refrigerator – and knowing they would eventually go bad if I didn’t eat them – really helped me jump start this new way of eating. Toni suggested beginning with just slight alterations to my meals. So maybe a handful of spinach in my omelette, an apple with lunch, and kale chips with dinner. And then the weirdest thing happened- my body started to want fruits and veggies with every meal. It became normal. This wasn’t an overnight process. It never is!

The plate picture is of course just a guideline. My meals still fluctuate, but I try to compensate later on in the day if i don’t get enough veggies at breakfast or something. I found that it was all about making it a conscious effort. I had to be proud of myself and proud of what I was putting into my body. That way, this new balance felt more like a reward and lifestyle change instead of the dreaded “diet”.

A vegetable/fruit based grocery list can definitely be intimidating –so here are the first couple of ideas Toni gave me:

Roasted veggies Play around with what veggies you use! I use mostly zucchini, broccoli, carrots, mushrooms, peppers, and onions.

Kale chips– (A really tasty snack – and much better for you than potato chips)- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Toss a couple handfuls of kale in olive oil until all leaves are lightly coated. Pour kale onto baking sheet. Season as you desire (I use just salt & pepper). Bake kale for 8-10 minutes or until crispy. **Keep an eye on them! They burn easily!** They should crunch in your mouth just like a regular ole chip.

For breakfast I usually chop up green and red pepper, onion, mushrooms, and spinach. I let the veggies sit in a little oil before pouring 2 beaten eggs on top! It’s the easiest (and tastiest) egg scramble.

Feel free to share recipes in the comments section. Ideas are always welcome 🙂

And remember– keep thinking about the words “balance and variety”. This is especially important for those with a meal plan. There are way more options, which can make the shift to healthier eating difficult. Knowing the options and keeping that plate guideline in mind may help new foods in the dining hall start to stand out and be desirable. 🙂 Don’t expect to crave these foods immediately- like most things, it takes time. But if a carboholic-mac-and-cheese-lover can start to NEED broccoli, anyone can. 

2 thoughts on “From Carbs to Veggies: Creating Healthy Habits

  1. Patricia July 21, 2013 / 3:55 pm

    Hey ,

    Thank you for this helpful post Helene. I have been strugling with obesity 7 yrs at this point. Tried to make an appointment with Toni on Friday afternoon and am very anticipatory for what she will tell me! I hope that I get the same inspirational advise that you did. Thank u for the recipes, they look great ha.

    Have u looked into Atkins. My old doctor told me this was a bad method but my friend had great results, seriously she is so skinny now. I know this is more fatty in terms of cholestoral (sp) but I am still tempted to eat the frozen meals ha

    Again, thanks for ur help. I actually do not go to UNC – Chapel hill but I love the heels.


    • Helene July 27, 2013 / 12:09 pm

      Hey Patricia!

      Thanks for the comment. 🙂 I hope you can see Toni and find something that works for you! I ended up cutting out wheat/grains entirely due to an allergy, and it has really made me feel better. I hope meeting with a dietitian helps, and I wish you the best of luck on your transition to healthier eating. 🙂

      Glad you are a fellow Tarheel lover as well! 😉



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