The key to eating right and maintaining weight is a plan that fits your life. Consider these points:
1. Know yourself. Some people revel in the art of food preparation. For others, the microwave is a lifesaver. What matters is that you find a healthy way to cook and eat that works for you. If you love a large, sit-down dinner, for example, ignore conventional wisdom that says it's best to eat lots of small meals (just be sure not to snack all day if you plan to feast at night).
Knowing yourself also means planning for pitfalls. If, say, you often nosh while you work, keep food as far from your desk as possible or bring in a healthy snack from home. If your downfall is salty junk food, don't eat directly from a multiserving package; take out a handful and put the rest away. Slight changes don't feel like sacrifice, says Brian Wansink, a professor of marketing and nutritional science at Cornell University, but they do make a difference: "Eating 200 fewer calories a day can mean 20 pounds of weight lost in a year."
2. Give peas (and peaches) a chance. It's easy to say "Eat more vegetables," but what about people who don't like spinach and broccoli? With a little attention to food prep, even vegephobes should be able to find greens (and oranges and reds) that are appealing. "People, when they cook, focus on the recipe for meat," says Margo Wootan, the director of nutrition policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest. "Then they serve plain steamed broccoli on the side. And that's boring. You need to put the same care into vegetables." Wootan suggests dipping Brussels sprouts in Dijon mustard or sautéing spinach, collards, or Swiss chard with garlic―or bacon. "Why can't we add some of the fat in our diet to our vegetables, or some sweetener to our fruit?" she says. "What's wrong with a little bit of sugar left clinging to a peach?"
Think about using leftover or fresh vegetables in risottos, soups, casseroles, and stews and putting leftovers in breakfast frittatas or pureeing them with olive oil to make a spread or a dip for a sandwich or an appetizer, suggests Laura Pensiero, who cowrote The Strang Cancer Prevention Cookbook ($17, amazon.com) and owns the Gigi Trattoria, in Rhinebeck, New York.
Another benefit of piling on the vegetables is that you can pump up the volume of a meal, even as you trim calories. People tend to eat the same weight of food, not the same number of calories, over the course of a day, says Barbara Rolls, a professor of nutritional sciences at Pennsylvania State University, in University Park. By adding water-rich vegetables and fruits and substituting leaner cuts of meat in a recipe, you can create lower-calorie, healthier meals--and trick yourself into thinking you're eating as much as you always have.
Finally, if chopping broccoli or picking through raspberries isn't your thing, buy frozen. You get the same nutrients without the hassle.