Tonya Huenink chops onion

Dietitian Tonya Huenink, creator of the online meal planning service Meal Squeeze, chops an onion in preparation for an evening meal.

REGIONAL—Little changes can go a long way in creating healthy eating habits according to Tonya Huenink, who gave a Zoom presentation on Jan. 13, for Live Healthy Northwest Iowa.

Huenink, from Orange City, is a dietitian for Sioux Center Health and owns a meal planning company named Meal Squeeze.

“The angle that I like to come at things is ‘How can we take something we’ve already established and build on it?’” she said.

One example she used is drinking coffee. If someone who drinks coffee wanted to drink more water, they would not have to stop drinking coffee.

“You can put your water cup, right next to where you prepare your coffee, so that when you’re waiting for your coffee to brew, you drink a cup of water,” Huenink said. “That’s taking a habit that you already do, you don’t have to think anything more about it, and it’s already time that you have carved out but you can use it to create a healthy habit too.”

She said it’s something she practices herself.

“I at least try to make sure I have water before I had my first coffee,” Huenink said. “Then if I want to have more coffee later in the day, I make myself have another glass of water before I have that extra coffee too. Otherwise, I would happily just drink coffee, all day long, but the body doesn’t love that.”

Another example she used is brushing teeth. Most people brush their teeth twice a day, so someone could look up a recipe online for dinner or breakfast the next day while brushing their teeth.

“We already have habits we do every day,” she said. “How can I capitalize on that?”

Huenink said she tries to avoid blanket statements, but there are some foods people overeat that they don’t realize are not as healthy as they might think or too easy to eat too many of.

“Some examples would be anything that you eat straight out of the bag,” she said. “Whether it’s Chex Mix or even mixed nuts, peanuts, chips or anything that you’re eating straight from a bag or a container, you’re more likely to overeat on. I try to look more at what’s the environment or what’s the situation than what’s the food, specifically. That would be my first thing to caution.”

Huenink added that items like dips or condiments can be easy to overeat.

“Guacamole is great and has lots of good nutrients, but it’s easy to eat a lot of calories worth of it,” she said. “That would be another thing where I would say portion control can be kind of tricky.”

Many people have big goals in ways to change their eating habits when the new year starts according to Huenink. She encourages people to take things one habit at a time.

“Look back at your big picture and try to identify what’s your number one or two obstacles that you need to work on and just focus on those at first instead of trying to take on a million different changes,” she said. “It doesn’t always have to be something dramatic. You don’t need to make big overhauls to the way that you eat. You can just do little baby steps and they really add up over time.”

With smaller changes to start with, Huenink said it’s easier to make long-term and healthy changes that way.

“You want to try to incorporate new habits in a way that it doesn’t feel like so much work,” she said. “You start with one little thing, like adding the water. Then when that is something you don’t even have to think about, then you’re ready to look at the next thing. But when you’re trying to make 20 changes in a day, you quickly get burnt out and then you end up abandoning all of them.”

Huenink added that it’s important to establish a reason for wanting to achieve goals.

“If the goal is just to lose weight, I may get frustrated and start flailing,” she said.