03/01/2016 04:14 EST | Updated 03/02/2016 12:59 EST

How To Eat Healthy: Easy Tips And Challenges For Nutrition Month

March is Nutrition Month! Make small changes each week that will better your health.

March is Nutrition Month, a time for making changes that will better your health.

Every March, Dietitians of Canada leads a campaign to increase awareness about the importance of healthy eating and the great work that dietitians do. This year, the theme for Nutrition Month is, "Take A 100 Meal Journey — Make Small Changes, One Meal At A Time."

We eat about 100 meals in a month. That's about 100 chances to take small steps toward better health. Practice for long enough and your small changes will become new habits that add quality years to your life. If there is something you have been really wanting to work on, now is the perfect time to take the 100 meal journey pledge and get started.

But be sure to start small. Trying to make too many changes at once can be overwhelming and cause you to abandon the changes early. See one small change through until it becomes a habit.

If you're not sure where to start, I've crafted four week-long challenges that you can try throughout March. They will have you on the path to better health by April. There are 21 meal opportunities per week to try each of the four challenges. Then, at the end of the month, challenge yourself to make one stick.

Write out each challenge in your calendar as a reminder, bookmark this article and get started!

Week 1: Getting ready

Challenge: Redesign your eating environment

Pledge to change your eating environment this week. Each day you make more than 200 food and beverage related decisions. All this decision making may diminish your willpower to make healthy choices. As the day goes on, it gets harder to say no to that piece of cake or chocolate bar.

Make life easier on yourself and ensure your food environment (anywhere you would eat) supports healthy choices!

Try these ideas:

  • Store sweet and salty snack foods out of sight and reach. Place them up high in the back of a cupboard. Don't leave any around your work space. Better yet, don't bring them into your eating environment at all. If you are craving a treat, plan a fun outing to get it. Meeting up with a friend for a walk to get ice cream once in a while is a great alternative to keeping it in the house.
  • Put a bowl of washed fruit on the kitchen counter. You're more likely to snack on ready-to-eat foods in plain sight.
  • Keep a reusable water bottle on your desk (instead of sugary drinks), so it's ready for sipping.
  • Store nourishing snacks at eye level in your fridge (e.g. cut up vegetables).
  • Shop for healthier convenience foods, such as frozen, pre-cut vegetables, plain frozen fish fillets, pre-washed salad greens, plain yogurt, and canned beans and lentils.

Week 2: Quality counts

Challenge: Make half of your plate vegetables or fruit.

When it comes to food choices, quality counts. Including vegetables or fruit at every meal will promote health and help you feel your best. And filling half your plate with vegetables or fruit is an easy way to visualize your increased intake.

If your plate usually contains little to no vegetables or fruit, this goal may not be small enough for you. Aim for a quarter of your plate instead. Once you have mastered that, aim to fill half your plate at most meals.

Try these ideas:

  • Add salads to meals. Try tossing shredded raw purple beets, green pears, feta and flax seeds in a lemony vinaigrette for a salad that's bursting with colour and crunch.
  • Have fruit for dessert. Try grilled pineapple with a squeeze of lime juice or broiled grapefruit with a sprinkle of brown sugar.
  • Keep chopped vegetables and hummus in the fridge for scrumptious snacks or appetizers.
  • Roast a large batch of root vegetables to add to meals throughout the week.
  • Have a smoothie for an on-the-go breakfast. Blend frozen berries, a small over-ripe banana, yogurt, spinach and fresh ginger, with some nut butter and a liquid for a zippy pick-me-up.

Week 3: Prioritize portion size

Challenge: Practice a mindful eating technique.

Distractions are everywhere. Your phone is beeping, your email is flooded, the TV is on, the kids are begging for your attention ... How could you possibly focus on something as simple as eating?

Being mindful at mealtimes is tough. I really struggle with it at times, too. But zoning out while you are chowing down can result in eating much larger portions than you need to feel satisfied. Work on making small mindful changes, focused on how you eat rather than what you eat.

Listen to your internal (rather than external) cues and ignore social pressures. Invite all your senses to the table. Note the taste, the smell, the texture and the appearance of your meals.

Try these ideas:

  • Get away from your desk or couch and sit at a table to eat.
  • Turn your TV and cell phone off while eating.
  • Stop eating when you are comfortably full, not stuffed (you can always have a snack later if you get hungry).
  • Put your utensils down between each bite and chew your food well.
  • Reduce boredom, sadness or stress by taking a brisk walk instead of nibbling.

Week 4: Try something new

Challenge: Try two new dinner recipes.

Are you stuck in a cooking rut? Buy a new cookbook for inspiration or ask friends to share their favourite recipes. Ensure you download the Cookspiration app too! It is packed with tantalizing recipe ideas for any time of day.

Eating at home is one of the best things you can do for your health, and it is great for your budget too! Pick two new recipes to make this week. And get the family involved. Meal prep is always simpler with a bit of help.

Try these ideas:

  • Prepare build-it-yourself meals with your kids. Try a family taco, fajita or salad bar night.
  • Pick a recipe from a different cuisine. Why not try a new Indian, Spanish or Thai dish?
  • Make your own pizzas in minutes. Top whole grain flat breads with tomato sauce, flavourful cheese, and leftover roasted or fresh vegetables.

Week 5: Make it stick

Bonus Challenge: Make healthy eating stick — choose a change champion!

Pick your favourite challenge from weeks one to four, or make up your own small change if none of them worked for you.

If you pick challenge four, you don't have to try two new recipes every week, but pledge to keep cooking interesting! Get creative with cooking strategies, experiment with new ingredients and flavours, and change up your recipes.

Now, find a family member or friend who is interested in making a small change, too. Share your experience with them. It's even better if they want to make the same change as you.

Once you have your small change champion on board, discuss how you will achieve your goals. Most importantly, plan for roadblocks and check in with each other frequently. What will you do if something gets in the way of your goal? Troubleshooting with each other will ensure you are prepared to tackle challenges that come your way.

Best of luck with your small changes this Nutrition Month! Share your ideas, successes, and challenges with a supportive community on social media with the hashtags #NutritionMonth and #100MealJourney. And don't forget to take the pledge, here.

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