Here’s a statement: I am probably the laziest dietitian you will meet. I prefer the fewest steps necessary to making and eating healthy food. I usually ask myself, “How can I make this delicious and nutritious in only a few minutes?” Now, that doesn’t mean that I eat away from home all the time or am lazy in other health aspects of my life – I just like to keep the eating part of my life as uncomplicated as possible. We’re fueling our bodies all day every day, so I feel that making it easy is key. Anyone with me?

I remember life in the dorms (Hedrick Summit what’s up?!) was full of both nutritious and less nutritious options. There was the salad and omelet station, but then there was also the brownie goo that was downright irresistible. We had the freedom to eat basically whenever we wanted and how much ever we wanted. But now as we are far out of the protective UCLA bubble and no longer surrounded by some of the best college food in the nation, we have to buckle down, understand what our bodies need as fuel and live our healthiest lives without letting it overwhelm us.

Now as young adults, we are balancing so much from establishing ourselves in our careers, living on our own after college (hello bills, cleaning and cooking all the time), and having a social life. That’s why I try to make healthy eating as easy as possible without compromising quality and taste. It’s perfect that March is National Nutrition Month and this year the theme is “Savor the Flavor of Eating Right.” My career as a dietitian has given me the opportunity to come up with several food and health hacks that I’d like to share with my Bruin family.

1. “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” – Benjamin Franklin

One of the most important things you can do for your health as a young adult is planning ahead. What does that mean? It is so crucial to plan when you will go to the market and what you will buy. Most of us are on tight budgets as we become more established in our careers. Going to Whole Foods and spending $100 on five ingredients probably isn’t in the cards right now, but you can factor into your budget many low-cost nutritious choices like wild caught canned tuna and salmon, frozen veggies and plenty of canned beans, dried herbs and whole grains to keep your house flavorfully stocked when your paycheck isn’t as generous or you need to survive one more day before you get a chance to go to the supermarket.

It is also important to plan your schedule. That way you know when you have a happy hour on the calendar, so you can balance your eating for the day or when your dinner plans include a large salad, glass of red wine and Netflix. When you can anticipate your eating events for the week, you know if you’ll need more or less food from the market (saving your wallet) and you know where you can have more of fewer calories throughout the day and night (saving your belly).

Finally, you can plan one day of the week as a meal prep day. Maybe you make Sunday the day you go to the market with your other half (bring the kids, too!) then spend the next hour or two prepping out some healthy staples. I like to come home and grill up some chicken breast (no crazy herbs or sauces, just basic chicken breast that can go in tacos, salads, soups, etc), cook up a bag of quinoa to toss into salads or have as its own main protein/carbohydrate dish and cut up some veggies to have on hand for snacking or throwing in the pan for an easy dinner side dish. The fewer obstacles you have in your refrigerator, the easier nutritious eating becomes.

2. Fresh and Easy

With that said, don’t be afraid to pick up and try the pre-packaged fruits, veggies and protein the supermarket has to offer. Don’t like making a cutting board and knife dirty to chop up Romaine lettuce? Get the pre-chopped one, or get spinach and arugula. Don’t like peeling garlic or cutting up onions and carrots for a soup? Your market usually has those ready for you. Now, those foods can be a little pricier for the convenience, so take a note from above and know your budget before you shop. If you have the wiggle room for these nutritious and convenient food items then go for it! Markets now have cut up carrots, celery and jicama that you can snack on, too. Keep a look out next Sunday.

3. Get Your Drink On

Lastly, we don’t realize how improperly hydrated we are. I used to drink 2-3 liters (8-12 cups of water a day) plus 2-3 cans of diet coke. A dietitian – drinking diet coke! Madness. I was definitely addicted to the stuff but quit a year ago, and it was the best decision I have made for my hydration and health. I highly recommend taking inventory or what you drink every day and how much. The Institute of Medicine recommends that men get 13 cups of fluids per day and women get 9 cups of fluids per day. Try to make most of that fluid pure water and then some can come from unsweetened tea and coffee.

Having 6 beers every night? Maybe scale back to 1-2 every few nights. Drinking a lot of artificial sweeteners like diet drinks, Splenda and crystal light? Switch to water naturally flavored with frozen berries, lemon slices, mint or cucumbers. Try reducing sugar in your drinks by getting half scoops/pumps for coffee and liquor with just lime juice when you go out for happy hour.

Always carry a refillable water bottle with you (try Platypus that can fold or roll into your purse or back pocket), because if you don’t have one with you, you’re probably not drinking enough.

Ultimately, it’s important to know yourself: your budget, your time to prepare and shop for food, your time for exercising and where you currently are on the health index. I know that making change is hard, but we want to keep our young Bruin bodies strong and healthy at the end of the day, and I think making a few of the small changes above will help you get there!

Lauren Maddahi is a registered dietitian practicing in Los Angeles. She has her own practice Nutrition a la Carte, LLC and is also working at the UCLA Center for Obesity and Metabolic Health. She offers one-on-one nutritional consulting and you can keep in touch with her on her website, Facebook and Instagram.