Throughout the month of February, Americans are urged to join the battle against heart disease. A healthy diet and lifestyle are factors that you can modify to help decrease your risk of disease and increased quality of life.

Choosing to follow heart-healthy guidelines doesn’t mean having to eat bland and boring foods. All foods can be incorporated into your meal plan if the quantity and frequency are in moderation.

It’s also important to talk your doctor and a registered dietitian about reducing cholesterol and fat (especially saturated fat) and finding out which portion sizes work best for you to maintain a healthy weight.

Fruits and vegetables contain essential vitamins, minerals and fiber that may help protect you from chronic diseases, like heart disease. Compared with people who consume a diet with only small amounts of fruits and vegetables, those who eat more generous amounts as part of a healthful diet are likely to have reduced risk of heart disease.

Here are some more general tips for eating healthy for your heart:

Enjoy More:

  • Fruits and Vegetables – fresh, canned or frozen are all good options
  • Whole Grains – 100% whole wheat bread, brown rice, quinoa
  • Plant-Based Proteins – Beans, nuts, seeds and legumes
  • Lean Animal Protein – Fish, lean red meat and poultry
  • Fat-Free and Low-Fat Dairy Products
  • Healthy Fats – olive, peanut and canola oils (some of my favorite oils used in roasting vegetables, like these garlic roasted potatoes!)

Eat Less:

  • Sodium and Salt – instead, use herbs and spices to flavor foods (give this homemade taco seasoning a try!)
  • Saturated Fat – found mostly in animal products; eat in moderation, watch portion size and choose leaner cuts of meat
  • Sweets and Added Sugars – skip the soda, pastries and sugary cereals
  • Trans Fat and Partially Hydrogenated Oils – Often found in margarine and salad dressings
  • Canned fruits or vegetables with high-calorie sauces or added salt or sugars

While this is just a small snapshot of what I’m serving up at home to make heart-healthier meals, if you’re interested in learning more heart disease and dietary prevention or maintenance, be sure to visit the American Heart Association website. It’s my one-stop shop for educational materials and resources regarding all things related to our heart!

February is also when we celebrate Valentine’s Day. It’s a holiday associated with love notes, roses, romantic dinners and candy. Valentine’s Day offers an opportunity to help children make a positive association with healthy choices and a healthy heart.

Here are some tips to encourage a healthy Valentine’s Day for both you and your children:

  • Kids can create their own personal Valentine’s Day cards for friends and family.
  • Instead of sending candy to your child’s school or daycare, consider mini boxes of raisins or pretzels, or even pencils, erasers or stickers.
  • Talk to your kids about activities that are heart healthy such as running, walking, skipping and dancing.
  • Discuss foods that promote a healthy heart such as water, fruits, veggies, whole grains & low-fat dairy.
  • Surprise your kid with a heart-healthy lunchbox note on festive paper.
  • Indulge in sweets with benefits. Instead of the standard box of milk chocolates, enjoy a few pieces of dark chocolate, which is rich in antioxidants.
  • Plan a healthy Valentine’s meal. Our healthy, kid-friendly recipes, like these heart-shaped Flourless Berry Banana Pancakes, are perfect. Dessert can also be something simple but delicious such as fresh strawberries and low-fat whipped cream, topped with a few mini dark chocolate chips.
  • If your son or daughter comes home from school with a bag of candy, let him or her enjoy it, but in moderation. I have found that if I completely restrict my daughter’s candy, she tends to want it more. Instead, I let her pick a few of her favorite pieces to enjoy that day, then give then give her a couple of pieces per day (only if she asks).

Center the holiday around family time by planning special activities together; quality time is one of the most meaningful gifts. One of my family’s favorite Valentine’s Day activities is to go around the dinner table and say what we love about each member of our family. However, you celebrate Valentine’s Day this year, make it heart healthy.