As we near the end of January in this new year, some of us may just be getting around to making some thoughtful changes to our diets, and, well, others may have already fallen off the wagon. We hear the word diet, and we think of grueling exercises in counting points and calories, rationing portions, eliminating carbohydrates and fats, and sustaining ourselves on rabbit food and strange drink concoctions. While some may need stricter forms of a “diet” to assist them in losing life-threatening amounts of weight, many of us could benefit from just a few changes in our food habits. But making those changes stick seems to be the common bone of contention when we think about adopting a new way of eating.
Though as I’ve learned time and time again this past year, slow and steady always wins the race when it comes to changing food habits. In the past nine months, I’ve experimented with eliminating dairy, cooking gluten-free, and even going vegan at times — okay, really for just a day or two. And of course, there was the detox debacle that will haunt me for a while. While experimenting with what worked for my body and family was sometimes fun and other times grueling, it was adopting very small changes one at a time that made the most difference in the long run, and they’ve continued to be the most manageable to maintain.
My dad likes to check in every now and again and ask, “Are you guys still doing that diet thing?” to which I only respond somewhat jokingly, “It’s not a diet, Dad. It’s a way of life.” He’s proof that most of us are still very entrenched in the diet mentality of healthy eating for brief periods of time to achieve optimal results, as opposed to my newly adopted mentality, which sees eating healthy as just a way to live, a way to be. Read on for just a few tips on adopting small but significant healthy eating and cooking habits that you can sustain for the rest of your life. These three habits are a great way to start on a healthier road to eating and cooking, and open you up for bigger changes, some of which I’ll share with you next week. And in addition to these being relatively easy and simple to adopt, they’ll also save you on calorie consumption and intake of harmful additives and preservatives. Overall, it’s a win-win.
Here are 3 simple ways to eat more sustainably:
1. Get in the habit of batch cooking once or twice a week
Cook a big batch of in-season veggies or a pot of rice and/or grains and legumes to keep on hand all week long. Veggies can be easily added to soups, stews, and stir-frys for a quick and simple way to get more plant-based foods into your diet. You can puree and “sneak” them into sauces — your kids will never detect the veggies! Rice and grains like quinoa and lentils can be quickly added to salads, and they serve as an affordable alternative to animal proteins. By stocking up in some basic food essentials like these, you will feel mentally better, knowing you always have something quick and easy to fall back on. This will help you resist those urges to pick up take-out or cook a processed packaged meal.
2. Save veggie scraps and meat bones to cook homemade stock
It’s amazing how many recipes, from the simple and mundane to the overly complicated and sophisticated, call for stock of some sort. Ensure that you always have some frozen stock on hand by saving your scraps and carcasses and using them to cook large batches of stock. Freeze in two to three cup increments, and rest assured that a simple veggie or chicken noodle soup is just a quick thaw away. This is also a good way to save money, as making your own stock at home can be done for pennies on the dollar.
3. Ditch bottled dressings and make your own
Most affordable salad dressings and flavorful sauces are full of empty sugar calories and loaded with preservatives. Skip buying these dressings, and mix up a batch of vinegar-based dressing every couple of weeks. It stores beautifully in the fridge and helps you control what ingredients you use and eventually put in your body. After you get the hang of making simple, homemade dressings, try your hand at making your own condiments like ketchup and barbecue sauce. Both can be whipped up in minutes, again allowing you total control of what you put in them.
Start here, and see where these changes take you. I personally found that once I got in the habit of making more of my own sauces and dressings and started cooking large batches of healthy foods, I felt prepared and ready to take on more. Next week, we’ll discuss a few other changes you can adopt that are a little more dramatic, but are well worth the leap of faith.