This week, my friend Rachel sent me the following email:
“I have a very crazy schedule these days. I work 930-6pm M-F then go to school 630-1030pm M-TH. Then I go to my boyfriend’s on the weekends. I’m never home. So I never cook, plus I’m terrible at it. I’ve been eating a lot of processed foods and whatever I bake at school- so most of my diet is bread, cheese and well, bread. I’ve been wanting to eat better and organic- especially since there are a bunch of farm stands across long island. I just don’t know where to start. I don’t really have any time to cook for the week and I know eating healthy usually takes planning. Have any suggestions or places to get more info on quick healthy meals? Everything I find is just too complicated and time consuming. I’d appreciate any thoughts you may have.”
It’s easy to think of food, diet and eating as something we should do as opposed to something we enjoy. I would encourage you to not make food decisions from your head, but from your gut. It will be easier, it will illicit a more permanent change, and it will simply be more fun for you! There’s already enough to stress you out with your busy schedule; why add “food choices” as a stressor.
Keeping a mindset of “food is fun,” here are some tips to help you pursue less processed foods:
(1) Eat foods raw. This takes the need for recipes, ingredients and prep time completely out of the equation. Raw foods are packed with great nutrients, as well as plenty of fiber, so people who eat plenty of raw foods tend to feel healthier, feel fuller, and even maintain their weight easier.
(2) Have a farm fiasco! If you’re driving home or to your boyfriends and you see a farm stand, don’t just wish that you’d stop; be impulsive and stop. Smell the foods available. Ask the farmer what’s freshest, and get a few tips from him on how to prepare it if you’re unsure.
(3) Cook with butter and salt. Yes. With butter. Real, fatty, delicious butter. Most veggies are really simple to prepare, and can be prepared the same exact ways. Melt butter in pan, add veggies, stir fry, season with salt. Or: steam veggies, toss with melted butter, season with salt. Of course, you can use other fats, like olive oil or coconut oil; and you can use other seasonings. I find butter and salt make a great standby, though. If it’s good enough for popcorn, why not for everything else?
(4) Add cheese. That’s right: add cheese to your meal to make it yummier. What’s better than broccoli stir-fried in butter and seasoned with salt? Well: stir-fried, salted broccoli with cheese.
(5) Do research up front, then apply it to your routine. Do you eat a lot of bread and cheese? Spend some time researching the breads and cheeses available at the places you shop. Are there options that are more local or less processed? If not, are there other stores that might offer better options? Once you do the research and find a couple products you feel confident in, stop thinking about whether or not you should eat them. When you eat bread, simply choose the healthier option.
(6) Don’t worry about the “organic” label. For that matter, don’t worry about labels. The more a product tries to claim about itself, the more suspicious you should be of it. If something claims to be made “with real cheese,” it makes me wonder why it has to make that claim. Should real cheese be easy to spot and obvious to determine. The only thing you should pay attention to on a label is the ingredient list. If the list has more than 5 ingredients or you can’t pronounce half of them, put it back. There are better options.
If you are interested in reading more about how to make the transition from eating processed foods to healthier, more local, more organic, or simply more delicious options, there are two books I would HIGHLY recommend: Real Food by Nina Planck; In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan.
Oh yeah…and the recipes? I don’t really believe in recipes. I know some people do, but I don’t really use them on a regular basis. I have a few tricks up my sleeve (like the butter/salt trick) and I apply them across the board to different meals. Find a habit that works well for you (such as grilling, baking, pan-frying), and use it again and again. For information on how to cook things, allrecipes.com and similar sites can provide inspiration, but don’t use them as your bible.
Keep in mind food choices shouldn’t feel like a religion. This isn’t a cause you’re signing up for. It’s simply a path that should help you feel better and have more pleasure when you eat. Have faith in your taste buds. Pursue the aspects of grocery shopping and food prep that work for you. And then get on with your life.
Mixed Spring Greens