Here we are again at the start of a new year, promising ourselves that thisyear we really will eat healthier. Most of us will not keep that promise—at least not for more than a week or two. Then we’ll beat ourselves up about it for a few months before starting the cycle all over again.
Why does this pattern keep repeating? It’s because we’re jumping into the deep end before learning how to swim. Sure, we might tread water for a while, but before long, our arms will get tired and we’ll end up back-floating to the shallow end. Real change comes gradually.
“I always make goals, not resolutions,” says Fairfield County resident and certified health coach MaiaLagerstedt, author of Conscious Shopping: Making Decisions About What You Eat and How You Buy It. “Start with something small, like ‘I’m going to eat more green vegetables.’”
Lagerstedtencourages her clients to begin by adding good food to their diets, rather than taking out all the bad stuff right away. She also asks them to focus on what they already know about their relationship to food. Then she gives them tools they need to make achieving a delicious, healthy diet not just attainable, but affordable, too.
Here are some key points to assist you in your efforts to make change this year:
Reflect on what you already know.
Acknowledge your weak points—such as an addiction to sweets—along with any adverse reactions you have to certain foods.
“I really believe that just about everyone knows what they should and shouldn’t eat,” says Lagerstedt. “I tell them to take some time to reflect on what they know. For instance, I’m sensitive to wheat, so I don’t eat bread. Your body knows what makes you feel good.”
When given a choice between readily available produce (such as freshly cut carrot sticks) and packaged, processed foods, many people will naturally gravitate toward the healthy option. Their bodies crave the nutrients within. The reward for making the right choice is a feeling of wellness in place of the usual sugar crash or stomachache brought on by the wrong one.
Take inventory of what you have in your pantry and fridge.
Back when Lagerstedtwas a “starving writer,” working for journalist’s wages at The Fairfield County Weekly, each Sunday she would sit down with a piece of notebook paper and a pencil to plan her meals for the week. The first step was to take note of what was already in her pantry and her refrigerator.
“I figured out that when I didn’t do that, I’d spend about 35 percent more on groceries,” she recalls. “I’d buy more than I needed of something I already had or realize too late that I had run out of a crucial ingredient. I had a low budget, but I liked good food—so this is how I shopped.”
Later, she would take clients shopping and personalize the process for them, helping them create their own weekly menus. Many recommended that she share her methods and her recipes in a book. The result is Conscious Shopping, which contains shopping tips, worksheets for grocery lists and meal plans, and original recipes designed with leftovers in mind.
Plan a healthy, balanced menu around a few key ingredients.
Take time to think about how you can use these ingredients in different ways throughout the week. Find recipes that maximize their use, especially the leftovers.
“Go for the bigger chicken,” Lagerstedtrecommends. “Don’t think of it as only one meal; there are tons of things you can do with one chicken. You can roast it, then you have all these leftovers you can use for dishes like curried chicken salad and homemade chicken soup.”
Even produce can have a starring role in a string of meals. For instance, an armful of red bell peppers can yield such dishes as stuffed peppers, roasted peppers, red pepper vermillion stew, and Lagerstedt’s red pepper salad with black olives and feta.
Make a list from that menu.
Be sure not to buy more than you can use in any given week. If possible, go for fresh, organic and locally sourced meat and produce, in only the amounts called for in your menu. Be aware of what food will keep in the fridge for a few days, and what needs to be consumed right away. Don’t let the lure of grocery-store specials and volume discounts at big box stores lead you astray.
“A lot of times, we go for the ‘buy-one, get-one-free’ deals. I tell people: If you go to a big box store and get nine bunches of broccoli or something, you’re just not going to eat all that before it goes bad,” Lagerstedtsays.
The key to successful conscious shopping is to stick to your list, and your menu, no matter the temptations you encounter in the aisles or at the register. Lagerstedt acknowledges “it’s going to take a little practice,” so keep your expectations realistic and be kind to yourself if you veer off course. Eventually you’ll get there. Just “don’t forget to have fun!” along the way.