Reinventing eating habits can be hard. Don’t be afraid to take little steps in the right direction! It doesn’t have to be all or nothing- here’s a baseline to use as a starting point. Every little bit counts!
Step one: Three words to avoid, whether in ingredients or food labels.
- Artificial. Okay, this one’s self-explanatory. It’s actually pretty astonishing when you see just how many food-products post “artificially flavored” right on the packaging. It goes without saying that dyes, sugar and/or salt substitutes, and fat alternatives are not exactly fueling good things in the body. When the body doesn’t recognize input, it can’t properly break it down, and when it can’t break it down, it builds up. In your gut, in your fat cells, and in vital organs like the liver and pancreas. Super.
- Hydrogenated. In other words, trans-fats. Who doesn’t love a good brownie mix? And box cake mix is the easiest way to save money for a birthday party. But every single one is loaded with trans fats, which, if you don’t know, are significantly linked to coronary heart disease, as well as diabetes, infertility, behavioral issues including depression, and potentially Alzheimer’s. Good times.
- Monosodium glutamate. Yep. Good old-fashioned MSG. While the FDA recognizes MSG as reasonably safe, it’s an entirely non-nutritive food additive (brilliantly marketed as a flavor enhancer) at best and a contributing factor to obesity and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease at worst. And virtually every can of Campbell’s cream of whatever is loaded with it. Dee-lish.
Step two: Foods to keep in stock.
- Healthy cooking oils. Instead of Butter alternatives and margarine, replace those with actual butter (with a reminder to use it sparingly), olive oil, and coconut oil.
- Spices. This was a HUGE one for me. I am not a fan of bland cooking whatsoever, so if I wanted to be successful in this clean eating thing, I needed a healthy way to season our food. I stocked up on organic spice blends, and have worked those into our regular meals. After getting the hang of it, I didn’t feel bad at all about tossing all the Lipton soup mixes and El Paso Taco Seasoning packets. A little EVOO and a tablespoon of those spices will add the same flavor with a lot less ew.
- Fresh fruits and veggies. I know. But y’all, I grew up eating canned green beans that had been cooked in Goya (that’s ham-flavored MSG salt, in case you were wondering), and canned fruit that had been congealed into cute little Jell-O molds. Old habits are hard to crack. Something as simple as keeping fresh greens washed and in the fridge, and having grapes, carrots, and cherry tomatoes for snacks goes a long way in creating better habits.
Step three: Easy menus.
- Meat and three. My daddy loves to grill. So tasking him with grilled chicken or fish or lean beef will be NBD. All that’s left then is 3 sides: a salad, a steamed/sauteed veggie with a little spice, and a complex grain like sweet potato, quinoa, or whole grain pasta. Super simple.
- Rethink your crockpot. I love crock pots. The fact that I can abandon dinner without burning my house down is a beautiful thing. But almost every recipe out there requires condensed cream of something or Lipton soup mix. Lipton soup mix is not seasoning. It is artificial, brain-tricking, beef-flavored non-food. I am going to print this and mod-podge it to my crock pot. I promise, there’s nothing wrong with putting actual onions and beef broth in the crock pot with your roast, just like there’s nothing wrong with a little vegetables, cream, butter, and flour to make a creamy soup base. And after making this a few times, I feel super-confident in my crock-pot roast formula: 3 inches of broth, 1 cup each sliced onions and carrots, 3 TBS red wine, 3 cloves garlic, 1 sprig rosemary, with whatever roast meat you like. And it still tastes amazing over rice or egg noodles. In your face, Lipton.
- Quick fixes. To avoid crutches like instant bacon-and-cheese-flavored mashed potato flakes and Betty Crocker Suddenly Salad, I like to lean on quick-cooking real food. So out with the instant, in with faster-cooking sides like orzo and brown rice pasta (which can be ready in 7-8 minutes), fresh spinach (which cooks down in EVOO and garlic in less than 2 minutes), and fresh green salad with veggies in a salad spinner (because the only way I ever remember to do salad is if it’s already made and waiting in a spinner). Some of my other less-than-20-minute faves are: mushrooms in balsamic, EVOO and garlic powder, sautéed peppers and onions, and squash and onions sautéed with lemon juice and cracked pepper.
It’s not as hard as it seems, I promise. The toughest times are when we’re rushed with the kids, when we don’t have enough on hand, when the easiest thing to do is throw a stouffer’s lasagna in the oven. But if you keep fast-cooking nutrient-dense foods on hand, you can beat that temptation, no prob!
Stay strong, friends. Don’t let the yuck get you down.