Six Steps to Eating Healthier in 2018
For many, the new year is a time to clean up your diet. If your resolution is the “eat better” you may feel a little lost as to how or where to begin in this process. I’ve broken it down into very simple steps that are going to set you up for success in the kitchen and help you conquer your clean eating goals for 2018.
Step 1: Clean the Kitchen
Start with the pantry. Empty it out. Wipe it down. Go through the items you’ve removed and throw out anything that’s expired. Next, throw out any spices that are more than 2 years old. Then, look at labels of boxed or bagged items. If they list more than 5 ingredients on the label, toss them. Any random/hodge-podge items that don’t belong in the pantry can go buh-bye too. Reposition the items that are “keepers” and close the pantry door.
Move on to the fridge. Complete the same process. Remove everything. Wipe down all drawers and shelves. Toss condiments that are more than 6 months old. Toss anything expired. Get rid of the leftovers and wash the containers. Anything questionable left? When in doubt, throw it out! Sodas and sugary bottled beverages need to go. Place what’s left back into the refrigerator and freezer. If it’s looking pretty bare, then you did it right.
In the fridge, freezer and pantry, position items so that they can all be seen. What is out of sight will likely end up being thrown out next time we purge.
Now that the food storage locations are primed and ready, take this process one step farther by sorting your cabinets. Mainly containers. Pull out all food containers and throw out any that are missing lids. This is also a great time to have your knives sharpened.
Since you’re already on a roll, you’ll probably go ahead and wipe down, clean out and organize all other kitchen areas. That’s great!
Step 2: Have a Plan
You can have an expert write a plan for you, or you can do the research and create your own plan. Write it out and make sure you have a complete shopping list to accompany it. If you got the plan from someone else, read through it. Determine if you need to make any substitutions. If your plan contains foods that you are allergic or have a sensitivity to, decide what suitable alternative you can use. You want to minimize the need to make any decisions on the fly. Review the preparation instructions. If any special equipment is needed that you don’t already own, decide if you want to buy or borrow it. Once you’ve obtained the necessary equipment, place it where it can be accessed easily.
Step 3: Have a Back Up Plan
If you leave the house without your lunch bag have a predetermined plan of action. This includes scoping out nearby restaurants and determining if they offer fresh options that will allow you to stay on track.
Additionally, know what quick and handy items you can grab from the closest grocery store should you need something to tide you over until you can get to your next planned meal.
Here are some examples of emergency snacks at your closest grocery store:
- Peeled and bagged hardboiled eggs (they are usually on the top shelf of the egg cooler), add a box of raisins to finish on a sweeter note.
- Tuna pouches (you just peel the top of and grab a fork from the salad bar. Grab a cucumber and a plastic knife (a pack of mustard if you want to get fancy) and whip up a simple tuna salad in a minute or less.
- An Individual squeeze pack of almond butter. There are several brands available and they are usually around $1. Add an apple or banana from the produce section.
- Baby carrots. They aren’t usually my favorite (I prefer the big ones as they are fresher), but in a pinch, these are washed and ready to go. Grab a pack of sunflower seeds at the checkout and you’re back in business.
- A cup of Greek yogurt is an easy, high protein fix. Top it with a small container of raspberries and you’ll be loading up on fiber too.
None of these snacks are going to cost you more than a few bucks and they are all readily available at just about any grocery store. Many are even available at gas stations.
Step 4: Stock up
Head to the grocery story, list in hand (or on phone) and buy the items on your list. Don’t buy items that aren’t on the list (especially items that trigger unwanted temptation).
If you’re cooking for more than just yourself, decide if this plan is suitable for others in your house. There should be no reason the whole household can’t enjoy these delicious foods you’re eating. I have kids and I know what a challenge it can be to get them to happily comply with change at the dinner table. I also know that kids are probably going to gripe regardless of what’s for dinner, so at least give it a try. Provide the food and see what happens. You may be surprised at their reaction. Change can be difficult at first, but the sooner it’s implemented, the sooner it can be your new normal. Don’t forget to adjust the amount of food you need based on the number of people you’ll be prepping for.
Step 5: Start prepping
You can safely prepare most meals and snacks up to three days in advance. I suggest doing this for as many meals as possible so that these meals are the most convenient foods for you to reach for. Determine which two days per week will be most suitable to assign as “meal prep days”. Plan on taking about three hours at first. You will be able to reduce this amount of time with practice. As with most things, the more you do it, the more efficient you’ll become. Just remember, that day of preparation will save you plenty of time throughout the week.
Step 6: Keep going
One day at a time, one meal at a time. Don’t panic. You aren’t giving up treats and indulgences forever. You are eating real food that tastes great. On occasion, you are going to enjoy some of your favorite treats, but let’s make this a habit first. Give yourself a few weeks of diligence on your plan. When it’s time for you to enjoy a treat, do. Savor it. Eat it slowly and have it with the company of a friend. You don’t have to be a cupcake-eating recluse. Don’t let one treat turn into a day of downing everything in sight. Just enjoy it and remind yourself how lovely it is to have a plan that allows you to work toward your health and fitness goals while reducing stress about what and where to eat next.