How Can I Start Eating Better?

Photo credit: Flickr/muffet
Photo credit: Flickr/muffet

You’ve heard the news.  Maybe you’ve even read the books, like Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma or Erik Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation.  You’re determined to clean up your act and start eating right.  But how?

This is a challenge that I faced about four years ago.  I was an indifferent cook at best.  I was a lot better at assembling or re-heating food than I was at cooking it!  Probably 80% of my diet was pre-packaged food, what Michael Pollan calls “edible food-like substances.”

When I decided to start Doing The Right Thing, I was baffled and confused.  Where to start?  I would stare down the produce aisle and realize that it was all edible down there, but darned if I knew how to make it so. 

1.       Don’t go overboard!

It’s easy to launch head-long into a project like this, only to get discouraged and go right back to eating the same old food.  Start small!

2.       Change one food at a time

Start with your afternoon snack.  Most people need a little pick-me-up to get themselves through the day.  Instead of hitting the vending machines, start bringing something healthy from home.

Fresh fruit is a great choice for a snack.  An apple, an orange, a banana, a little container full of cherries.  Delicious!

One of my favorite snacks is baby carrots and a little bit of low-fat dressing as a dip.  It’s crunchy like chips, but satisfying and healthy!

3.       Learn one new recipe a week

I set myself a challenge to cook one new recipe every Sunday.  It could be a recipe for anything – breakfast, dessert, dinner, side dish, whatever.  I always started cooking early enough in the day that if it turned out badly, I still had time to go get a pizza.

A lot of my early attempts turned out pretty badly.  Some weren’t even edible!  But the more I cooked, the better I got at it.  Eventually I had one success, and then another.  I gradually added things to my regular repertoire. 

I’m hardly what you’d call a world class chef, but I’ve gotten to the point where I cook 9 out of 10 meals myself.  (Even if sometimes it’s just poached eggs on toast!)

4.       Learn one vegetable at a time

We all pretty much know what to do with fruit.  Eat it!  But vegetables are a little more tricky.  What are you supposed to do with swiss chard?  How are you supposed to eat broccoli, aside from raw?  What are green onions good for?

Start slow!  I chose one vegetable at a time.  Start with something familiar, like broccoli.  Look up broccoli recipes and cooking methods online, and make a shopping list for the recipes you find intriguing. 

I found A Veggie Venture’s Alphabet of Vegetables to be a crucial tool.  Mark Bittman’s book How To Cook Anything is also a really awesome and helpful!

When you go shopping, look for the produce that’s on sale.  That’s probably what’s in season right now, which means that it’s not only cheap – it’s extra-tasty!

When I started my odyssey, I didn’t have the slightest idea what was in season or not, much less what kinds of things were grown in my area.  Now you can point to any week on a calendar, and I can tell you what produce will be good that week!

Two Super-Easy Recipes

The Master Veggie Recipe

Here’s my go-to recipe for every vegetable. This works great as a mix-and-match. I can’t think of any vegetable that won’t come out delicious at the end.

1. Preheat oven to 375F.

2. Cut vegetables into slices. The absolute thickness isn’t as important as the relative thickness. You want everything to be about the same size.

3. Toss with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Pour into a roasting pan or a 9x13 pan.

4. Bake for at least 30 minutes, give or take. You want them to be sizzling heartily, with browned roasty bits. Some vegetables take longer to cook than others – up to an hour in some cases.

5. Nom nom nom!

No-Fuss Smoothie

This gives you a full serving of fruits, plus calcium, protein, and more. It’s great as a breakfast on the run, or as a dessert in the evening.

You will need:

· Lowfat or non-fat vanilla yogurt

· Bananas

· Frozen fruit, any kind

· Optional: unflavored or vanilla-flavored protein powder

· Occasionally: a splash of milk

· A blender

Put in the blender about 1 cup of frozen fruit, half a cup of yogurt, a scoop of protein powder, and a banana. Blend, baby, blend! If your blender has trouble (I find that bigger chunks of fruit can be hard to mix) add a splash of milk.

Pour into a tall glass and enjoy!

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