A Beginner's Guide to Transitioning Into Cooking with Whole Foods
Many people think that cooking from scratch is intimidating and takes too much time. The truth is, with a bit of planning and experimenting, you too can create an easy and reliable routine that will get you on your way to eating better. You don't need to be a top chef to make delicious dishes, just a willingness to learn. Below are some guidelines to consider when starting on your journey to health:
Come Up With a Specific Reason Why You Want to Do This
The more specific the reason, the more likely you'll stick to this new eating plan. Simply saying "I want to eat better" just isn't going to cut it. Take some time to really think about what sparked this in the first place: Did you read an article detailing the benefits, or did a visit to the doctor encourage you? If it was something you read, write down what about the book or article struck you, or any other reasons you can think of. You don't have to restrict yourself to one reason, if you have more than one, that is more than acceptable!
Once you have your reason(s), write it down in a simple to read sentence. For example, you can write something like "I want to transition into a whole foods diet to give myself more energy throughout the day and to improve the way my skin looks." Write it in large letters and place it somewhere where you can see it often, such as on your fridge. Reading this will constantly remind you of what you are doing and why you are doing it. Having a reason for your actions is important when you need encouragement to go on.
Discuss Your Intentions Out Loud
If you live with someone else, or have a family, sit down with your partner and discuss your intentions so you can work on doing this together. Try to generate an open ended discussion, in case there are any questions and concerns about the whole process. You and your partner can treat the whole transition like an experiment to make it something 'fun' and not like a chore you have to do. Encourage constant discussion throughout the whole transition, such as feedback on recipes, websites/books you have read, and your general well-being.
Write Down What you eat
Before you change the way you eat, you need to figure out what you're eating is so unhealthy in the first place. Give yourself a fairly short time frame (such as one or two weeks) and write down everything that you eat within that time. Be as specific as possible, including the brands of food, particularly if they are prepackaged meals. Be honest with this process! It won't help you one bit if you lie or leave items out. How can you figure out what is wrong with your diet if you don't even know what is in it?
Assess Your Food Diary At The End of a Predetermined Timeframe
At the end of one or two weeks, take a look at what you ate. You might be surprised by it, so be prepared! Can you immediately commit to not eating some of the bad foods? Constantly reminding yourself why you are doing this to encourage you along the way. Take stock of all the prepackaged foods you eat and see if you can recreate them from scratch. Go online and find some recipes that match or closely match what those dishes are. If you find other dishes you like while searching, note those down as well.
Start Changing the Way You Cook Your Favorite Dishes First
Your transition into whole foods will be easier if you start by cooking foods and dishes you like. It will encourage you and have you think that you can do this. Start one dish at at time and compare how long it takes to make that dish from scratch versus making it using prepackaged ingredients. You'd be surprised at the time difference, sometimes the prepackaged stuff doesn't take that much less time! For example, I used to buy rice side dishes thinking that cooking rice and adding a few herbs would save me a lot of time. I discovered that cooking rice from scratch plus cutting up herbs only took about 3 minutes more than the prepackaged rice! Plus, whatever main I was making would take longer to be done, so the extra three minutes was insignificant, since I had to wait for the main to be done before my meal could be served.
Comparing cooking with whole foods and 'instant' foods will help to further convince you of other benefits of cooking with whole foods, and that it isn't very hard to do so. This may seem like silly steps, but it you aren't motivated and really thinking about why you are doing something, why would you want to continue, even when it is hard?
Have Some Whole Food Recipes You Want to Share?
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Assess Your Pantry
Start by filling up your pantry with more whole ingredients as your items runs out. If you want to get rid of your pantry all at once, consider donating these foods to a food bank if possible.
A good guideline for a basic pantry is to look at what foods and spice you eat often, and go from there. There are lots of good beginner cookbooks that have simple lists you can look at. Some items to consider:
- Whole wheat flour/gluten free alternatives
- Natural sugars (such as maple syrup and honey) instead of white/brown sugar
- Individual spices instead of mixes (many common spice mixes can be made with a few common ingredients anyway!)
- Cheese instead of cheese product
- Plain yoghurt instead of flavored (you can add frozen fruit or granola to flavor it)
- Dried beans
- Stock instead of canned soups
- Canned tomatoes instead of pasta sauce
- Oil, mustard, vinegar and dried herbs instead of salad dressing
Find Some Good Resources
The more information you have at your disposal, the better informed you will be. You might also be excited by the prospect of what is out there and encourage you more. To start you can go to your local library or bookstore and pick up some books. There is also a wealth of information on the internet with guides and lists to get you started.
Some good websites to look at:
Meal Plan to Help Your Sanity
As you start cooking with more whole foods, you might find that looking at recipes and learning to cook new dishes might take up a lot of your time. Until you learn to be more effective and find efficient cooking techniques, it might be helpful to make a meal plan or a schedule of when you can devote time purely to researching and cooking. If you find that you don't have time to engage in other pursuits, you might start to feel overwhelmed and abandon the whole journey altogether. Making a meal plan can be as simple as writing a list of ingredients you want to use for the week (or experiment with) and making dishes around that. Some other guides call for thinking of lists of protein, vegetable, and grains to use for the week. Also think about making extra of dishes so you have leftovers for lunch or dinner later on in the week.
Experiment with New Ingredients
Just because you are changing your diet, doesn't mean it has to be boring! Go out to different types of supermarkets and browse the fresh food sections, or ethnic supermarkets and look at the spices they use. Go through your cookbooks or ask around to see what kind of dishes sound interesting to you. Like a certain dish at a restaurant but afraid it's not made with whole foods? See if you can recreate it at home!
You can also turn this experimentation as quality bonding time with your partner or family. Revel in your successes and laugh at the mistakes. Cooking is about experimenting and learning to cook is a continual process. Wolfgang Puck didn't become a gourmet chef overnight did he?
Don't try to do too much at once or you might find yourself rebelling against the very plan you set for yourself. Make a plan to eat better slowly, such as cutting out certain ingredients weekly, or the way you cook (deep fry, bake, etc.) on a monthly basis. Giving yourself short and small goals will help propel you towards to bigger point of why you are transitioning into whole foods in the first place.
Find a Good Support System
The more opportunities you can to talk about your transition (good or bad), the easier it is for you. It is also helpful to know that you are not alone out there. If you have any failures or issues along the way, having a support system will help you and encourage you to continue. Don't limit yourself to friends and family, there are tons of forums out there and even bloggers that will provide more of a support system for you. Whole Foods Market has a decent forum where you can post questions, and Health Food Forum is another good option to think about.
It's Ok to Make Mistakes!
Don't be too hard on yourself if you see yourself at the drive-thru at McDonald's or a can of pop every once in a while. Nobody's perfect, and changing the way you eat takes time, more than you might think. If it were so easy, then everyone would have done so by now! Forgive yourself and move on. Remind yourself again of why you are eating better in the first place, and why what you just ate doesn't help you on your journey to health.
Every once in a while, feel free to break the rules. Just don't do it too often!