Improve Your Well-Being With Clean Eating Now
Now that 2015 is on its way out, many of us are thinking about what ringing in the New Year will bring.
Day One is a fresh opportunity for learning more, being better, and trying new things in all different areas of our lives. And for so many of us, our plans for the New Year revolve around food.
Whether you’re big on making New Year’s resolutions (and sticking to them) or not, taking the time once in awhile to stop, reevaluate, and make a new plan of action on occasion is probably a good thing.
Without further ado, 5 tips for eating well in the New Year, trying new things, and making a plan that you can stick to:
1. Create weekly meal plans, and streamline shopping to avoid extras
This tip is probably the most diet-related of all of the items on this list, but it has little to do with the usual restrictive “diet” that you’re probably thinking of.
No, I’m not going to suggest anything that has to do with points or counting macros, eating only white foods or cutting all carbs from your diet (all of which I think are horrible ideas).
Instead, when I refer to “diet,” I mean a basic plan for eating. This isn’t something that you can cheat on, it’s more of a habitual understanding of what healthy eating means.
To me, it’s all about variety and balance. From the time when I was very young, my grandparents taught me a lot about eating.
Each dinner included at least two vegetables of different colors, but it also included dessert. Sure, dessert might have been fruit salad, and I know some of you would argue that this “doesn’t count,” but that’s beside the point.
The key to eating well in a healthy way is relatively simple: eat a varied diet that includes a balanced representation of all of the food groups, and you should be able to achieve adequate intake of the various essential vitamins and minerals that you need without overdoing it on any one thing.
Take a look at our analysis of the top seven diet plans for more information on healthful eating options.
It’s important to keep in mind that junk foods do not fit into any of the basic food groups, so chips and candy, sodas and alcohol should be consumed in moderation.
It’s also important to remember that eating balanced meals that include lots of whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, legumes, heart healthy fish and lean meats doesn’t mean you should feel free to add unhealthy processed snacks and sweetened beverages on top.
The healthier options should essentially crowd out the less healthy ones.
In terms of creating healthy meal plans, here’s a simple version of what I mean:
First, consider how many meals you and your family members eat at home in a typical week, and how much you typically eat at each meal.
Then, select recipes that are simple, tasty and re-workable for lunches and appetizing leftovers.
In addition to basic proteins and whole grains (I like to make big batches of lentil-based dal, oven-baked beans, quinoa and brown rice, for example) fill in with sautéed and oven-roasted seasonal vegetables and fresh salads, plus some grilled or roasted fish and lean meat, and you’re ready to go.
In addition to the basics, if you want to make something more complicated like a soup or stew with a specific flavor profile, include any more specific items that you might need for the week on your shopping list.
Stick to your list, and you’ll be set up for success. Shop no more than once a week (every two weeks if you can manage it) and resist the temptation to throw extras into your cart.
Don’t shop when you’re hungry, and don’t shop without a plan – you’ll be able to save money, cut down on kitchen waste, and eat healthier meals.
I’ve found that shopping for groceries online really helps me to cut down on the extras, and I keep a list of all of the meals that I plan to make for the week on the fridge, so I never have that “what’s for dinner tonight?” panic at the end of a long day.
In addition to grocery delivery services like Instacart, Amazon Fresh and Peapod, lots of grocery stores offer grocery store delivery or in-store pickup with the option to shop online.
There may be a delivery charge, but paying a couple of dollars extra seems like a good tradeoff for me in exchange for avoiding my tendency to throw whatever looks good into the cart.
Plus, you won’t have to spend time waiting in line, or lugging your bags up the stairs. Having said that, remember to tip your shoppers!
2. Buy (or borrow) a juicer
When my husband brought home a pre-owned juicer that he got from one of his work colleagues last fall, I was ecstatic!
We’d never owned one before, and though we’d registered for one when we got married, this particular wish wasn’t fulfilled and we decided it wasn’t quite time to make this particular investment on our own.
As new transplants to California originally from the east coast, we couldn’t ignore the prevalence of juicing in SoCal culture – they have places here that sell nothing but juice! A bunch of places!
Though we didn’t feel compelled to go with the California crowd in other areas of life (Botox, anyone?) we thought such a healthy habit couldn’t hurt.
Especially if the means of production was free. Already members of a local CSA, we looked forward to seeing what kind of juice we could make with our haul of healthy produce.
Long story short, according to my records (a handmade homemade recipe journal with entries under the header The Juice Record that are more sporadic than I would like to admit…) we used our juicer exactly six times before I broke it.
When you’re only 5’3”, storing appliances with plastic parts on the top of the fridge isn’t a good idea. I pulled the attachments down on top of myself, and quickly discovered that they were not shatterproof.
Fortunately, Breville offers the option to buy replacement parts direct from the manufacturer, and my mother-in-law was thrilled to be able to replace the Juice Fountain base as a belated housewarming gift.
She loved the homemade juice that we made on her first visit to our new home, and was inspired to make juice when she returned to the east coast (claiming she actually had a juicer, hidden away somewhere, though we’d never seen it… word to the wise: that long-forgotten juicer in the dusty corner of a friend or loved one’s cabinet has your name on it!).
Mom even threw in an extra juicing blade, since ours was a little dull when we got it.
Today, the new blade is still in the box. We made juice six more times before I broke the juicer again.
Yup, I broke the brand new replacement part. Once again, I knocked it off the top of the fridge.
You’d think I would have learned after the first incident, but a juicer is sort of an unwieldy appliance with many pieces besides the base, and we didn’t have a convenient space to store it.
My husband is tall, and I guess we sort of just convinced ourselves that there was no way I could possibly commit the same error again. (A hilarious assumption, in restrospect: I’m pretty klutzy, and this is no secret…)
Anyway, The Juice Record says the last time we juiced was February 9th of this year, meaning it’s been ten months and we still haven’t replaced that crucial part in order to get our juice on.
To top it all off, the company that used to deliver our weekly CSA share went out of business in Los Angeles, so that has put a damper on things as well.
The point of this long story is this: juicing is a commitment. I’m not going to deny it.
The equipment takes up significant counter and/or storage space, you need to clean the thing right away with a scrub brush or you risk damaging the parts, and you need to commit to baking a lot of quick breads or making a lot of soup or meatloaf to use up all of that pulp that’s left behind by the juicing process if you don’t want to waste the fiber.
Certain combinations of produce, though super healthy, may result in particularly earthy or bitter concoctions that can be a bit hard to get down, and sometimes the result will be a murky brown rather than a more enticing bright green.
This isn’t to say they aren’t healthy, just that certain mixtures might take some getting used to.
I found the best tasting combinations were generally the least healthy, since the ones that I found the most palatable mostly consisted of orange or carrot juice, high on the glycemic index (and packed with sugar).
If you want to do juicing the healthy way, in order to get the most nutritional benefit, you’re going to have to make some adjustments.
3. Join a CSA
As I mentioned above, until they stopped doing local delivery in my area, I loved my weekly seasonal fruit and vegetable delivery.
CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture, and it’s an opportunity to simplify your quest to shop the healthy way while supporting local farmers.
This one goes well with the juicing tip, since you can rely on receiving a box full of healthy fresh produce every week to sauté and make into salads. Then, you can use the rest to blend up a glass or two of fresh green juice every morning.
It’s true that juicing does remove the healthy fiber from your produce, so you definitely should not rely on fresh juice as a replacement for whole fruits and vegetables in your diet.
On the other hand, most Americans do not eat anywhere near the recommended daily amount of fruits and vegetables.
Adding fresh juice to your diet just a few days a week is a great way to up your intake of plant-based vitamins, minerals and healthy phytonutrients.
Plus, making this juice from recently harvested ingredients and drinking it right away makes it likely that you’re getting a super nutrient dense product, in comparison to shelf-stable juices and store-bought products that have been allowed to sit on the shelf, made from non-local products long periods after the harvest.
As soon as those fruits and veggies are picked, many of the healthy nutrients that they contain start to degrade.
Fresh is best!
So sign up for a local CSA if one is available in your area, and take the guesswork out of eating local and seasonal fresh and healthy foods (a secondary option would be to habitually visit a farmer’s market known for selling local only).
Save that juicing pulp for other uses (like throwing it into a batch of carrot muffins or zucchini bread) and look up any less familiar items that you receive in your weekly box online to figure out how to use that mizuna or those sunchokes.
4. Learn something new in the kitchen
Sure, it might take more time to prepare pasta and sauce from scratch, and this may cut significantly into your TV time, but your health (and perhaps your waistline, as well as your taste buds) will thank you!
In my experience, making my own meals means I have more control over textures and flavor profiles.
This also encourages me to find out what’s in season, and to plan my meals around what looks best in the grocery store (or in my CSA box).
In my experience, unless you’re embarking on something more involved like making your own pasta or bread from scratch, cooking satisfying and healthy meals doesn’t have to take any longer than ordering up delivery or waiting around at a restaurant would require.
I know, I know… this will cut significantly into your time for countless other things, mainly the aforementioned TV time. But, I have a solution for that – create an entertainment center in your kitchen.
This can be as simple as propping up your phone or iPad with a stand on the counter, plugging in a set of speakers to cue up your favorite podcasts, or even setting up a small monitor with a Fire Stick, Apple Tv, Roku, or maybe even a cable box to watch your favorite shows while you cook.
You can even use ready access to various screens in the kitchen as an opportunity to learn new cooking skills.
My husband and I are spoiled entertainment junkies, so we have speakers and a small TV in the kitchen… basically, we have no reason to ever leave that room of the house!
I highly recommend this.
iPads and other electronics also double as great ways to display recipes that you found on Foodal while you cook, or even to watch exercise videos while your pasta is on the stove or your roast is in the oven.
The kitchen is a great space for doing squats, leg lifts, wall presses…
A bonus word of caution from klutzy: Be careful with your electronics, and only set them down in places where they will not be splashed, submerged in water, or otherwise destroyed while you’re cooking.
I once left my cellphone on the kitchen table on Thanksgiving, and minutes later is was fully submerged in all of the juices that leaked out of the turkey when my stepfather started carving it.
You don’t want this to happen to you, if you can avoid it. Wrap your iPad in plastic if you have to.
If you’re really not a novice (I know, some of you are here just for the pictures. I don’t blame you!) declare 2016 the year that you learned how to ____ in the kitchen, and get to it!
Take a cooking class, watch cooking tutorial videos online, recruit a friend who is a pro in the kitchen (or even a professional chef) and dig in.
You’ll be amazed at what you can accomplish, and your skills will get better with practice.
5. Eat fearlessly
No, this is not an excuse to give up your New Year’s diet before it even starts, and I’m not suggesting that you throw all caution to the wind and eat with reckless abandon in spite of your food allergies or intolerances because some blogger told you to.
What I mean is, now is the time to try new things. Eating should be an adventure, but so many of us have a tendency to get stuck in a rut, and boredom starts to sink in.
When Monday means meatloaf and every Thursday is pork chop night, we actually have a tendency to fill in with unhealthy extras in order to satisfy our cravings.
Novelty is the spice of life, and spices (and herbs) can make our food more lively, flavorful and interesting.
My grandma used to always tell me stories about her own mother’s habits in the produce department when she was little. Whenever she saw something new, she’d buy it.
My grandma remembers trying star fruit for the first time, and those tiny clusters of bananas that you know you’ve cooed over but never actually tossed into your cart.
My advice is to go for it.
Try that new restaurant, and then experiment with the new flavor profiles that you discover at home in your own kitchen. Try those energy bars made with cricket protein, or make that weird apple pie with the cheese crumble on top…
Before Great-grandma ever made it for me, I had no clue that I liked toasted English muffins with peanut butter and butter. Sounds super commonplace now, but as a four-year-old, this was a totally foreign concoction. Just go for it!
In the end, my advice is simple. Make this the year that you learn to eat a well-rounded diet, filled with lots of fresh, vitamin rich produce.
Take a stab at juicing, and try new things in the kitchen. Or, improve your heart health with these smart eating tips.
Let this be your best year of eating ever!
See more New Years food related tips and recipes now. To plan the perfect meal to actually bring in the New Year on New Year’s Eve, make sure to check out our guide!
What are your foodie New Year’s resolutions? Tell me all about them in the comments!
About Allison Sidhu
Allison M. Sidhu is a foodie from Philly who is based in Los Angeles, where she loves exploring the local restaurant scene with her husband. She holds a master's degree in gastronomy from Boston University. When she’s not in the kitchen whipping up something tasty (or listening to the latest food podcasts while she does the dishes!) you’ll probably find Allison tapping away at her keyboard, curled up with a good book (or ready to dominate with controller in hand in front of the latest video game) on the couch, or devouring a food-filled magazine at the beach.