A Better Diet Made Simple
Food is both simple and complicated. Simple, in that we need it. Complicated, in that it involves time, transport, shopping, money, recipes, cooking, equipment, diet, ethics, emotions, and even religion and politics. Judging by what I’ve read on other blogs and in communication with friends, most of us have some consciousness that the food we buy isn’t just the food we buy, and many of us are striving to improve our diets and our lives with both the kinds of food we eat and the quality of that food.
A common problem is sustaining the ideal diet. Even at its simplest, it can involve a lot of thinking, which can take the fun right out of it. We live in a culture which has emphasized prepackaged convenience for several generations now, and it’s all too easy to take that old familiar path of least resistance, rather than buying, cooking, and eating “real” food.
Few would argue that food we make at home is more nutritious and economical than processed or restaurant food. What’s the big deal, right? So we start out with the best of intentions, bringing home a load of fresh and wholesome food, only to have half of it rot inside a week because we’re not used to cooking and eating that way, especially when we’re tired or busy. Even experienced cooks have days when they open the fridge and just stare at it blankly, too tired to think of what to make when a new way of eating is involved.
The problem is too much thinking and not enough autopilot.
The solution is to set up a daily no-thinking cooking routine, at least until those wonderful autopilot habits kick in. Your goal is to have the menu set for each day of the week, and each thing you make is simple and fast–without including “bad” food or the takeout menu.
You can create the solution in less than an hour with paper and pencil. Here’s how:
- Start by first identifying your aspired diet, whether it’s vegetarian, gluten-free, vegan, Paleo, South Beach, etc.
- Next, write down seven days’ worth of menus which fit the diet. Be sure every single one of them is something you KNOW you will eat. This is not the time to try new stuff if you can avoid it. It’s the time to simply get into the habit of cooking a certain way, day in and day out. Include favorite foods which fit the new diet as much as you can–it’ll be a great comfort during this transition period.
- Now consider any recipes for these meals. Can each one be made in under thirty minutes (heck, even under fifteen minutes) using the fewest possible processed ingredients? Does the new diet allow for reasonable conveniences such as frozen veggies and canned tomatoes, etc.? Can you swap the more complicated recipes for simpler ones, or faster ones? Your goal is to have a set of simple recipes which take the least amount of time to prepare, make eating better as convenient as possible. The simple recipes also tend to have the least amount of cleanup.
- Next, consider elements of quality, cost, and ethics, if any of them apply. Most of us have a budget to stick to, and you want to establish a fiscally sustainable diet as well as one which meets your other criteria, such as locally grown, organic, cage free, etc. Only you can decide where these priorities lie and the extent to which you can meet your ideals.
- Finally, plot out the menu calendar, the shopping list, and have the recipes ready to grab, if needed. You should only need one grocery shopping foray per week. Each day cook and eat only what you’ve put down for that day. You’re not allowed to run back out to the store–if you’re missing an ingredient, make do without. You’ll live. Repeat this menu for at least one more week without changes, and a third with only minor changes.
After two weeks you’ll have the rhythm down, and lost the cravings for your old bad foods.
After three weeks you will be ready to expand on the repertoire, perhaps introducing new vegetables or making your own yogurt or bean sprouts, or tackling longer recipes.
After a month you’ll wonder what the big deal was, and probably won’t need a list to know what needs to be picked up at the store. That’s when you’ll know you’ve made the big change for real–your meals and food prep will be on autopilot, just as simple and convenient as any other way you used to eat, only better!
(Note to readers of Minimalist Cook: I am combining that blog with this one, as part of streamlining my working life. Cooking e-books and newsletters are still available, and a new cookbook will be coming out in a few weeks. Cheers!)