Making Changes – Choosing Healthy Foods

Making healthy choices when choosing what food to buy doesn’t have to be all or nothing.  If you approach it that way, chances are you will quickly throw up your hands and give up.  My own journey to making healthy choices has been over a period of years, and has included falling off the wagon more than once.

Start from where you are and take one step at a time, giving yourself time to get that change down pat before you move on to the next one.  For example, if you eat most of your meals out, start cooking at least one meal a week at home.  If you don’t know how to cook, find someone you know who does and ask them to help you learn.  Invest in a good cookbook (try The Kitchen Counter Cooking School or  100 Days of Real Food).  If you can’t afford one, look at your local library – they have lots.  Ask friends to share quick and easy recipes, check the archives in our blog, or look online.  Two recipes from our archives I would recommend for beginners are Clam Spaghetti and Quick and Easy Burritos.  Many of our other recipes are quick, easy and require only very basic cooking skills.

If you are already preparing many of your meals at home, perhaps the first step might be to add a vegetable or fruit serving at every opportunity. If your family doesn’t like veggies, try fixing them in new ways (example – raw, steamed, with sauces or glazes, roasted). It is great if you can afford to buy all organic ingredients, but very few of us can.  If you are on a tight budget, know that it is more important to incorporate any kind of vegetables and fruit in your meals than it is to avoid them because you can’t afford to buy the best. Do the best you can with what you have or can afford. Check out the Dirty Dozen (items to only buy organic if you can) and just as important, the Clean 15 (items that aren’t important to choose organic). A great resource on making changes incrementally is the mini-pledge program on Lisa Leake’s blog, 100 Days of Real Foods.  She also has lots of “real food” tips and recipes.  
One of the most effective ways to manage to cook most meals at home is to Menu Plan. This is also the best way to save money, because you should be buying only what you know you will use, and you can avoid extra runs to the store (and impulse buys).  I use a simple Excel spreadsheet and don’t plan my breakfasts because they are always pretty much the same.  I make a note of anything special I may have going on that day, and plan a simple meal if I have a busy day.  I like to plan a week at a time, but my daughter and daughter-in-law prefer to do a month at a time, and plan only their dinners. On my menu plan (see picture below), the notes in red in the center column are days that I watch one of my grandkids or other special things I have planned. The notes in red in the right-hand column are reminders to do something beforehand, and the ones in black are ingredients that I need to buy for the meals planned for that day.

Look at what you have on hand, check the current sale ads, adjust your menu plan if needed, and then use your plan to list everything you are going to need, and don’t be tempted to buy anything that is not on your list (if you are planning for a month, you will need to plan to make another grocery run or two for perishable items).  Make it work for you – plan to eat out on a specific day, have a kid’s choice day (and let them help you fix the meal), only plan two or three meals a week. Have a plan to use up leftovers, either by repurposing them into a completely new dish (example – Fried Rice), making one dinner a week a leftover buffet, or eating them for lunches. Statistics show that Americans throw away 25% of all the food they buy – those dollars can either come straight off your food budget, be used to buy more or better food, or splurge on a night out.  

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