John Smith’s main health issues are high cholesterol, hypertension, diabetes, acid reflux, and constipation. After going through his history and performing my exams, I determine that in order to reverse this all-too-familiar slide into poor health he must move away from the Standard American Diet, aptly abbreviated as S.A.D. Here is how this conversation frequently goes:
Me: John, your health issues center on your excessive consumption of animal proteins. It is time to cut out animal products and move toward a whole food plant-based diet. (John’s eyes begin to glaze over). Not only is their saturated fat causing your blood pressure and cholesterol to rise, but it is also interfering with your insulin function, raising your blood sugar causing your diabetes. And the bacteria load in addition to the absence of fiber in those animal proteins is causing your constipation and acid reflux.
What John is really thinking: Huh? I can’t have my favorite cheeseburger once a week? Wait, chicken too? I thought that was healthier than beef! What about my Greek yogurt? I thought that was good for me too! Is he saying I have to go VEGAN!!! What? I have to eat salads all the time???
Me: Yes. You look startled.
John: What am I going to possibly eat?!
Me: Food changes are an EVOLUTION not a REVOLUTION.
John: Ok. Where do I begin?
Me: Step 1 is Doing a Food-Mood Journal for the next 7 days. We will see where you are currently at and I will make suggestions of small incremental and accessible changes that you can begin to make. Do you cook?
John: I do, but I don’t have much time.
Me: So we will start slow. Step 2 is building your pantry.
Shifting people’s eating habits takes time. Changes must be made slowly, pragmatically and accurately for them to be sustained. You go too fast and you have a “diet.” Diets are an external imposition of rigid ideas irrespective of your specific nutritional needs and lifestyle challenges of time and convenience. Diets don’t work long-term; they are not supportive of lasting change. Remember, EVOLUTION not REVOLUTION!
The best way to take charge of your own health is to cook. And cooking is easy once you get into a rhythm. At first it seems daunting especially if your cupboards are bare and you don’t typically cook. You feel like you have to create Top Chef-quality fare each and every time. Please! Not going to happen! Maybe once you have their pantry, you will. But for now, let’s start simple.
GENERAL PRINCIPLES TO SAVE TIME AND MONEY
- Always choose organic, when possible.
- Choose BPA-free canned goods.
- If there are more ingredients on the label than you have fingers on one hand, don’t buy it.
- If you can’t pronounce some of the ingredients on a label, or need a degree in chemistry to understand some of them, don’t buy it.
- In fact, the fewer foods with labels, the better.
- Only buy quantities appropriate for the recipe to avoid spoilage of fresh produce. One exception could be making large pots of soups and stews so you can freeze left overs for the inevitable “I have nothing in my fridge” moments.
- Use and finish what you have before buying more.
- Tailor recipes to what is left in the fridge or pantry from the previous week.
- Meal plan once a week.
- Shop once a week. Try and limit the markets you go to.
Please tailor the following shopping list to your specific health needs and palate preferences.
Grains: brown/wild/purple/black rice, quinoa, millet, barley, amaranth, buckwheat, farro, soba noodles, various forms and types of pasta, couscous.
Proteins: Canned or Dry beans—for those on the go, start with canned beans for greater convenience. Over time, you may move toward the longer prep time of cooking your own beans. Chickpeas are great for curries and salads. Black beans go great in quinoa dishes, chili, and Mexican dishes. Kidney beans and White beans go well in soups. Organic non-GMO tofu—extra firm for sautés and stir fries, soft for miso soups. Lentils, green and red, are super easy and flexible for dahl, curries, and salads. Beans and legumes are the single most important food group for health and longevity.
Spices: Sea salt, black pepper, turmeric, curry powder, crushed red pepper, oregano, thyme, etc. Your spice cabinet will build over time with each new recipe you make. They have a fairly long shelf life, but keep an eye on how fresh they appear from the color and vibrancy of taste.
Condiments: Soy sauce or tamari if wheat sensitive, grape seed oil for cooking or dressings, coconut oil (to be used sparingly as it is a saturated fat), olive oil for dressings only (not to be cooked with at a high heat), sesame oil, rice vinegar, white wine vinegar, tahini, curry paste, furikake (Japanese rice seasoning without MSG), toasted sesame seeds.
Appliances/Utensils: Stainless steel rice cooker 7 cup—easy to use and clean up, no stove top mess, long-lasting. Food Processor—I was resistant for a while, now that I have one, I use it all the time. It makes grating carrots, chopping onions and parsley, etc., super easy and fast! A couple of sturdy and easy to handle sharpened knives. A 5-quart Dutch oven for soups and stews; a smaller sauce pan and a few different size frying pans.
Recipes: Go to my Pinterest page for 800+ recipes and counting! Set up your own Profile and begin to build your own recipe library.
Every Saturday, I go to my Pinterest page to add recipes and then choose ones to make the following week. When I first started meal planning I chose 5 recipes. Waaaaay too many! I quickly found that, not including breakfast, 3 hearty recipes works well with my schedule and my appetite. One recipe usually covers 2-3 meals. Then on Sunday, I go shopping at my local markets. Farmers’ markets are an excellent source of local produce.
- BREAKFAST: Breakfast should be something cooked, complex, and sustaining. Steel Cut oatmeal with flax seeds and nuts offers a great start to the day. Left overs can work too. I’ll also do veggie tacos with refried beans and salsa, or veggie burgers on a bagel with avocado and tomato. Easy. Yummy. And sustaining. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day—every Grandmother ever was right! If you skip breakfast, you are just trying to catch up all day: your lunch becomes your breakfast, and your dinner becomes your lunch. You are also likely to ride the stimulant roller coaster of caffeine and sugar all day. If you start the day out right, the rest will follow.
- THEN: In addition to what you normally would eat, target 2 new recipes to make that week. Write out your shopping list and hit the markets. Don’t worry about having a full pantry from Day 1. Just buy what you need and no more. Once you find a rhythm with making two recipes per week, bump it up to 3. By then, your pantry and your cookware will have evolved so that adding another recipe will be easy. And you will begin to crowd out your old habits with these fun and healthy new ones!
For example: Last Saturday, this is what I planned for and had to buy—
- Crispy Peanut Tofu and Cauliflower Rice Stir-Fry: All I needed was cauliflower, bok choy, tofu, and I needed more sesame oil. Everything else, I already had.
- Warm Kimchi Bowl with Spicy Broccoli and Sesame Scallion Wild Rice: green onions, broccoli, and kimchi (no MSG). Everything else, I already had.
- Quinoa Black Bean Avocado Salad: black beans, grape tomatoes, ginger, limes, and cilantro. Everything else,… you’re getting the idea!
I also knew that if I needed to, I could defrost some lentil soup I made the previous week for an additional meal. In fact, that sounds good for dinner tonight! Add some brown rice and maybe a little cucumber and tomato salad on the side—all of which I already had—and I have myself a perfect meal! Presto!!
Cooking is easy. It just takes a little desire to create nourishment for yourself and for your loved ones. You use all your senses when meal planning and cooking. You invest time, energy, and love into something that feeds you today, sets you up well for tomorrow and makes you feel proud that each and every day you are doing the one thing that is most fundamental in living a healthy life—nourishing yourself with good food. As the habit becomes more familiar, you will begin to find the kitchen to be a sanctuary, a place you look forward to spending more time in, and a place you may want to share with loved ones.
We connect to ourselves and others over meals. We express ourselves through what we put on the plate and the environment we create. Whether we cook for ourselves or for our friends and family, our relationship with food is one of the most important connections we have with our own physical, emotional, and mental health and vitality.
Where do you begin? Do a 7-Day Food-Mood Journal and see what that reveals. Then start building your pantry.
Keep it simple.
Let it evolve.
And just start somewhere.