The Frictionless Kitchen: 19 Ways to Lessen Your Resistance to Healthy Eating this Year

As I wrote in my last post, good eating habits aren’t about willpower. Willpower runs out.

Instead, if you want your healthy lifestyle to last, the secret is to remove the friction. Friction?

The time required to plan, shop for, and prepare your meals. The cost. Or simply that you just don’t like the way the food you should eat tastes — at least, compared to what you’re used to eating.

Earlier this week I examined a shopping trip and explained how each purchase helps my family eat healthily, without having to rely on willpower. It seems like a lot of people found that helpful, so today I’m taking it a step further — 19 tricks, rules, and tips we rely on to minimize the friction in the kitchen. Here goes.

19 Friction-Free Healthy Eating Tips

1. Serve your salad (and your family’s) right when you start cooking dinner. Since you’re hungry and the hot food isn’t ready yet, you’ll fill up on more healthy salad than you would if you served it just before the meal hits the table (or worse, at the same time). Over time, increase the size of the salad, an lessen the amount you’re cooking.

2. Pre-portion out the dry ingredients for your smoothie (and your salad, too) into individual containers on the weekend. Then each morning — instead of having to grab and open five jars or bags of walnuts, pumpkin seeds, flax seeds, chia seeds, and protein powder — you open one container, dump it into the blender, and move on to your other ingredients.

3. When your greens start to go, move them to the freezer to use for smoothies. Start with small amounts, and you might be surprised at how little you can taste that extra nutrition.

4. Follow a “fruit first,” “salad first,” or “water first” rule before you indulge in something less healthy like pizza, coffee, beer, etc. This way, there’s no “missing out” on anything delicious — just a natural desire to eat a little less of it.

5. Want to drink less caffeine, but love your coffee (and decaf’s just not the same)? Try an experiment like this one, and you’ll learn that half-caff isn’t so bad.

6. It’s no secret most raw nuts are healthier than the roasted version, since they retain more of the healthy fatty acids. (Peanuts the glaring exception — they can only be safely eaten if they’re cooked.) To lessen the shock of making the switch to raw: mix raw, unsalted nuts and seeds with the roasted, salted ones you enjoy. Over time, increase the proportion of the raw nuts as your palate adjusts.

7. If you’ve tried and failed to go vegetarian, vegan, or whole-foodist (or harder, to get your whole family to do so), bite off a smaller chunk. Pick a time in the morning and follow your ideal diet until that point. As you get comfortable and build a string of successes, slowly move the line further back in the day.

8. Keep ingredients on hand for no fewer than three dinners-in-a-pinch. These are meals that you can make with little effort and time, that you can fall back on when your day gets away from you (instead of going out to eat or ordering takeout, which often lead to several unhealthy meals in a row due to inertia or leftovers). Your dinners in a pinch probably won’t be as healthy as you’d like — you’re looking for ingredients that can sit for a few weeks without going bad, so not a lot of fresh veggies — but they’ll get you through a stressful day or two until you can get back on track. (Here’s mine. Also, pasta with quick tomato sauce and chickpeas.)

9. When you discover a meal that meets the big four criteria (tasty, healthy, quick, and cheap), for the love of all that is holy, write it down! Keep the growing list of these meals in your wallet or phone (with ingredients, or links to the recipes online) so that you can stop by the store on the way home from work when you realize you’ve got nothing for dinner.

10. Don’t rule out vegan meal-delivery services, even if you’re on a budget. Economies of scale allow them to purchase food for way cheaper than you can, so even after the cost of delivery and their markup, you might not pay much more than you would if you shopped yourself. Plus, oh yeah, you don’t have to shop. Or prep most of the ingredients. Or think about what to make. Or eat the same old thing again. (My favorite.)

11. Don’t buy junk food at the grocery store. Just flat-out refuse to do it. Make it your policy. If it’s not in your house, you’re so much less likely to put in the effort to go get it. If you are, more power to you. (Often I do this with beer and coffee.)

12. Put out a snack bowl in a high-traffic area (we do it for our kids, but it could work for grown-ups too). Fill it with chopped fruits and veggies, a trail mix, maybe even some hummus. Then when your kids pass through or do something at the table, you’ll see them snacking on healthy food without even realizing they’re doing it. Hat tip to Dr. Fuhrman.

13. Go for heads of lettuce instead of the clamshell containers. Yes, you need to chop it ahead of time, but do it when you do the rest of your vegetables and you’ll save a few dollars per pound and have lettuce that’s fresher and lasts longer than what you’d get in the box.

14. Anytime you make veggie burgers, make a double or triple batch. Freeze the leftovers, and when you need a quick, cheap, and easy healthy meal, crumble one on top of a salad. Or put it in a pita. Or eat it by itself. Five-minute meal.

15. Same goes for soups, which you can thaw and serve over pasta or rice for an easy meal.

16. One more on this theme: make a big batch of pesto and use a melon baller to freeze 2-tablespoon size balls. For a fast weeknight meal, thaw with a few tablespoons of hot water and toss with pasta.

17. Start with a meal that’s healthy but insubstantial (salad, soup, or the pasta with pesto above). Add chickpeas. Bam! Filling meal.

18. Chop your salad vegetables for the week all once, on the weekend. Easy to do, but so easy not to do. Do it.

19. If you’re stuck for meal planning ideas because you’ve got too many options (I’m thinking of the thousands of recipes in the cookbooks on your shelf), give yourself some constraints. Pick a fresh veggie you need to use up, and search the index of a favorite cookbook for that ingredient. Or pick a theme for each night of the week — by ethnicity, color, anything — and search within those parameters. Inspired by Dr. Seuss and Austin Kleon and every other artist who found her greatness by limiting her tools.

And finally, three quick announcements …

1. Greatist just published their list of the 100 Most Influential People in Health and Fitness … and I made it! What’s cool about the list, to me (besides that I’m on it, which is pretty darn cool), is that right there with the celebrity-types is a healthy contingent of bloggers and podcasters, including some friends of mine like Leo Babauta, Rich Roll, and Steve Kamb. In other words, there’s no better time than now to pick yourself.

2. The quick New Year’s sale I’ve been doing on Wake Up (my 31-day program for jump starting your motivation, setting goals, and taking charge of your life) is just about over. Through the end of today it’s still just 15 bucks — less than half the usual price of $31. If you’re interested, check it out here.

3. Our most recent podcast episode is called 21 Weird Things We Do Now that We’re Vegan. And if that sounds familiar, it should … it’s an audio-update to the most-shared NMA post in history, The 17 Weirdest Things I Do Now that I’m Vegan. To hear about the new weird things we’ve started since I wrote that post, you can listen and subscribe to the podcast here.

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Comments

  1. Awesome tips! #9 (write down the winners) really sticks out to me. It seems like I find something great and eat it regularly for a few months, and then my routine gets mixed up, I forget about it, and a couple years pass before I remember, “oh, yeah, this stuff used to rock!”

    BTW, I’m a new reader and just started working through the archives. Great stuff – glad I found you!

  2. Great advice! I’m preparing to lead my blog readers in a post-Christmas sugar purification. I will link up to these great tips. They will be a huge help!

  3. Instead of a melon baller for pesto, an ice cube tray works wonderfully!

    I love your tip about chickpeas. One of our favorite easy meals is chickpeas with broccoli and caramelized onions. It goes great with toast, rice, whole wheat pasta, or even just on its own!

  4. Really wonderful ideas!!!! Sharing for sure!

  5. Jennifer Little says:

    Good and sensible suggestions – you must have read my mind – I needed this shove forward! Thanks 🙂

  6. Great tips! Going to try and put some into practice over the next few weeks, hopefully they will become routine! 🙂

  7. clareabella says:

    Loving the tips. I went ‘veggie’ in Feb last year, purely by giving up meat (and coffee) for lent, didn’t miss it and felt better for it, so decided to stick (sadly the same can’t be said about the coffee, which was my reward for my Easter five mile dash I ran). Since doing it for ‘lent’ worked I plan, this year, to go full on vegan. Have already swapped to soy milk, cut down on cheese and can’t eat egg yolk anyway, so hopefully will be an ‘easy’ transition, but my blocker is the hubster. He is the type of person that likes his high fat snacks…crisps, chocolate, biscuits etc etc. And in no way, shape or form will he entertain anything that could ever be classified as SALAD!

  8. Pesto makes a ton of leftovers–especially since there are only two of us. So I do #16 but with ice cube trays. When the’re frozen, I empty the cubes into a large freezer bag. They last forever and dinner only takes about 20 minutes (for boiling the water). I can always get creative with veggies in the house.

  9. Michele S. says:

    I also love #9. I’ve started a Pinterest Board of quick and easy meals. Only one thing on there so far, but I plan to add to it as I come across more super fast and easy recipes.

  10. Patigventurini says:

    Great ideas to reflect about.
    I am actually working on # 19. I realized that I am bored with my food, that is why I have been eating too much white bread, pasta… Low fiber food. My veggies go to waste because I have nothing interesting to do with.
    So I must change! I pick what ever veggie I have and goggle for a new recipe. I need to be a more inovative vegetarian.
    Thanks for the reflections.

  11. brian airedale says:

    no meat athlete rocks!
    great content!
    Brian
    Asheville

  12. Nice compilation of tips. We also start with a salad and then “cook” the rest of dinner after eating it. Gives our stomachs’ time to start realizing we’ve put food in! We also have found that keeping prepared salad greens, broccoli slaw, cut carrots, radishes and celery in one large container in the fridge with the other high water volume veggies for the salad in their own separate containers cut up and ready to use (peppers, cukes, green onions, etc.) decreases the time it takes to prepare the salad each night AND nothing goes slimy before we get to it.
    Another trick is we plan and write down our menu for the upcoming weekend and week each Friday or Saturday for the next week. This helps with the “what’s for dinner” and “do we have what we need for…” and acts as the framework for our grocery shopping trip. We keep all the weekly menus in a notebook so if we are short on time one week (or inspiration) we can look back at other weeks and come up with a quick menu. Plus, we often mark either favorites or failures on the menu so we have that info too. We also have a binder with recipes and such that we want to try (on top of our cookbook collection) so there’s always something new we can add to the menu, etc. if we want.

    BTW – congrats on the inclusion! You’re making a difference!

  13. Great tips, thank you!
    I am not sure I understand no. 18 : if you clean and chop the salad vegetables in the weekend, won’t they become wilted or dry up by the time we use them during the following days?

    • Cristina, they usually don’t. I leave my chopped lettuce loosely covered in the fridge, so that a little air gets in, and it usually lasts 3-5 days. Other veggies are going to vary, and it seems like keeping them in separate containers is best. I’m sure there’s a little loss of freshness and nutrition over time, but to me that’s worth it for the time savings.

  14. Don’t buy junk food at the grocery store (#11). SO TRUE! If I don’t have it in the house, I don’t think about it, but if it’s there I am going to eat it. Part of the reason why Christmas is so hard – People keep giving you junk…I tossed so much of it just so I wouldn’t be tempted by it this year.

  15. Four other things I do:

    1. I created a list of 21 entrees for the week. Not all the recipes fit all the criteria for the list, but I tried my hardest and save the easiest ones for weekdays when neither of us gets home on time. Basically the idea is breaking down all the barriers that could result in the dreaded “What do you want to do?” “I don’t know. Let’s just go out” conversation. It’s similar to this list, but with an emphasis on the food itself. The criteria are:
    –It has to be able to be made in a half hour max. (‘Nuf said)
    –Cheap. (The economy sucks.)
    –Easy.
    –Common ingredients, so you don’t realize at the last minute “Shoot. No maca in the house!”
    –Creates leftovers for lunches.
    Here’s the list I work off of: https://www.facebook.com/notes/the-meatless-marathoner/21-days-of-vegan-entrees/781401201929126

    2. On Saturday, I cut and paste the menus for the week from that list and create a grocery list. We then go shopping on Sunday for as far out on the week that’s practical. There are only two of us in the house, so the amount of leftovers in a recipe can be unpredictable. That’s where creativity and flexibility enter the picture. I keep frozen vegetables on hand for later in the week. Frozen veggies can actually be more nutritious than fresh are!

    3. On Sunday, I cook the grains I’ll need for the week then just nuke them when needed. This cuts way down on time, effort, and complexity.

    4. When we get our food, we put the veggies plate in front of us, eat all that, then treat the “entree” as a smaller side dish.

  16. On #6: Cashews should be added to the list about not being eaten raw…they aren’t actually ‘raw’ in the store even though they are labled that way. ‘Raw’ cashews may not be roasted but they are still heated.

  17. FYI: I just purchased your new program and it was $31 not $15.

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