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 forquitting coffee, 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.
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.