Eating healthier is one of the most popular New Year’s resolutions, (smoking, exercising and self-care are three more – all related to wellness and addressed in this resolution series’ other installments), and one that is often ultimately, frustratingly unsuccessful.
Eating healthfully also provides the optimum fuel for a successful workout routine. “Diet provides the energy to drive the exercise that is required for physical performance,” declares Dr. Susan Kleiner, author of The New Power Eating and the owner of Mercer Island, Washington-based High Performance Nutrition. Kleiner consults on nutrition for professional sports teams, athletes and physically active non-athletes.
Now that the holidays are over, millions of Americans are seeking to shed pounds and many will fail before swimsuit season; many who succeed will regain the pounds (and more) in the long term. That’s often due to short term thinking – i.e., ‘I’ll shed the weight with this hot new diet and look good for my summer vacation’ – and lack of an overall strategy. “If you want to be successful in anything, you need a plan,” Kleiner comments. “You can’t have a successful career without a plan. You can’t build a large financial portfolio without a plan. And you can’t have lifelong health and fitness without a plan.”
Two components of a healthful eating plan are shopping and cooking. “Build them into your lifestyle routine. Make it fun. Shop and cook with friends and family. Experiment with different foods and styles of cooking. It’s much easier than you think,” the author shares.
For those accustomed to restaurant delivery meals, snacking from vending machines and socializing with friends at local eateries, this can represent a significant lifestyle challenge. This is especially true for the ‘cooking-challenged.’
Barriers to Eating Healthier: Habits and Cooking Inexperience
“Take it slowly,” Kleiner suggests. “You might start with cooking on a weekend day, and having enough extras to get you through Monday to Wednesday, and then eating out for the next few days. After you master that, you can try to increase the days when you cook at home. Give yourself a break when you need it, and then get back to your usual planning, shopping and cooking.”
For those who don’t feel confident in the kitchen, a quick online search will often serve up numerous healthy cooking classes through community colleges, adult ed courses, cooking schools and even some hospitals.
“It is a huge benefit to prepare your own food,” Kleiner says. “At home, you know the ingredients of the food you are eating, and have choices over those ingredients. When you aren’t preparing your own food you may not know what’s in it and your control is limited.” If your favorite social activity with friends or family is breaking bread together – admittedly, one of life’s great pleasures – you can suggest a rotating home-based dinner party where everyone pitches in as a restaurant alternative, and has fun cooking and learning.
Your Kitchen as Healthful Eating MVP
Food is fuel for fitness, career and life, and your kitchen is your home’s fueling station. It doesn’t need to be fancy, just efficient. “Feeling like you need lots of gadgets when a good knife or two, a couple of cutting boards (meat and non-meat for food safety prep), one good pot, a good sauté pan, and perhaps a blender and mixer – it can be a hand mixer (or whisk) – will do the trick,” Kleiner suggests. Having everything that the kitchen store is trying to sell you is completely unnecessary.”
There are some essentials to the kitchen space itself that can help support your healthful cooking and eating goals. Having a well-lit, sanitary work surface and ingredients readily at hand will help make healthful meal prep easier, safer and more convenient. Task lighting shining directly on your prep area will help reduce the chance of a painfully jabbed finger instead of a perfectly julienned vegetable. (You can add under-cabinet LED lighting even if you’re not planning a complete remodel, and even if you’re renting.) Properly-working cooking ventilation will pull cooking odors, steam and grease out of your kitchen and living spaces, and reduce the risk of a kitchen fire. (If you are planning a remodel, a vent hood with dishwasher-friendly filter and nonporous porcelain slab, stainless steel, engineered stone or solid surface countertops will also make your kitchen easier and safer to use.) Last but definitely not least, a cushioned anti-fatigue mat on a hard tile floor will make long meal prep and cleanup sessions easier on your feet, hips, back and legs.
The best strategy for healthier eating is having healthful ingredients readily accessible. “One big thing is organizing to keep fruits, vegetables and grains fresh and available,” Kleiner recommends. A well-stocked, well-organized pantry, fridge and freezer with the healthiest foodstuffs in easy reach will speed your prep time, and good reusable storage containers will make reheating and taking your meals to work easier, she adds. There are numerous kitchen organizers available for base cabinets, wall cabinets, pantries and backsplashes. Some are designed to install for permanent use, while others can be put in place without hardware and then removed when you reorganize or relocate.
Storing and organizing your nutritional supplements in the kitchen can also be helpful. “Many people feel better when they take supplements with food, and a few are best absorbed with food,” Kleiner advises. A basket or bin that keeps them visible with your other ingredients can meet this need, or you can place or install an organizer in your cabinet or pantry, also close to your other healthful food items.
Getting yourself and your kitchen ready for healthy meal prep can potentially make 2020 the year you finally shed those pounds for good!
Here are the publication dates for the complete series, with links to be added as they publish:
(Part 2) Eat Healthier — Monday, January 13
(Part 3) Get Exercise — Monday, January 20
(Part 4) Self-Care (Sleep Focus) — Monday, January 27