Last Tuesday I wrote a post encouraging a different approach to eating healthfully in 2019 and, as expected, my “ditch the diet” advice was received by some with a healthy dose of skepticism. If you read last week’s post you know that I was not advocating a diet of donuts and ice-cream (although there are recipes for both on this blog because if you know me you know I am all about a sweet treat, I just want you to make it at home 😉), but I suggested that rather than adopting some crazy new diet that eliminates food groups (or even food), counts calories or relies on shakes and supplements, anyone looking to clean up their eating in 2019 should try adopting simple, sustainable habits that revolve around real food and lifestyle changes. The ten habits I laid out can be described as eating with intention and seeking fulfillment from things other than food.
While I was definitely ready for some pushback I was surprised how many people asked for advice or clarification on how to actually implement some of those habits – specifically cutting out processed foods and cooking more.
During the almost five years that my family has been eating a “real food” diet, I’ve learned a lot of things about how to make this lifestyle work for us – and it is a lifestyle. But the most important thing I’ve learned is that the key to cutting out processed foods and cooking more is planning ahead. There’s just no way around it. Whether you are at home or on the go, a little advance planning ensures that you can make healthier choices when the hungries hit.
That means meal planning friends.
I know – that’s a loaded words these days. There are a lot of intense feelings about meal planning and many people find the prospect downright overwhelming. But meal planning doesn’t have to be scary. Or overwhelming. Or time consuming.
In fact, once meal planning becomes a habit it will actually you save time. Instead of staring at the fridge wondering what to make for dinner, you will already know. And it will also save money – which is another goal on many people’s minds this time of year.
Instead of worrying about meal planning, what if we just decided to eat with intention this year? Many of us strive to be more mindful and purposeful about how we spend our time or our money, and meal planning just means that you carry over that mindfulness to the kitchen. When you take a few minutes to plan out your meals and snacks for the week you are committing to mindful eating, rather than just stuffing your face with whatever is in front of you.
I’m not going to lie, eating with intention takes a little bit of practice and a little bit of time. But doesn’t everything that’s important?
First, you need to decide what eating “more healthfully” means to you. Do you want to eat more fruits and vegetables? Cut out soda or sweetened beverages? Eliminate MSG and added salt? Cut down on added sugars? Incorporate more whole grains?
Once you know what you want to eat (or not eat), you need to make a plan for what specific meals and snacks you are going to have each week. The easiest way to do this is to make a list of your favorite foods or create a Pinterest board of go-to recipes. If you are undertaking a major diet switch I recommend you take a look at some of the following websites for inspiration: 100 Days of Real Food, Kitchen Stewarship, The Nourishing Home (great for gluten-free recipes), Peas and Crayons (lots of vegetarian options), and Damn Delicious. I’ll let you in on a little secret though, those sites and this one, focus on real foods
I recently started planning my dinners and lunches a month at a time. I like to batch other tasks, so it makes sense to do it with meal planning too. I find that once I am in the “meal planning zone,” it’s easy to keep the ideas flowing.
After you know what you are going to eat, you need to make sure you have those items on hand (whether that’s at home or on the go – I am infamously known for my “purse food”). Just as important, you also need to make sure that the food you bought is ready and easy to prepare (some simple tips coming for that next week) or that you have adequate time set aside to cook.
It’s also okay, and encouraged, to plan for some restaurant meals and/or takeout each week. As a rule of thumb I typically plan 4-5 dinners each week. The other days are leftovers, take out or out to eat, but by intentionally planning these things in advance I find I am not wasting food, nor simply resorting to a restaurant because it’s the easiest option.
Over the next couple of weeks I’ll be sharing some of the basic recipes I use to help my family eat with intention – pantry staples like taco sauce, barbecue sauce, and salad dressings, and big-batch cooking that stocks the pantry or freezer like oatmeal, waffles and today’s recipe, Nut-Free Chocolate Cherry Granola.
I’ve always loved granola. The combination of chewy, crunchy cluster just makes my mouth happy. Unfortunately most store-bought granola isn’t exactly “healthy.” It’s often loaded with hydrogenated oils and lots of added sugar (up to 30 grams a serving!?!). And it’s also usually made with nuts or coconut. Which means if I want granola I have to make it myself.
Luckily, it’s super easy to make your own granola. You just combine the oats and seeds in a large bowl and then heat up the oil, maple syrup (or you can sub honey) and cocoa powder until it forms a thick paste. After you remove those ingredients from the heat, you stir in some vanilla and a dash of salt and then mix the wet ingredients together with the dry ingredients – I use my hands for this. Spread the granola on a large baking sheet and bake it at low heat for about 45 minutes, stirring frequently. When it comes out of the oven, stir in the mini chips and dried fruit and let it cool completely.
That’s all there is too it. Granola will keep in an airtight container for up to 3 weeks – but ours never lasts that long.