Achieving Health and Wellness Resolutions, Step 1: Choose Better Food

Food is the foundation of health, and can either support wellness or take away from it.  Choosing better food is the first step in achieving your health and wellness resolutions.  Why?  Because eating quality food affects how your body and mind operates, and in the long run, your health becomes an accumulation of your food choices.

What does choosing better food mean?  Let’s start with what it doesn’t mean.  It doesn’t mean diets, deprivation, or extremes.  Choosing better food does not require drastic or emotionally painful changes.  In my experience, that sets you up for failure, both mentally and physically.

Below, I’ve listed what I consider the key points to choosing better food.  While you put these in to practice, remember that you’ll want these changes to be with you for the rest of your life.  So take it easy.  Take it slow.  Be aware of how your mind and body respond.  Don’t deprive yourself…encourage yourself to eat better.

Be unrefined.

I used to be hooked on nutritionally deficient foods.  Artificial sweeteners, refined food, processed food…basically crap food.  I was tired, emotionally imbalanced, and evaluated the merits of food solely on calories and fat grams.  Because I deprived myself on a daily basis, I was miserable and thought about food all the time.  I didn’t realize all my suffering stemmed from eating so many nutritionally empty foods.

Now I focus on “real food.”  Check out this short video to find out what that means.  If eating real food is new to you, start slowly.  Make small upgrades.  Try brown rice instead of white.  A fresh peach instead of canned.  Mixed green salad instead of iceberg.  Soda water with a splash of orange juice instead of orange soda.  If you go slowly, you won’t be traumatized and the changes will stick with you.

Get a handle on your cravings.

We all have cravings, but giving in to refined and processed foods all the time will take a toll on your health.  Those sweet, salty, crunchy, and chewy cravings have healthy substitutes.  But if you have a craving for a specific thing (like Ben & Jerry’s Chubby Hubby ice cream) and nothing but that exact food will satisfy you, then for goodness sake have it so you can get on with your life!  Enjoy it, savor it, allow a little squeal of glee.

When you make healthful food a part of your daily life, you’ll start craving those foods instead.  Refined, processed foods will start to lose their appeal.  I couldn’t believe the first time I woke up and couldn’t wait to eat some kale!  I actually feel unsettled if I don’t eat vegetables every day, especially the green leafy variety.  Now those are the kinds of cravings you can give in to whenever you like!

Plan ahead.

Choosing better food means planning ahead.  If I have a busy week and know I’m not going to be up to taking much time to prepare my meals, I carve out a few hours the Sunday before to cook for the week.  I clean and cut a ton of veggies, double or triple recipes, make sure I have essential oils/ingredients on hand…whatever I can think of that will cut my cooking time down to 10 minutes or less.

If you don’t have that kind of time, you can still eat nutritious food with little planning.  Take a look at this grocery list:

  • carrots, tomatoes, cucumbers
  • pre-cut or frozen broccoli
  • canned chickpeas and black beans
  • brown rice
  • Ezekiel bread
  • salad greens
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • lemons
  • whole free-range chicken (already roasted) from the deli department

By incorporating spices and common condiments you have in the fridge, this grocery list makes lunch and dinner options that take very little time to make.  Here are some meal examples:

  1. Salad with roasted chicken, veggies, and chickpeas with olive oil and lemon dressing (and spices)
  2. Stir-fry of brown rice, broccoli, and chicken (using olive oil, maybe lemon, spices)
  3. Chicken, salad greens, and tomato sandwich (using mayo, mustard, or olive oil)
  4. Chicken with beans and rice (using olive oil, spices)

I know these meals are all centered around chicken, but can you see how many quick meals you could make with a simple grocery list of versatile, nutritious ingredients?

Taking the time to plan out healthy meals will keep you eating right while saving you money spent on take-out and eating out.

Be realistic.

Choosing better food means doing the best with what’s available and doable.  Sometimes you’re at a friend’s house for a dinner and the menu’s out of your control.  Sometimes you go to a restaurant that doesn’t have many, or any, healthy options.  Sometimes you’re driving through the desert and the only place to eat is a tiny gas station.  Sometimes you simply just want to order the amazing lobster mac-n-cheese!  It’s OK.  Shoot for eating quality, unrefined food 80% of the time.  Do that, you won’t have to sweat the other 20%.

The more often you choose better food, the more it will become part of your life.

Need some healthy menu ideas?  Take a look at my Recipes Page for deliciously unrefined eating!

Maple-Kissed Walnut Spread

After a month of mornings craving non-traditional breakfast foods–pasta, sandwiches, stir-fried vegetables, salad–this week has been all about standard American breakfast fare.  One particular craving I’ve had is for bagels and cream cheese.  A couple of times a year, my husband and I go to a local bagel shop and share an Everything bagel with vegetable cream cheese and a Cinnamon-Raisin bagel with walnut cream cheese.  With my hankering in mind, I decided to recreate the latter spread at home.  I was delighted that the result was super-yummy even though it’s less sweet than the one from the bagel shop.  I think it’s even more delicious because I didn’t get that sick feeling halfway through from all the sweetness.  Ok, I’m probably prejudiced that mine is better.  Just see for yourself.  While this recipe isn’t something I’ll make on a regular basis, it’ll be perfect for those lazy weekends when my husband and I would normally take a trip to the bagel shop.  Hmm, now I just have to recreate that vegetable spread….

I chose Neufchâtel cheese because it has a third less fat than traditional cream cheese, but tastes just the same in my opinion.  In the directions, I don’t add the maple syrup until the end.  This is because I tried a version with only maple syrup, and the result was a bit lumpy, like cottage cheese.  Not quite what I wanted!

Recipe for Maple-Kissed Walnut Spread

makes enough for at least 4 bagel halves

4 oz. organic Neufchâtel cheese, softened at room temperature

1 tablespoon raw honey, softened (or use liquid honey)

3 tablespoons chopped walnuts – I used roasted nuts

¼ teaspoon cinnamon

dash cardamom

1 tablespoon Grade B maple syrup

Place Neufchâtel cheese in small bowl.  Add honey and mix, then add walnuts and spices and mix thoroughly.  Once spread is nice and creamy, add maple syrup and stir until mixture is a light brown color throughout.

Tasty, Whole Food Snacks To Satisfy Every Craving!

What do you do when cravings are pestering you and crying out to be satisfied?  You silence the little buggers with one of these tasty treats, that’s what! These snacks are guaranteed to do the trick when you need a fix but don’t want to suffer from eater’s remorse.

Craving Salty?

  • Olives–try ones stuffed with garlic, blue cheese, jalepeño, or feta
  • Pickles
  • Sauerkraut or kimchi–just a couple spoonfuls should do the trick!
  • Roasted, salted nuts–even better when you roast them yourself.  Spread raw nuts on baking sheet and bake at 275°F for 5-15 minutes, depending on the size of the nuts.  Warm, fragrant roasted nuts are such a treat!

Craving Sweet?

  • Apples dipped in honey and cinnamon.  Or topped with homemade “gourmet” nut butter (see celery snack tip below under “Crunchy”).
  • Oatmeal or grains cooked with raisins, maple syrup, and apple juice or milk.  Add bananas and nuts, sprinkle with apple pie spice…get creative!
  • Cook carrots in grass-fed butter until tender and caramelized.  Then drizzle with local honey or Grade B maple syrup and cinnamon.
  • Cut sweet potatoes, yams, or squash (like acorn or butternut) into chunks, sprinkle with cinnamon and bake until tender.
  • Chocolate-dipped confections–Melt ½ cup organic chocolate chips (or grain-sweetened for non-dairy option).  Dip pretzels and strawberries into the chocolate, place on baking sheet or plate covered with wax paper, and refrigerate until chocolate hardens.  An indulgent treat!

Craving Crunchy?

  • Pretzels
  • Tortilla chips with fresh guacamole and salsa.  To make your own chips, cut whole tortillas (like Food for Life sprouted corn variety) into four wedges, spread them on an olive oil-coated baking sheet, sprinkle with sea salt, and bake at 350°F for 10 minutes or until the edges are slightly brown.  Don’t want to make your own?  Garden of Eatin’ brand is good too!
  • Celery topped with peanut or almond butter (make sure it’s non-hydrogenated with no added sugar).  To make it sweeter, mix first in a small bowl with raisins and cinnamon, perhaps a little honey…like the gourmet brands but without all the bad stuff!

Craving Chewy?

  • Popcorn–can make your own by adding enough oil (coconut oil is delicious and great for high temperatures) to cover the bottom of a big, heavy pot.  Add ¼ cup of popcorn (4 servings, can save some for later!), cover and turn the burner on high.  Shake the pot occasionally.  When the popping starts lift the pot about two inches above the flame so the popcorn doesn’t get burned (use mittens to protect your hands) and keep shaking every couple seconds.  You’ll know it’s ready when the popping stops!   Sprinkle with sea salt and whatever spices you’re craving.  Can mix in some raisins, chocolate chips, and nuts to make it interesting.
  • Homemade french fries–all taste,  no guilt!  Cut 2-3 washed and scrubbed potatoes into ¼ inch wedges, sticks, circles–whatever shape you like–and place on baking sheet lightly coated with olive oil.  Brush tops of potatoes with olive oil, sprinkle with sea salt, and bake for about 40 minutes at 350°F until golden brown, turning them over halfway through.  Especially decadent dipped in olive oil/flax seed mayo (Spectrum organic brand for example) mixed with spices like cayenne or cracked pepper!

Let me know what you think about these snack ideas.  Do you have any other healthy suggestions that have worked to crush your cravings?