American College of Nutrition Certified Nutrition Specialist | Author | Professor of Nutrition


The #1 Thing

“So, what is the one thing someone like me, in their early 40s and getting high cholesterol, should do to change their diet and be healthier?”

That was the question from a young father at a dinner party the other night. Its always the question when people find out that I am a nutritionist and then wonder if they made the right meal choice.

My answer was he should eat more fruits and vegetables, that’s the number one priority to maintaining his good health. He looked a little disappointed and we started talking about something else.

Here’s where I think I went wrong. There are too many steps from the standard American diet to “eating more fruits and vegetables.” How? How many? What kinds? We need an underlying principle that makes eating well simple.

Cook at home more is the correct answer to his question, and the key for all of us to eat better.

Please don’t stop reading if that makes you want to punch me. So many people see cooking as a chore, rather than a delivery system for really good food. The processed food industry is banking on us believing this myth, and promote it every chance they get. They are wrong and its hurting our health.

Its a myth that eating well and cooking at home is hard.

Here are my favorite strategies for bringing some joy back into cooking:

  1. Cook food you really like. If you are tired of that same old stew, chili, pot roast, whatever, don’t make it. What are your restaurant favorites? What flavors do you really love? Cook those instead. Look forward to eating the meal you are cooking!
  2. Keep it simple. What can you make without a recipe? Start there and when you feel inspired learn something new. A simple grilled cheese sandwich (add sliced tomato!) and a bagged salad is a good place to start.
  3. Make sure your knives are sharp, your cutting board is big, and your pans cook evenly. Bad equipment makes even the most enthusiastic cook want to order takeout. Did you know most neighborhood hardware stores will sharpen your knives for just a few dollars? Need some recommendations for new equipment? Send me a note, I am happy to help.
  4. There is no shame in buying pre-chopped vegetables. If you hate cutting up a salad, buy it chopped already and focus on what you do enjoy making. Frozen vegetables are fine too.
  5. Plan for 3 days worth of meals at a time. A week is too long for most of us. Knowing ahead of time what’s for dinner, and knowing you have all of your ingredients waiting for you at home relieves a lot of daily stress.

Your assignment for the week: plan three simple meals you like to eat and can cook. Shop, cook and give yourself a pat on the back.

Here’s an example.

Day 1, grill a double batch of chicken and vegetables like peppers, zucchini, onions, and eggplant (or whatever your personal favorites are). Serve with brown rice and a simple green salad, store the leftovers for your next two dinners.

Day 2, cook some farro, and add the leftover grilled vegetables along with some bagged baby spinach, chopped tomatoes and a can of chickpeas (drained and rinsed). Toss with your favorite oil and vinegar salad dressing. Leftovers are great for lunch on Day 3.

Day 3, chop the cooked chicken. Open a bag of pre-chopped cabbage and toss with olive oil and lime juice (add cilantro and jalapeno if you like them). Heat some oil in a saucepan, add some chopped onion and garlic and cook until soft, add a can of black beans and some salsa of your choice. Slice an avocado and a lime, and warm some flour tortillas. Easy and delicious taco night!

Cooking is a learnable skill, not an inborn talent. You can become skilled and efficient with just a little practice. The eating well part comes naturally when you know what you are putting into your food.

Stay tuned next time, we will talk more about how to learn to cook what you like to eat, and bust the myth that healthy food tastes bad. 

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