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Wednesday
Aug062014

Kitchen Skills 101: How to Move Beyond Processed Food

Moving beyond processed food is a journey in itself. We may not even realize our dependence on processed meals or ingredients until we attempt a major nutritional shift. Yet, we’re hardly alone in our endeavor to eat whole, real food. Some people are initially forced to forsake processed foods due to food allergies or sensitivities. Others read about the so-called whole food “fad” and decide to give it a whirl, while others just want to look and feel better. Let me tell you – you will (on both fronts), and you won’t look back! Forgoing processed food doesn’t happen overnight. There will be challenges. That said, the change can be made simpler! Check out these steps for moving your diet beyond the processed and packaged and into the real food realm. 

Begin with the basics.

When it comes to cutting back (or totally eliminating) processed foods from our diets, the transition can be extremely overwhelming. For the majority of us, simplifying the process, taking it one day at a time and being realistic with changes means more sustainable results in the long run. If you currently eat out for most meals and rely on prepackaged products for at-home eating, you may want to begin more gradually than someone who has already begun incorporating whole foods.

Regardless of how easy you think this shift should be, break down the process into actual behavior changes, and consider what you’re willing and able to commit to each day. Does adding 1 serving of vegetables to each meal seem doable? If not, cut that back to ½ serving at every meal. If need be, start with 1 serving at 1 meal each day. While this obviously isn’t your end goal, the point is to set yourself up for success and build momentum by reaching a series of attainable objectives! Identify easy actions that will naturally help you eat more whole foods (e.g. adding vegetables to meals, having fresh fruit as a snack). Once that new behavior is routine, move onto the next basic objective to achieve!

Learn 1 new skill each week (or each day!).

A great goal for anyone, especially those who are trying to break free of processed foods, is to learn the basics of cooking. Not sure how to scramble eggs or fry bacon? There are numerous resources available to learn these starter skills, such as great cookbooks, Internet videos, blogs, or cooking classes! Simple things like learning how to cut, chop, and dice efficiently (or purchasing the right kitchen tools to help with these tasks!) can be pivotal for dumping processed foods and building cooking confidence. The easier and more efficient we can make our cooking endeavors, the more likely we are to commit to them daily. Once you have the basics down, experiment with new ideas for flavoring your foods with fresh ingredients instead of a white paper packet!

Wash and prep foods ahead of time.

The appeal of processed food is often its convenience. Mimic that easy factor by having whole foods ready to grab and go. A best-practice for ensuring you’ll reach for those healthier options is to wash and prepare them before you even put them in the refrigerator. This was a habit I initiated years ago, and I am always so grateful that I do it each time! Although it takes an extra 5-10 minutes after unpacking your groceries, having the grapes already washed or the celery already cleaned and cut into spears makes all the difference in the world when you’re hungry and reaching for a snack or pressed for time in the morning. Just getting into the swing of grocery shopping and eating healthily? Make it even easier on yourself and buy the pre-bagged options! Fresh vegetables and fruit come in an array of ready-to-eat containers and make upping your produce intake much simpler. These options are typically more expensive than buying just the vegetable or fruit on its own (since you’re paying for someone else to wash and prep the items). If it means you’ll eat more fresh foods than starchy, high-carb snack options, however, it’s the obvious choice to make.

Add 3 new vegetables to your grocery list.

Healthy eating starts with the list. Without a list, grocery shopping can easily (and quickly) go awry! Think about what you will use for breakfasts, lunches and dinners as well as snacks, and start comprising a list of items/ingredients you need. Collect some easy recipes that sound appealing and require relatively few ingredients. To challenge yourself, add 2-3 vegetables to your list that you’ve never tried before. Be daring because you just may find your next favorite food! You may not have liked broccoli or cauliflower as a kid, but times change, taste buds shift and better recipes can make all the difference! Give these foods another chance, and look for new ways to prepare them.

Use a standard template of protein + veggie + healthy fat.

Prior to making healthy eating a priority, most of my clients’ meals would consist of a convenient, prepackaged, carb-based main entrée (i.e. spaghetti, pasta, frozen pizza, etc.). When these clients began to decrease and eliminate their processed foods, they would oftentimes get overwhelmed and wonder what they could have for meals. Don’t overthink it! To plan a meal, use the basic healthy template. First, consider what your vegetable content is going to be (ideally, this will be the entrée). Follow up with a palm-size protein portion and a healthy fat. By keeping this template in mind, you’ll start to crowd out the refined carbohydrates and unnecessary processed foods. See here for some healthy, quick, and tasty meal ideas!

Other helpful tips to consider:

  • Know what ingredients to definitely avoid: There are many processed ingredients you should be mindful of, but these dirty 7 are among the most infamous for good reason. Check your labels.
  • Shop the perimeter of the grocery store: Not sure where to start when it comes to healthier grocery shopping? The perimeter of the store is usually your best bet. It’s generally where all the fresh produce, meats/deli, dairy/dairy alternatives and frozen produce are. Check out this article for other useful shopping tips!
  • Batch cook: Utilize the time you spend cooking 1 meal to make enough for 3-4 meals! Just double (or triple) the recipe accordingly, and in nearly the same amount of time you’ll have food for meals throughout the week (or to freeze and use later). It’s smart, healthy eating plus convenience! See some great recipe ideas here.

Which of the tactics above have been most helpful for you in ditching processed foods? Just beginning your journey toward better eating? What strategy are you going to implement this week? Share your challenges and your successes with us. Thanks for reading!

Written by Becca Hurt, MS, RD, Program Manager of Life Time WeightLoss

This article is not intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor as a substitute for medical treatment, nor as an alternative to medical advice. Use of recommendations in this and other articles is at the choice and risk of the reader.

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