How to Simplify Your Diet

We know we should eat healthy, cut out the sugar and processed foods, but still so many of us stick with pre-packaged meals and weekly stops at the drive-through.

What is it about food that makes it seem so hard to simplify?

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At its core, simplifying your diet is mostly about a mental shift. 

In the American culture, we've been trained to think of nutritious, whole food as boring and bland, while thinking of the sweet and salty stuff as delicious and wonderful. That couldn't be further from the truth, and if you stop and think about the long-term impact eating an excess of those sweet and salty pre-packaged items has on your body, it can be an excellent motivator.

Simplifying my diet wasn't easy at first because, just like any new habit or mentality shift, it took time to grow, but three small changes to my habits made the process so much easier.

EAT REAL FOOD

In a world of processed foods, it often seems like pre-packaged meals and microwavable everything is the key to simplifying your diet, but remember — simple isn't just about the cooking part.

In the same way that simplifying your home means being more intentional about what you bring into it, simplifying your diet isn't just about making the preparation process easier, but rather being intentional about what you consume and how you consume it.

Remember those marketing tactics. Pre-packaged foods and frozen meals tout their convenience and how much easier they make life, but fresh, whole foods are much more nutrient dense and, if you know a few tricks, they're not all that difficult (or time-consuming) to prepare.

Fruits and vegetables can be served raw, which is their most nutrient-dense state, and they can be just as convenient as pre-packaged items with a small amount of preparation.

If you're prone to temptation, which you likely will be in the beginning, shop the perimeter. That's where you'll find the fruits, veggies, meats, dairy, and bakery items (ie. the fresh bread), and you'll avoid the pre-packaged items that are packed with sugar and preservatives and not that great for you.

Another great option is to head to a local farmer's market if one's available to you. In addition to helping you avoid the temptation of the candy aisle, it supports the local economy and cuts down on the environmental impact of transporting food from elsewhere.

PLAN + PREP YOUR MEALS

Meal planning and prepping is hands down one of the best ways to simplify your diet and keep you in the habit of eating whole, real food.

Take a few minutes before you do your grocery shopping to plan out your meals for the week, taking note of what you've got coming up for the week that may affect your ability to prepare meals on any given night.

After you've done your shopping, set aside a couple of hours to meal prep. It seems like a lot at the beginning, especially if you go shopping and prep on the weekends, but the amount of time (and money) it winds up saving you in the long run is immeasurable.

You can pre-cook chicken or beef, steam rice and make pasta, sauté vegetables, and cut up fruit. From there, you can put together different combinations into glass containers for breakfast and lunch so you can grab one and go in the morning, and do the same for any dinners where you won't have much time to prep.

On the evenings where you are home for dinner, you can pull prepped items from the fridge, cook up something totally new, or a combination of both, depending on what you're feeling for the night.

You can also use a crock pot to make soups and stews that you can divide up into individual meals throughout the week as well, and you can even freeze some of those meals for those weeks where cooking and meal planning just aren't going to happen.

DON'T OVERCOMPLICATE THINGS

Beyond meal prep, one of the best ways to simplify your diet is to simplify the actual meals you prepare.

You're not a gourmet chef (well, you might be, but most of us aren't) and no one is expecting you to be. One of the easiest "meal uniforms" is a grain, a vegetable, and a meat. My go to during my 9-5 days was a whole grain pasta and stir fried chicken with broccoli and other vegetables on occasion. It took about 20 minutes total for the water to boil and the pasta to cook and even less time to cook the chicken and vegetables. 

In the age of Pinterest and Instagram, it's easy to feel like you need to make these complex meals worthy of a dinner party every night, but that's just not realistic. Just focus on feeding you and your family real foods and don't worry about what other people think.

If you're like me, then having the same meal for dinner five nights in a row is no big deal, but if you like variety, meal prepping at the beginning of the week and coming up with different combinations throughout is a really great way to keep things simple but not boring.

For some inspiration in the simple cooking department, check out Minimalist Baker. All of Dana's recipes can be made with 10 ingredients or less, one bowl, or take 30 minutes or less to prepare. And if you're like me and transitioning to a mostly plant-based lifestyle, a lot of her recipes are plant-based and gluten-free as well!

If you've been struggling to simplify your diet, I hope these tips help you make the transition in a smooth, stress-free way. Happy eating!


Photo by Dan Gold on Unsplash

Sarah Anne Hayes