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A Less Processed Life: Making Healthier Resolutions

Susan Bronson
Trying new things, like kumquats in a citrus salad, are one way to inspire healthy additions to any diet.

The start of a new year is when many people vow to make dramatic changes to their diet. Well, January is almost over – how are your New Year’s resolutions holding up?

I started writing my blog A Less Processed Life five years ago as a New Year’s resolution to eat fewer processed foods and add more whole ingredients into my diet. My main sources of inspiration at the time were the documentary Food, Inc. and the book The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan. Both of these resources took a critical look at food production in the United States and its impact on the American diet. I’ve long been interested in the food I eat. I was a vegetarian for a decade. During my vegetarian days, I flirted with a vegan diet for a week before deciding that my love for all-things-dairy – I’m looking at you, cheese and ice cream – was too strong a bond to break. These days, while meat is back in my diet, I tend to eat it sparingly and I am very particular about where it came from and how the animal was raised.

Adopting healthier eating habits can seem daunting at first. I know firsthand how much easier eating processed food can be – just open a can or a box, and voila, dinner is nearly ready. There’s a reason why my blog is called  “A Less Processed Life” and not “An Unprocessed Life” – there are times when convenience wins out over made-from-scratch in my home, too. However, there are a few simple steps that I’ve found helpful to slowly introduce healthier eating habits into my life.

Advance meal planning can really help you stay on track with healthy eating. I know I do my worst eating when 5 o’clock rolls around and we don’t have a dinner plan set in place. Typically, I spend some time on the weekend planning our meals for the upcoming week.

Meal inspiration comes from a variety of places including other food blogs, Pinterest, magazines, and, of course, cookbooks. While making our weekly menu, I also write up a shopping list so I know exactly what I need to pick up at the grocery store.

Set yourself up for success by keeping healthy snacks on hand. Prepping ingredients in advance – such as cutting up vegetables and making a healthy dip like hummus -- means that you always have something healthy to choose from when you feel a snack-attack coming on. I find it also helps to portion out snacks in advance, which can prevent mindless overeating.

Get to know your ingredients by reading labels. While taking a look at the calorie and fat counts can help you make a healthier choice, I tend to focus on a product’s ingredient list. My label-reading days hearken back to when I was a vegetarian and I would skim ingredients for anything animal-derived. These days I check out ingredient lists for artificial colors, flavors, additives, or preservatives. The longer the ingredient list, the less likely the item is going to make it into my shopping cart. 

Don’t be afraid to try new things. We all get in a rut when it comes to the things we eat. One of the easiest ways to get out of a rut is to add new ingredients into your diet. Never tried leeks before? Add them to a casserole or stir-fry in place of onions. New to kumquats? Eat them whole or add sliced kumquats to a citrus salad served over arugula. I also recommend re-trying those fruits or vegetables you hated as a child. One bitter and mushy Brussels sprouts experience at a restaurant put me off the vegetable for years, until I decided to give them another try recently.

Pan-roasted Brussels sprouts with a little butter and olive oil? Delicious. But don’t feel like you have to eat something just because it’s the healthier choice. Life is too short to eat things that you hate. Forcing yourself to eat something you don’t like will only make you resent your healthy diet.

So, whether your healthy-eating New Year’s resolutions have already fallen to the wayside, or you’re just looking to boost an already-wholesome diet, there’s no time like the present to adopt a few new healthy eating habits. You may be surprised how one small change can cascade into a whole lot of healthier choices over the long run.

Visit Susan Bronson's blog for a recipe for Roasted Blood Orange and Kumquat Salad with Citrus Poppy Seed Dressing.

Susan Bronson grew up in southwestern Ohio. After stints in Chicago, Wyoming, and Philadelphia, she moved to the Northwoods with her husband in 2012. She has worked as a science editor for a publishing company since 2005 and has written the food blog A Less Processed Life since 2010. Aside from cooking and eating (which go hand in hand with food blogging), she enjoys spending time in the great outdoors, reading, practicing yoga, and watching way more reality TV than she would like to admit.
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