Kitchen Stewardship | A Baby Steps Approach to Balanced Nutrition

Top 5 Teeny Tiny Totally Doable Healthy Eating Goals for 2014 (no matter how you eat now)

January 3rd, 2014 · 22 Comments · Tips

5 Baby Step Totally Doable Healthy Eating Goals

People often thank me for taking a "baby steps" approach to real food changes. I have to sort of shrug that off, not because I’m any good at being humble, but because tiny changes are all I could handle myself. I can’t imagine presenting all this stuff in any other way!

January is really a time when ideas are coming at you from all sides, when you feel the pressure to make big changes in your life, when everyone’s got something to say about new habits you should adopt. It’s frankly quite overwhelming.

I want to join the cacophony as (hopefully) a reasonable voice offering incredibly doable ideas for a, you know…resolution. If that’s the kind of thing you’re into.

I started thinking about what sort of "real food resolutions" people might be making out there already, and of course the KS community is full of people at all different stages in their journey. Nonetheless, I started noticing a few trending categories in my brainstorms, so I think I have some ideas that will be flexible enough to give anyone some challenge, no matter what their food landscape looks like.

I don’t think anyone should choose to tackle all 5 of these at once. Read them through, notice the various levels from which to approach each topic, and then determine which one resonates with what you want for yourself (and/or your family) this year.

I hope these suggestions and resources are helpful to you in some way – let me know in the comments!

Note: Many resources from outside sites use my affiliate links, from which I will earn commission.

1. Drop trans fat like a wet sock.

No More Trans Fats - What Will Replace Vegetable Shortening Crisco (sm)

There are plenty of things in our modern processed-food world that we shouldn’t be eating, but if I had to choose one that you should kick ASAP, it’s this one. (And artificial sweeteners – but I’m hopeful that you’re already savvy at avoiding them.)

Trans fat is a man-made (or at least "man-altered") fat, so foreign to our bodies that our systems don’t really know what to do with it, where to store it. Once consumed, it ends up wreaking cardiovascular havoc as surely as a square peg being jammed in a round hole.

Finally, after decades of frightening research and a few weak labeling laws, the FDA has agreed that trans fat has to go. They removed its GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe) status, so it’s only a matter of time before the words "partially hydrogenated oils" disappear from ingredients lists everywhere, but in the meantime – don’t let it on your plate.

One caveat: the likely substitute for the newly maligned fat is not traditional lard, butter or palm shortening, but rather interesterified oil, which you’re going to want to stay away from as well.

Resources:

2. See if gluten or grains are a problem for you.

Grain-free Cashew Waffles (33) (475x317)

You might be thinking, "Nope, this one’s not for me!" but hear me out.

Dr. Tom O’Bryan, an expert on gluten sensitivity, has said a few things over the years that are seared into my memory, if you’ll allow me to paraphrase:

One-third of Americans is likely gluten-sensitive. (This was in a podcast with Underground Wellness, although I heard it so long ago that I couldn’t tell you how to find it.)

If anyone is sick or feeling poorly for any reason at all, they should try cutting gluten and see what happens. (This was in a video introduction to The Gluten Summit, which I didn’t get to listen to, just one talk.)

In our own experience, when my husband’s Crohn’s Disease flared up big time a few years ago, just two days of eating grain, dairy and legume free cleared up what a prescription anti-diarrheal couldn’t touch after two months of symptoms. We were sold.

Whole grains are notoriously hard to digest because of the phytates (and more) in the bran and germ, refined grains likely zip through your bloodstream like so much white sugar, and sometimes there’s so much controversy on how to prepare grains that it can make your head spin. I’m happy to let them go completely occasionally; it’s like a detox.

I don’t think all grains are evil for all people – but I do find that many, many people are finding out things about their body that they never realized when they try cutting grains or gluten.

I think going grain-free is easier than going gluten-free in a way, partly because you don’t have to worry about figuring out "what’s gluten?" and mainly because many gluten-free commercial goods aren’t very good for you anyway. Might as well go cold turkey and really learn a lot.

Can you do it for a week? Three days? Three weeks? I guarantee you’ll notice something at each milestone.

Grain-free Tropical Banana Pineapple Breakfast Porridge

 Tropical Grain-free Breakfast Porridge (free printable!)

If you cut all grains and also avoid carbs like potatoes, bananas, and other fruits or starchy veggies, you may encounter quite a bit of fatigue. Don’t try to do it all at once. Make sure you’re feeling good as you go (although some minor digestive distress may be normal as your body adjusts and perhaps cleans itself out of years of carb buildup).

If you’re wanting to try eliminating grains for more than a week, I recommend getting a bag of coconut flour, which is usually least expensive at Tropical Traditions with that link, and then you can make a few things like muffins and pancakes and not feel like you’re totally out of your comfort zone when it comes to food planning.

For example, those waffles in the yummy photo above? They’re actually 100% grain-free. For reals.

resources

Note: Many find that eliminating dairy is something to try as well, and just getting rid of all of it at once, then reintroducing one thing at a time slowly is a great way to learn how your body handles things. I recommend finding some goat cheese or sheep milk feta (both at Costco for me) to still have great salads, spread on tomatoes, and just keep things a little more interesting. You can make creamy dressings like homemade Caesar without dairy, another way to feel less deprived.

With any elimination diet, focus on what you CAN have, not what you’re avoiding.

3. Add one new probiotic habit.

lacto fermented kimchi with carrots (3) (500x375)

Even pop culture is understanding that probiotics are good for us (ever seen an Activia commercial?). Traditional cultures often ate a bite (or whole scoop) of probiotic food with each meal.

For years, I’ve needed to get better at making and incorporating probiotic foods beyond our gallon of homemade yogurt per week. Maybe 2014 is the year I’ll finally do it right! In the meantime, we do have a pretty good habit of taking probiotics supplements daily.

Here are some probiotic ideas for you:

  • Make homemade yogurt.
  • Ferment your own foods.
  • Include a fermented food once a day.
  • Include a fermented food at every meal.

Resources

4. Cut down on the sweeteners.

coconut palm sugar (8) (475x356)

It’s hard to argue with the point that sweets are not good for you.

It’s also hard for many people to give them up cold turkey!

So my approach is always to take one step in the right direction.

If you know you eat a lot of white sugar, what can you do to cut it down? Don’t eat sweets between dinner and bed? Only eat dark chocolate between meals and allow special desserts on occasion? Or can you switch out the white sugar in your own baking completely and turn to natural sweeteners like honey, maple syrup, or liquid stevia (found on Amazon)?

More ideas:

  • Make one new recipe a week with a natural sweetener
  • Cut white sugar altogether
  • Cut all corn sugars (they come under a ton of different names, so be ready for an ingredient list shock!)
  • Stop using sweetener in a certain food you eat regularly: oatmeal, yogurt, coffee, tea, etc.
  • Try some favorite recipes with 1/4 the sweetener they usually call for.
  • Don’t eat anything sweetened before 1 p.m.
  • Always have healthy fats if you have sweets.
  • Or even…just use an app or online program to track your sugar intake, just as a learning exercise.

Resources

5. Plan healthy meals.

Easy chicken and biscuits pot pie remake (37) (500x375)

Almost every time I’m asked to comment on the basics of eating healthy or the key to making real food work, the answer I come back to again and again is this: Planning is key. Vital!

I honestly can’t even imagine life without some sort of food planning, at least a day in advance. If you’re not a meal planner already, I can just about guarantee that regular meal planning will help you eat healthier, spend less money, waste less food, have more variety, and have less stress before meals.

If you’re already a good meal planner, maybe you want to challenge yourself to include bone broth twice a week or have a few meatless meals per week, or to begin passing on some kitchen responsibilities for your children, depending on their ages. If you have some awesome "getting started" meal planning tips, please share in the comments for our rookies!

Resources

  • Our sponsor Plan to Eat makes meal planning a cinch, especially if you have a mobile device on which to keep your shopping list and recipes handy. Try the 30-day free trial to see how easy it is! (Using the bookmarklet makes it quick to upload fav recipes from websites – about 30-60 seconds each once you get the hang of it.)
  • Some of my best tips to get stared (or get better at) the art of meal planning.
  • My eBook Better Than a Box also contains some great meal planning tips…
  • A different take on the process – Once a Month Meals offers freezer cooking meal plans, including a whole foods planner. Make a whole month’s worth of meals in a day or two!
  • For recipes, of course I’d recommend my own recipes page and also my Pinterest boards, one of which is about meal planning.

Bonus tip: Move your body.

Whether you’re chasing children around the house, rolling homemade tortillas or engaging in a structured exercise program, of course movement is a good thing for a healthy body.

My husband likes having videos to push him to keep working out, and I just learned that Jillian Michaels’ videos are free via Amazon Prime – which has a 3o-day free trial! Might be worth it to see if you can stick with them enough to bother investing money. We signed up for the 30-day Prime trial a few weeks ago (I’ll give you one guess as to why) and have actually been enjoying it quite a bit. Sign up here. UPDATE: A colleague in the comments shared that Jillian Michaels isn’t the best to emulate as far as diet and weight loss goes, and I’m so glad she mentioned that. I hear the videos are good for exercising sake, but PLEASE don’t buy into the extreme weight loss schtuff. Cool? Thanks. (I’ll get a kickback if you sign up through that link, which I appreciate a lot, thank you! It doesn’t change your price or experience at all…win-win!)

It’s not all about losing weight

Of course it should be said that life is not all about losing weight, that many sizes and shapes can be very healthy – eating is about nourishment, giving your body the fuel it needs to keep going physically and emotionally, and keeping life in balance. I shared a Real Food Weight Loss and Exercise series two years ago that is worth visiting if you do need to lose some weight, and my review of Weightless by Kate Wicker carries many important reminders about true beauty as well.

Phew! That was a load of information…now what to do with it? Remember… baby steps. Baby steps. Baby steps.

Pick one (okay maybe two. But no more than that!).

If writing it down and/or making it public helps you, please tell us what you’re tackling with the flip of the calendar in the comments. I want to applaud all your efforts!

We’re also building community via a new Facebook group, KS Connect. Please check it out, and if you missed it during Christmas week, I shared all the simple ways you can keep up with KS posts without being overwhelmed or cluttering your email inbox – right HERE.

Disclosure: Many links in this post are affiliate links, including any to Amazon, and Plan to Eat is a current sponsor receiving their complimentary mention in a post.


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22 Comments so far ↓

  • Andrea

    I keep thinking about eliminating grains but I have several food intolerances ( nuts, apples, etc) that I already feel limited.
    But the one thing that stops me is what to do about communion at Mass? I am not willing to give that up….and am terrified I will find myself like my sister who if she has 1 bite of wheat she is sick.

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    Andrea,
    Whenever we’ve gone grain-free, we just blipped over that and still took Communion, for what it’s worth. Anyone who has celiac and truly cannot tolerate a whiff of wheat would need to set up special arrangements with the priest, but I think there are GF hosts and also you can only receive the Precious Blood and have no less grace.

    Nuts are a bummer, but I really think that you can enjoy a ton of grain-free things without nuts. Coconut flour is less expensive than almond flour anyway (can you do coconuts?). I always tell people that you can do anything for a week, and see how you feel. The fact that you have other intolerances may have even begun with gluten, and if they’re not true allergies, you might be able to heal your gut to the point where you can get those foods BACK – but that won’t happen if gluten is a problem for you and it keeps getting in your system. So just keep reading about it…keep thinking and praying about it…and don’t pressure yourself. You’ll be able to give it a try when the time is right. I’d just start your week right after Mass and then you get 7 full days to see if you notice any changes in digestion or general wellness. Let me know how it goes if you jump in! :) Katie

    Julie Reply:

    Even the GF free hosts have a smidge of gluten in them…it’s required (by whatever Canons that govern that sort of thing)
    But you are correct that receiving the Precious Blood is still receiving the Body of Christ, so Holy Communion is still possible!

    Jackie Patti Reply:

    It’s better to know, isn’t it?

    I did a one-month strict no gluten trial, and reading all about people who get very ill from gluten was a tad intimidating to consider as a lifestyle.

    I didn’t feel significantly better during that month, and at the end of it, I sat down and ate a big sub sandwich, with no reaction. So I concluded that gluten isn’t an issue for me.

    But… if you’re ill, you need to FIND OUT, so you can get well!

  • Bethany W

    What is the name of the dish with the pic under “5. Plan Healthy Meals.” And what ebook is it in? That looks so good right now.

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    Bethany,
    That one is “easy chicken & biscuits” from Better Than a Box. I’m flattered that it looks so good – great comfort food for cold days!!! :) Katie

    Julie Reply:

    It’s yummmmmmmy! ;>D

  • Katherine

    But what do you do with the fermented foods? I mean…I know you eat them, but straight? By themselves? Are there recipes to incorporate them into? Add them to soups?

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    Katherine,
    Many people will just serve a spoonful or side dish of sauerkraut or kimchi or fermented vegs with lunch or dinner. You can always use lacto-fermented pickles, for example, in a tuna salad or potato salad.

    It’s really going to depend on what you ferment – check my reply to RG for some other ideas and links too!

    One thing to remember – fermented foods are alive, so if you add them to soups, the soup should be below 116F or the enzymes and healthy bacteria will die.

    My advice to you – don’t try to get all the answers, just find one thing you’re curious about and put it on your “to make this week” list and see what happens. :) Katie

  • Ryan via Facebook

    i have got to start with number 1!!! i keep meaning to clean out my pantry but get so sidetracked with the kids all the time! i already cleaned out my fridge. my second step will be artificial sweeteners. i’m a diet coke drinker. have been for years. but i’ve weaned myself down to 1 soda/day. i need to switch over to tea, i know… and the kids are already on board with my new rule – ‘no food from a box!’. thanks for the encouragement. i’ve told you before, but i truly appreciate you being there for me to guide me through this!!!

  • R G

    Sounds elementary, I’m sure, but do you have a list of fermented foods to choose from?

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    RG,
    Good call! Your question took me by surprise, because it is pretty elementary – and that’s my job to share with you! You really can ferment just about anything, from mayo to veggies to breads to ketchup…but here are some other posts that will lead you down the rabbit hole:

    * a few recipe links here, including an apple chutney that’s really easy and good (we put it on top of oatmeal for breakfast or yogurt at lunch): http://www.kitchenstewardship.com/2012/01/16/monday-mission-ferment-something/

    * walking through making yogurt from someone else’s perspective: http://www.kitchenstewardship.com/2013/01/28/back-to-basics-baby-step-monday-mission-no-4-make-homemade-yogurt-fermented-foods/

    * how to make dairy kefir, the easiest ferment to make: http://www.kitchenstewardship.com/2013/02/01/whats-the-easiest-fermented-food-to-make/

    * Here’s a huge list of the ferments the GNOWFGLINS eCourse covers; even if you’re not interested in the course, it will give you a good idea of what’s possible: http://www.kitchenstewardship.com/2011/06/30/lets-talk-fermentation-folks/

    Now you’ll wish you didn’t ask! ;) Hope this helps… :) Katie

  • via Facebook

    Ryan That is AMAZING! Good for you!! You are making incredible progress and you can totally kick the habit – my husband was a big pop drinker (regular) and gave it up for Lent almost 2 years ago now…and then he never went back. Once he hit 6 months, then he felt like he had to keep going, and once he hit a year, he was so proud and it seemed like even one would “break the streak” so he hasn’t even had a sip. If you want it, you can do it! Yay yay yay!!

  • Karen

    Thanks for this post! I was just reading about leaky gut syndrome yesterday and am considering eating less gluten or grains, but it seemed so daunting. I tried the recipe for tropical breakfast porridge, but I didn’t like the graininess of the coconut flour; is there anything I can do to make it silkier? I’d also like to finally attempt to make sauerkraut. I bought a jar made by Brassica and Brine and it was so delicious I was eating it plain as a snack!

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    Karen,
    In other applications, like muffins, I think the coconut flour is a totally different experience. If I were you, I’d just focus on other things for breakfast and try a few more coconut flour recipes, since yes, the texture of that one isn’t for everyone. Good luck!!! :) Katie

    Karen Reply:

    Thanks, Katie. I just bought your breakfast e-book today so I will definitely be trying other recipes. I also asked my MIL (lives 90 miles from me but is visiting tomorrow) to pick up some more coconut flour for me at her nearby Winco, where they sell Bob’s Red Mill coconut flour in the bulk bin for about $3/lb!

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    That is a GREAT price! :) Katie

  • Rebekah

    It’s the sugar for me. I already don’t eat trans fats, eat very little gluten, do plenty of yogurt and kefir (just started a kombucha scoby too), and plan my meals… but sugar. Oh, sugar. You are my plague.

    I don’t eat that much compared to some people, sure, but I know it’s too much for ME.

    I just need to stop with the desserts. I can do that after the holidays and our upcoming vacation. :)

  • Shirley @ gfe & All Gluten-Free Desserts

    I was totally on board with everything you said, Katie, until you mentioned Jillian Michaels. She is reprehensible in my opinion, in the way she drives people to lose weight by severe calorie restriction, excessive exercise, etc. While I know that you are talking about one video of hers (and I have no knowledge of that video), one can’t separate her from all the rest of what she has endorsed and the harm she has done. Otherwise, your recommendations and excellent and doable. I especially appreciate your encouragement to folks to see if gluten is an issue for them and I agree that it’s much easier to live grain free, although lots of folks can’t wrap their heads around that initially. So your suggestion on making some treats with coconut flour initially is a great one.

    Happy New Year!
    Shirley

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    Shirley,
    I’m so glad you wrote that! I honestly have never looked into JM’s dietary recommendations and am so far out of pop culture that I don’t even bump into her on morning talk shows. Oops! I had just heard from a friend who works out a lot that he and his wife did some of her videos and that they’re very challenging and well done. SHUCKS about the losing weight/calorie part of her though! I’m going to add a note to this post right now; thank you so much!!!
    :) Katie

    Shirley @ gfe & All Gluten-Free Desserts Reply:

    Thanks very much, Katie. Her “work” and that of the other coaches on The Biggest Loser has only been exposed more recently.

  • Lindsey

    Great post! I think I’ll share the ideas with my friend who eats a very SAD diet and has recently been diagnosed with a low white blood cell count with no apparent cause. She is overwhelmed and this would give her a good start.

    As far as the grains go, I went on the GAPS diet for about a month and then later on the GAPS intro and full diet. I really couldn’t tell a difference when I added sourdough back in, but I can tell I don’t feel as well when I binge on carbs. The big difference I could tell on the GAPS diet that ultimately made me add grains back in was that my milk supply was diminishing drastically. Breast milk has a lot of carbs, so I think going low carb can really hurt your supply.

Welcome!  Meet Katie.

I embrace butter. I make homemade yogurt. I eat traditional real food – plants and animals that God created, not products of plants where food scientists work. Here at Kitchen Stewardship, I share how I strive to be a good steward of my family's nutrition, the environment, and our budget, all without spending every second in the kitchen. Learn more about the mission of KS here.

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