This post is a copy of the article I wrote for the Lebanon Local/ New Era Newspaper for March 2017. I am a monthly contributor to this paper.
For these monthly nutrition articles, I promise that not every month will be a discussion celebrating a “national day of…something-food-related.”
However, permit at least one more such celebration. March is in fact, National Nutrition Month (NNM) and since nutrition is what this is all about, we simply can’t neglect it.
National Nutrition Month was established by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND), the professional organization that all Dietitians must belong to, for the purpose of getting practical nutrition advice out to the public. They have lots of noteworthy information and activities you can find at eatirght.org. This years’ theme for National Nutrition Month is “Put Your Best Fork Forward…each bite counts.”
Our daily “bites”really do count
Just as our days are a compilation of seconds, minutes and hours, so our “diet” begins with bites eaten over hours, days and weeks. Our “diet” is comprised of all the foods we normally eat. We know from past articles that our diets really do play a huge role in our health and healing. That is why every bit counts.
But saying this may sound like a slice of Ominous topped with a dollop of Overwhelm. Every bite counts is not about the “all or nothing” approach to food (ie. “Just because I made poor choices one day means I blew the entire week’s plan of healthy eating”). Rather, it is about making the most nourishing decisions each day with what you have in order to reach your goals. So let us just agree that every bite counts and put the majority of our focus on “put your best fork forward.”
We can manage the overwhelm of eating right with just a little bit of strategizing and menu planning. I have often debated using the term “menu planning” since it frequently solicits a groan from those of us who dislike the rigidity of planning.
However, planning is just a strategy. It is path marked out to a destination. It can be a quick sketch or a lengthy, complicated blueprint. When it comes to food, you get to decide your plan and how simple or complex it is. So let’s run through some quick steps to help you make sure your attempts to put “your best fork forward” are as successful as possible.
Setting it up right
When I teach this to clients, I call this part, “finding your flexible framework.” This is a list of quick questions to ask yourself before you dive into a pile of recipes or head out to the grocery store. It constructs a framework from which you can actually make your plans. If you are new to menu planning then don’t skip this part. It saves time and energy later. Here are the questions:
1. List your goals related to food and eating (they could be health-related or personal). Establishing this is important. Your goals could be to eat less processed foods, manage your blood sugar or create a better family environment around the dinner table. Next identify your biggest /most significant goal on the list.
2. What stage of life are you in? Single, married, with kids, retired? This influences the quantity and type of food needed as well as food preferences and social setting of meals.
3. How much time do you have to Plan menus, Shop, and Cook? This also includes “when” you have time to plan, shop, and cook. You might have time available on the weekend instead of every night. Maybe you have a chunk of time midweek or before your late shift at work. Just take a look at your schedule and your available time. Do you need to change how you use your time so you can make steps to reach your goal?
4. Cooking skills & inclination. Do you know how to cook? Do you even like it or feel comfortable with it? You may find yourself with lots of interest but little skill. Knowing this will help you with your recipe selection and any skill development later.
5. Where do you eat the most? In the car on the go? At home? In restaurants? Alone or with people? Where do you want to spend most of your time eating?
Putting it together
Now let’s go back to the first question about your most significant goal? What limits you from reaching this goal? Could it be the other things you listed: time, money, social settings, cooking skills, social/emotional support etc?
Here is one example: You want to eat more dinners together as a family and you have identified four nights a week that you can do this. Great. This means you just need 3-4 recipes each week (since you may decide to eat out one of those nights or eat leftovers instead of making new meal!).
Once you know the direction you want to go (your goal), now you can plan your menus. You can do this weekly, bi-monthly or monthly. Whatever you find you like. For a while I did monthly and now I do bi-monthly.
Getting recipes and menu ideas
The options are endless. Start with your families favorite dishes (and the leftovers they create) as your backbone and fill in from there with new ones. Check out Google, Pinterest, blogs or even Instagram. For Smart Phone users there many Aps to pick from including Mealtime 2.0 (Apple only) and Grocery Gadget.
Instead of writing out a new list each time (or typing one on your phone), spare yourself by printing out multiple copies of a pre-made shopping list. This enables you to grab a list, circle what you need and head out the door. You will want a list that really works for your needs. I custom-made my own into a PDF but you can easily find some on Google or Pinterest. In your search, include key words that focus on your food preferences and goals (ie healthy, cooking for one , anti-inflammatory, diabetic etc).
“Putting your best fork forward” is a daily” endeavor that can really transform your health and the health of your loved ones. As we have discussed here, the lynch-pin to eating right is to plan smart by knowing your goals and having a strategy for what you will eat. As complicated as it can seem in written form like this, it really is a fluid process that soon gets as easy as pie!
Ever been interested in how to shop at the grocery store with health in mind? Let Dietitian Cathryn take you on a free tour of your local Mega Foods! Check out the front page of my website for more details t (at thepantrylab.com.)