How We Eat 2020: Our cooks’ tips for healthier eating in the new year
What “healthy” means to each of us is very different — and is what we often discuss when developing recipes for, or talking about, eating to feel good.
More often than not the meals we manage are a hodgepodge of random bits of leftovers from recipe testing, foraged edible bric-a-brac from people bringing food into the offices, or completely absent because we’re too busy to stop and do what we write about every week: eat.
Recognizing the gulf between the aspiration to eat well and the reality of daily life, we’re sharing a few of the course corrections we’re hoping to effect for ourselves in 2020. Eating better means feeling better, we all know that, so here are our prescriptions to ourselves for the new year:
Get over the stigma of frozen vegetables
I get it: We live in Southern California and the produce is unmatched. I go to the farmers market every weekend. But there still manages to be a couple of days I haven’t planned for when I’m desperate for something green and the cupboard is barren (or wilted). That’s where frozen vegetables come in. Not those depressing kaleidoscopic “medleys.” I mean a bag of broccoli, green beans or peas (Jacques Pepin cosigns!) that I can steam, sauté or roast instead of reaching for a takeout menu. With a bowl of warm rice, they’re a meal.
Aim for a “healthy” breakfast at least three days a week, no more
Knowing I should eat better and actually doing it are two separate things. I try to outsmart myself and eat a healthy-for-me breakfast at least three days a week — a small bowl of cashew yogurt with granola and a big dollop of jam; wilted spinach scrambled with an egg; good whole-grain toast with a banana and almond butter. Ideally, starting my morning this way will influence the rest of my day’s meals, but I know at least I got my nutrition in first thing and if I eat not so well the rest of the day, I won’t beat myself up over it.
There’s no shame in shakes
I often find myself too busy for lunch, whether I’m deep in the zone writing or have just finished a morning of driving all over L.A. for groceries and I want to start cooking and not make extra dishes. In those situations I go for a shake — even, yes, easy-to-hate-on Soylent or green shakes from Moon Juice. Shakes are also my secret for staying sated when I have an early flight, photo shoot or TV appearance that throws a wrench in my usual morning routine.
Keep nuts on hand everywhere, all the time
I’m one of those people who find themselves suddenly famished, and that’s why I started keep mixed nuts everywhere: my kitchen cabinet, my car’s center console, in my desk at work. A couple handfuls is all I need to stabilize my blood sugar levels and ward off any insane rationalizations that I need seven cookies as my “snack” right now.
Just drink water
Drinking water helps you feel full, staving off hunger pangs that strike out of nowhere. The rule of drinking a full glass of water before a meal really works — it makes you eat less because you’re putting something in your stomach and, if you’re imbibing, helps dilute the alcohol to ward off hangovers. Staying hydrated means you’ll feel better overall, and hopefully that will carry over into helping you make better decisions about what to eat for the rest of the day.
Rule No. 1: There are no rules
Trying to eat healthy can be a real mind game. If I tell myself I can’t have any doughnuts, I will devour a dozen and then some. If your head works like mine, don’t label anything as totally off-limits. You already know what’s better for you — whole ingredients, especially plants, and not processed stuff — so eat more real food. Doughnuts are OK — as is everything — eaten in moderation.
Be a junk food snob
Cold soggy fries? Hard pass. Crisp shoestrings with just the right smattering of salt? Yes, please. If you’re choosing to eat, make or buy something indulgent, make sure it’s perfect. Peanut butter cups are my No. 1 chocolate, but I’m not tempted by a smushed Reese’s Christmas tree leftover. I want the classic flat round with a top as smooth as a freshly Zambonied ice rink and sharp-ridged edges. Does that make me a candy snob? Maybe. But if you’re eating what you want, make sure it’s exactly what you want.
Make big batches of good stuff you can snack on anytime
It’s hard to find time every day to execute full meals, so when I have extra hours, I make big batches of dishes that keep well and taste great anytime. Some favorites include whole grains flavorful enough to eat on their own (or to serve as a grain bowl base); roasted root vegetables; well-dressed cooked vegetables that won’t wilt such as green beans or kale; from-scratch dips, such as artichoke-spinach or hummus; boiled jammy eggs; and dressings to toss with salad whenever.
Amp up flavor and texture
Bland, mono-textured meals will leave you unsatisfied even if your stomach is filled. Whatever you’re cooking, be sure to season it well and taste it throughout the process. Beyond salting for seasoning, you should add a hit of acid such as fresh lemon juice and heat such as sliced, fresh chiles to make it bright and exciting; and use enough fat for it to feel rich. A final drizzle of olive oil over most dishes always helps. Umami is key in boosting flavor. It delivers the savory yum you enjoy in processed snacks but comes in natural forms such as Parmesan cheese, tomatoes, mushrooms, meat and sauces such as soy, fish sauce and Worcestershire. On top of all that flavor, build texture with crunch, such as tossing cut, crisp vegetables into the tender greens of a salad, scattering nuts over soft, steamed sweet potatoes, or showering scrambled eggs with toasted bread crumbs.
Eat your way across L.A.
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