If you made a New Year resolution to change your diet for the better, you are not alone — Digipoll reports that 55 per cent of New Zealanders set diet-related goals. While for many this is weight-loss orientated, for others it's about modifying the diet to ensure better eating and to get out of the rut that it is easy to fall into when life gets in the way of well-balanced meals.
More and more of us are wanting to know what is in our food and where it comes from. We are trying to shop locally and from farmers' markets, and want to cook from scratch, ditching the convenience meals. New Year is the perfect time to embark on this. However, like most resolutions, the initial enthusiasm wanes if there aren't any steps in place to go from A to Z.
Some people I work with find it incredibly easy to overhaul their diet, others need to transition slowly. There is no right or wrong way to do it, as any positive change is a step in the right direction. So if your resolution around changing your diet hasn't yet come to fruition, it is not too late. Let's think about where to start.
I recommend you start with your pantry. Lurking in the back (or even bought just last week) are items that might no longer feature in your new-look eating regime. While some might want to do a massive clearout of the packaged foods — throwing or giving them away, others may want to take it a bit slower and use them up first, which is fine, just make a statement that you will not repurchase them in your next grocery shop.
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Getting rid of these items is one thing, replacing them with items that will add flavour and interest to your meals is another, so let's start with the small things. When cooking from scratch it's important to have plenty of spices and herbs, and this was the lesson I learned when I moved away from packaged ready-made flavourings to creating my own meals. One of the major barriers for me was not having the necessary ingredients — especially when that Asian mince recipe has an ingredient list the size of my normal shopping list. The flavour profiles of meal-in-one mixes is hard to rival if you're not well stocked with a variety of spices and herbs.
Take a look at your spices and get them organised. You may find some are well past their use-by date and should be thrown away — fresh is best for flavour — and there are probably a few you need to buy. Store your spices together somewhere so they are organised and on hand. Once you have done this it takes only a minute or two to add some to your meals for flavour. Don't underestimate the importance of this — the food rut that inspired you to change your meal patterns hasn't gone anywhere and it's too easy to revert to those packet meals, which didn't serve you well, yet were easy and quick to prepare. If you don't put the effort in now to make interesting food, the less likely you will be interested in doing it.
Next, figure out what you want to cook this week. This does take a bit of preparation, but if you're reading this then you are up to it. Make an appointment in your diary to sit down and plan your meals for the week ahead then you can shop for all ingredients in advance so that you have them on hand for busy weeknights.
To help you branch out and try different meals, choose one new recipe to cook each week (more if you like) so by the end of the month you will have tried four different meals.
Some of my quick and easy flavour options
Little Bird Organics superfood seed clusters: Add to stir-fries and salads.
Ceres Tamari sauce: A gluten-free soy sauce substitute with no MSG or artificial preservatives and with one-eighth the sodium level of salt. Add to gravies, sauces and casseroles. Use as a marinade and in stir-fries.
Anathoth relishes and chutneys: They are quite high in sugar but that's managed by not using too much in your dishes. They are preservative and additive-free.