Adopting and maintaining a healthy diet can be challenging, which is why it helps to have a set of basic food rules to use as a reference point.
There is a lot of conflicting advice floating around as to what constitutes a healthy diet. Some people prefer strict rules, opting for vegetarian, vegan, pescatarian, or paleo diets, etc. Others – myself included – prefer a loose set of basic food rules.
An article in the New York Times called Simple Rules for Healthy Eating got me thinking about which rules I apply when making decisions about food for myself and my family. I realize these don't necessarily work for everyone, nor does anyone in my family have dietary restrictions, but they've served me well in the years since I began thinking more in depth about food origins and quality.
Is it in local and in season?
If a particular food has a local growing season, then I try to avoid buying it out of season. Of course there are some foods, such as lemons, oranges, avocados, and nuts, that will never grow where I live, so I do buy those, although not often. I believe that the greenest diet is a local and seasonal one.
Can I make it from scratch?
I cook a lot not just because I love it, but also because I think it's important. By not buying pre-made foods, I avoid all the crap that comes along with them, like unwanted additives and preservatives, wasteful packaging. It saves money, too, since fresh ingredients are usually cheaper than the marked-up boxed concoctions on supermarket shelves.
Cooking doesn't need to be complicated; often our dinner is a basic stir-fry, curry with rice, or some roasted meat and vegetables. Cooking from scratch is also a way to combat my dessert cravings. If I want something, then I have to make it myself.
Brown rice over white rice, whole grain bread over white, honey and maple syrup over sugar, homemade granola instead of breakfast cereal – whenever possible, I opt for less processed ingredients. The only exception (much to my husband's chagrin) is pasta, since I'd rather eat white pasta less often than whole wheat pasta frequently.
My family strives to eat breakfast and dinner together. This provides motivation for whoever's cooking to make a complete, delicious, and healthy meal. It also introduces new foods to my young children and gives them an opportunity to work on good table manners.
Most importantly, it forces all of us to slow down and to reflect on the wonderful food we're fortunate to have on our table.
Everything in moderation
Rather than count calories or boycott certain food groups, my philosophy is "everything in moderation." I don't skimp on fat or salt while cooking, since these are key to flavoring many of the healthy dishes I make, nor do I control portion sizes. We have juice, milk, coffee, and alcohol in the house, although water is the main source of hydration.