Kitchen Confidence column: Ways to make a new start with your diet
February 9, 2016
Are you thinking about changing your eating habits? Before you attempt to make a start, you should feel confident that you will succeed. There are three things that will help you build your confidence.
The first is to get clear on why you want to change your eating habits. Next, a sound knowledge of the foods you want to include is needed. Finally, you'll need to get comfortable with the skills that will make your time in the kitchen relaxing and enjoyable.
So, why do you want to change your eating habits? Is it the ever-popular "to lose weight"? Perhaps your goal is to save money by cooking at home more often. If you're like me, then good eating habits are just as much about staying out of the doctor's office and having the health and energy to enjoy my favorite activities. The important thing is to have a motivation that is meaningful to you. Doing anything just because you should is a recipe for failure.
The reasons for losing weight are truly wide-ranging. Everyone has his or her own goals, and I won't go into those here. Rather, some of the tactics that can be used to achieve weight loss make for a more interesting discussion. First and foremost is connecting an intention with an activity. For example, if your intention is to balance your blood sugar and the activity is a sprinkling of cinnamon on your oatmeal, that sends a strong signal to your body of an expected outcome.
Another example might be the improvement of digestion by focusing on combining different foods. Vegetables and proteins are far more easily digested together than, say, meatloaf and mashed potatoes. If you were to choose a cooked, leafy green vegetable, such as spinach, and combine that with a piece of grilled salmon and hold the intention that the meal will be easily digestible for you, then you are helping your body to more effectively absorb and utilize the nutrients in the food.
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Once you have a specific, measurable goal, such as saving money by cooking at home three nights a week, the next step is to focus on specific foods you want to prepare. In our house, there are always leafy greens of some type in the fridge. Kale is very popular, as are escarole and spinach. Other staples in the fridge include red bell pepper, zucchini, carrots, onions, ginger and jalapeno. All of these allow for enough combinations to keep things interesting.
When it comes to proteins, my wife and I tend to eat a lot of chicken, fish and beans. We might stir fry some chicken with ginger and broccoli. My wife loves a simple fish curry made with onion, turmeric and coconut milk. I mentioned escarole earlier. This mildly bitter-flavored leafy green pairs especially well with white beans.
The skills needed
Tying all of this together are the kitchen skills that make cooking fast and easy. You will need to get comfortable with an 8-inch chef knife. This is an indispensable tool in so many ways. From slicing bell peppers to chopping onions to mincing garlic, your chef's knife will become your best friend. Learning specific cuts such as julienne will also help you give variety to the appearance of your dishes.
Getting comfortable with a few key cooking techniques will also give you the confidence to successfully adopt new eating habits. For example, steaming vegetables is a great first step that speeds up cooking times. One of my wife's favorite ways to enjoy broccoli is to first lightly steam it and then saute it in olive oil with a little bit of garlic and some julienned sun-dried tomatoes. When I really want to make her smile, I top the dish with a few toasted pine nuts.
Poaching is another simple technique worth getting familiar with. It's really just a fancy word for cooking food in liquid just below the boiling point. My favorite way to prepare fish, such as tilapia, is to poach it over a bed of vegetables. I might start by getting some cabbage, carrot and ginger going in a pan on the stove. Then, add a splash of chicken stock, and lay the fish on top. Cover it, and let it cook for about eight minutes. A splash of soy sauce and a sprinkle of chopped cilantro add a sparkling finish.
Arm yourself with a strong motivator, a clear idea of the foods you wish to begin including in your meals and a few key practical skills. Maybe even enlist the help of a friend or two who share your vision, and watch how your confidence, and therefore your success, grows.
Tom Castrigno, of Frisco, cooks and writes about food. Castrigno has several books on Amazon and writes a blog called The Confidence Diet at http://www.theconfidencediet.com. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.