How Long Does It Take To Change A Habit?

We all want to be healthier. Making better food choices is a big part of that but changing the way we eat is hard. How long does it take to change a habit?

How Long Does It Take To Change A Habit?
How Long Does It Take To Change A Habit?

So you’ve started on a journey to change your ways.  You’ve decided to be healthier, eat better, ditch the take out and cook your own healthy meals at home.  It doesn’t take long to realize that it’s harder than you thought it would be.

It takes longer than you thought to research meal plans, find what you want in the grocery store, to prep and put together your meals every day.  And, unfortunately, you’re still craving your favorite frozen pizza.  It’s enough to send any (previously) sane person, screaming, to the nearest drive-thru.

Now, I know you’ve heard this before but it takes time to feel comfortable after making changes to your life, especially big ones.  But how long do we have to wait for this to get easier?  How long does it take to change a habit?

First, let’s break down some of the specific reasons we’re having problems.

How to Create a Healthy Meal Plan

Create a Healthy Meal Plan
Create a Healthy Meal Plan

Creating a meal plan seems like a chore at first, especially for those of us who are used to flying by the seat of our pants in regard to mealtime.  Who has time to find recipes, write out a menu and set up a shopping list for the next couple of weeks??  How would you even know what you’ll want to eat all those days in advance???

Ok, just calm down.  This process is completely malleable.  I’ll tell you right up front that I can’t plan my meals more than a few days ahead of time, either. But what I often do is keep an eye out for recipes online.  When I find something that I’d like to try, I print out the recipe or email it to myself.  This gives me plenty of ideas of what I’d like to try sometime in the future.  If you join the email lists at a few sites, they send the recipes to you!

If the ingredients in a recipe are shelf-stable, freezable or have a relatively long refrigerator life span, I’ll buy them on my next shopping trip so I can have them on hand when I’m ready to make it.  This is a form of meal plan because I already have the recipes and ingredients when I’m ready to cook.

Now for the shopping list.  I have a notes app on my phone (I’m sure you have one as well) so I keep a running shopping list.  If I need something or want to acquire ingredients for a particular meal, I just whip out my phone and add to the list.  When I buy something, I just remove that item from the list.

Sounds easy enough but now you have to face the grocery store.  When I first started on this journey, you can be sure that I knew where they kept the hot dogs and frozen dinners but where the heck are pine nuts?   It’s true that it will take you a little bit longer on your first few trips but you’ll get the hang of it soon enough.  Remember that it’s ok to ask for directions!

For more tips on this subject, check out this article!

Prep. Cook. Repeat.

I love to cook.  I am often at my happiest when I can spend the afternoon creating a complex meal for myself and/or other people.  I understand that not everyone loves (or even likes) to cook and that’s something I can understand on a certain level.

For me, cooking is an undertaking, a project.  I do not enjoy feeling rushed or pressured when I’m cooking and I don’t like to cook when I’m feeling tired after a long day.  And, let’s face it…I usually don’t have an entire afternoon free to make a meal.  So, in that respect, I often don’t like to cook.  But I still gotta eat so what’s a girl to do?

The first thing to do is check your local supermarket.  These businesses recognize the increasing desire of their customers to eat healthy, whole foods while having increasingly less time to spend cooking.

I’m happy to say that they’ve stepped up to the plate by offering a large selection of items that are prepared and/or ready for cooking.  This includes produce that is peeled and cut into various shapes and sizes, both in the produce department and the frozen section.

Check out the meat and frozen food aisles to find proteins that are already deboned, ground or sliced.  Other areas can supply you with sliced or grated cheese, hard-boiled eggs, chopped nuts and many other things to reduce your time in the kitchen.

Another thing I do is take advantage of the opportunities I do have to cook.  Most dishes will last in the fridge for up to 5 days and can also be frozen in serving-sized portions for a minimum of 3 months, sometimes longer.  This means I can make extra portions and eat them throughout the week or freeze them for later.  Here are some additional thoughts on this subject!

But Wait…I Still Want Pizza

I Still Want Pizza
I Still Want Pizza

You’re eating healthy and you should feel better, right?  You should be enjoying the benefits of fresh food and craving some more of that awesome, nutritious stuff that your body needs…except you’re actually dying for a drive-thru sandwich.

You know you shouldn’t.  It’s unhealthy and it’s detrimental to what you’re trying to achieve. It doesn’t even taste that good.  And yet, here you are.  You could be in line right now, waiting for your turn to get one of those nuggets of death and berating yourself for being so weak.

Take it down a notch, ok?  It’s not your fault.

Manufacturers have discovered how to use a precise combination of sugar, salt and fat to virtually ensure our overconsumption of the foods they’re pushing. This concoction lights up the pleasure centers in the brain, creating a euphoria that compels us to want more.

It’s so powerful that it’s been compared to cocaine. Yes, you heard me right. Check out these findings put together by Yale University.

The good news?  The longer you hold out, the weaker that compulsion will be.

How Long Does It Take To Change A Habit?

How Long Does It Take To Change A Habit?
How Long Does It Take To Change A Habit?

This brings us back to the original question.  How long does it take to change a habit?

Unfortunately, there’s no easy answer to that question.  According to a study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology, it takes between 18 to 254 days and about 66 days for it to become automatic.

Why the wide margin?  Because habits are diverse and affect our lives in different ways.

When you get in your car, you most likely put on your seatbelt without even giving it a thought.  You probably don’t remember struggling to form that habit, it was just something that became a muscle memory after doing it over and over.  Why?  Because, although you know that it could potentially save your life, the seatbelt doesn’t connect with you emotionally.

How about that time you cut your finger with a knife?  I’ll bet it didn’t take you long to form the habit of keeping your fingers out of the way while you’re cutting potatoes.

Food is a different situation altogether.  Eating food gives us pleasure for many different reasons.

We need food to live and so we’re naturally drawn to it.  We also enjoy the different flavors and mouthfeels of these foods as well as the satisfaction of being full.  And nothing compares to the camaraderie of sitting down with our friends and loved ones for a good meal.  Our attitude toward food is wound tightly with tradition, emotion and physical need.

What we eat is a habit that’s much more difficult to change but it can be done.

Here’s my take on the situation.  This is a journey, not a race. You can’t change your entire diet overnight.  Maybe not in 6 months.  Maybe not even in a year.  All you can do is begin.

Ask yourself what you’re willing to change right now.  Maybe you’ll decide to make a smoothie for breakfast tomorrow.  Or trade the takeout one day this week for a super quick and easy tomato and shrimp salad.  Once you’re comfortable with that, maybe you’d like to change something else.

The Best Time Is Now

The Best Time Is Now
The Best Time Is Now

The most important thing to remember is to always be kind to yourself.  There will be hiccups and backslides.  I’ve been at this now for over 4 years and I still have a relapse from time to time. But I’m miles ahead of where I began.  That’s what matters.

So go ahead and get started.  The best time is now.

What’s the first change you plan to make?  Let me know in the comments below!

All my best,

Cynthia
cynthia@cynthiaeats.com

Saving Money On Food – 13 Ways To Slash Your Grocery Bill

Do you find yourself spending more than you wanted to on groceries? Here are a few tips for saving money on food – 13 ways to slash your grocery bill!

Saving Money On Food
Saving Money On Food

Here you are in the checkout line of your local grocery store. Do you watch in horror as the numbers on the display register go up and up…and up? How many times have you cringed when the cashier announced your total? Yup. Me, too.

How did this happen? You just went in for a couple of items and now you’re wondering how to adjust your monthly budget to account for this comestible catastrophe. Well, this episode may be water under the bridge but let’s look ahead and talk about saving money on food the next time you go shopping.

With some planning and critical thinking, there are ways to slash your grocery bill!

Have A Game Plan

Have a Game Plan
Have a Game Plan

First, I’ll say this: All that money you just (over)spent? Not entirely your fault. Grocery stores pay people to come up with ways to entice you to spend as much as they can entice you to spend. The store set-up, end cap displays, lighting, colors, shopping carts, the yummy smells? All part of their diabolical plan to make you spend more. There are 2 important things you can do to overcome this psychological warfare before you even leave your house!

Make a meal plan: This isn’t as hard as it seems. What are you having for dinner tonight? Why not double it and have the rest for lunch tomorrow? Two meals down. Maybe grab some oatmeal, raisins and yogurt for overnight oats or granola parfaits to take to work for breakfast this week? Now you’re down 7 meals. That’s ⅓ of your entire meal plan and it just took a minute. See how easy that was?

Make a shopping list: Now, use that meal plan to make your shopping list. I’m going to assume you’ll be shopping in the same store that you always do, so, with that in mind, set up your shopping list in the order that you’ll be walking the store. Does the entrance lead you to the produce section first? List all your produce items first, then (for example) all your meat items followed by the dairy items.

Once you hit the aisles of the store, group items together that will probably be in the same section (all the spices together, all the baking items together, etc.) This will prevent you from backtracking and being further tempted by all those sneaky displays!

Into The Fray

Into The Fray
Into The Fray

Stick to your list: Do it like it’s your job. No unauthorized purchases, no maybe-I-can-use-its, no gosh-that-looks-goods. Keep your eyes forward and only stop for the things on your list.

… Unless you don’t stick to your list: OK, so there’s that Manager’s Special on chicken. That really good special. Riddle me this: Do you eat chicken? A lot? Can you break that package down into smaller portions for storage? Do you have room in your freezer? Can afford to spend the extra money this week? If you can answer “yes” to every single question, then go ahead and pick up a package.

Stay In Your Own Lane: No unplanned off-ramps. No side trips down aisles “just to check it out”. Stick to the store perimeter and only enter the aisles that have items you planned to buy.

Stick To The Basics

Stick To The Basics
Stick To The Basics

Learn to read the shelf tags: These tags help you to discern the true value of an item compared to another by breaking down the cost per unit (such as ounce, pound or individual item). Once you know how to do this, the following advice is easy to check out.

Do your own prep work: Food in its most unprocessed form is always less expensive than pre-cut or prepared items. A few examples of this are:

  • Whole carrots compared to baby carrots or matchstick
  • The whole roast compared to steaks or stew meat*
  • A block of cheese compared to pre-sliced or shredded cheese

Doing your own prep work does take more time, but I find that it’s easier to just do it all when I get home from the store. Some like to set aside some time on their day off to all the prep work for the week while others prefer to just prep for the meal that they’re cooking. You can play around with different methods until you find one that works for you!

*I’m not going to discuss edible yield in regard to meats here as I find the bone-in/boneless argument is usually more of a personal choice than a cost point.

Size doesn’t matter: Bigger is not always less expensive. Use the shelf tag to determine which size is truly the best value.

Buy generic: Many lesser-known brands are a better value than the Big Guys. Make sure to read the ingredient and nutrition labels to make sure it’s as high quality as the name brand.

Put down the frozen french fries: For real. Just do it. Put back those individual packets of flavored oatmeal while you’re at it. These two items, on average, cost twice as much per unit as their unprocessed counterparts (fresh potatoes and old-fashioned rolled oats). That’s true of most convenience foods. The truth is that it doesn’t take much more time to make these items fresh.

Ban Junk Food

Ban Junk Food
Ban Junk Food

The average American spends almost 25% of their grocery budget on processed, convenience, pre-made and snack foods. Don’t believe me? Dig out your last grocery receipt and add it up. I’m positive it’s more than you think it is.

Ask you how much of that food was eaten mindlessly? It’s easy to prepare (if it needs any preparation at all) so it’s easy to just grab some to chow down on while you’re watching TV or working on your computer. Seriously, when was the last time you wondered why there were only crumbs in the bottom of the chip bag? And did you really eat all the microwavable pizza nuggets?

Now ask yourself if you’re really going to spend that much money on things you didn’t even enjoy eating. Surely if you had enjoyed them, you would have remembered actually eating them. Think of how much you’re going to enjoy keeping all that money right in your bank account from now on!

OK, yes, you’re gonna want cookies. These no-bake cookies come together in less than 15 minutes for about $3.50, which is less than ½ the price of buying the same amount of the same cookies pre-made.

Go Forth And Conquer

Go Forth And Conquer
Go Forth And Conquer

I found some other great ideas in this post from honestfoods.com.

Be bold. Be unafraid. Get out there and go shopping. You’ve got this.

 

All my best,

Cynthia
cynthia@cynthiaeats.com

 

 

Healthy Cooking for One — How to Create a New You

Trying to start a new program of healthy cooking for one? Old habits die hard but here are a few tips to help get you back on track to start eating healthier!

Healthy Cooking for One
Healthy Cooking for One

We’ve all seen him. That guy in the checkout line at the grocery store, the one we know is single and lives alone. 4 frozen dinners, 1 deli sandwich, 6-pack of beer and an economy-sized bag of Cheetos.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Just because we’re single, it doesn’t mean we’re doomed to a future of breakfast cereal, frozen pizza for one and Ramon noodles.

Nor must we choose drive-thrus or gas station hot dogs.  I often who came up with THAT idea. Like, was someone pumping their gas and suddenly thought, “Well, this makes me want to eat a smoked sausage!”? (Yes, I’m kidding.  Here’s why gas stations started selling food).

We have a choice. I’d like to share a few things that I’ve picked up along the way to make cooking for one a bit easier and, hopefully, a little more fun.

Healthy Ways Start to Your Day

Healthy Ways Start to Your Day
Healthy Ways Start to Your Day

Running late this morning? Always keep some bananas, frozen strawberries and yogurt on hand to make a smoothie. It just takes a minute and you can drink it on your way to work!

Overnight oats are convenient and the flavor combos are endless so you’ll never get bored. They can be stored for up to 5 days in the fridge so go ahead and throw together a few one evening for a week of quick breakfasts.

Everybody loves Sunday morning breakfast! Make a crustless quiche to enjoy with a leisurely cup of coffee and the newspaper. Store a few pieces in the fridge for up to 5 days for a healthy lunch and put the rest in the freezer for another time!

Play It Again, Sam

Play it again Sam
Play It Again, Sam

No big plans for your day off? Make a big pot of spaghetti sauce and freeze it in portions for use another day. Might as well freeze up a batch of meatballs to go with it, too!

A dozen mini pork pies make a great grab-and-go lunch (or, rather 12!).

Make a dinner recipe that serves two and take the leftovers for lunch. Or make a recipe that serves three or four and have some left for an easy meal later in the week.

Try this Szechuan-style shrimp or garlic chicken with caramelized mushrooms. They’re easy to put together and any leftovers you don’t use can be put in the freezer for a future meal!

Make connected meals. For example, when making potatoes for garlic chicken, do a few extra and use the leftovers to go with Korean beef (instead of cooking rice).

Or save some potato cubes unmashed to make potato salad. While you’re boiling the eggs for the potato salad, throw in a few extra for egg salad.

And always, always, make extra rice to package up in single serving sizes and store in the freezer!

Strategic Contingency Planning

Strategic Contingency Planning
Strategic Contingency Planning

It happens. You get stuck working late, encounter a major traffic jam on the way home or get caught up in a lengthy conversation with a friend. Then it’s too late to cook that dinner you had planned or you’re just too tired.

Make sure you’ve stocked up on a few items that have a decent shelf life and are quick and easy to throw together.

Eggs, cheese, peanut butter and pasta are excellent choices, as are crackers, rice and bread (store this double wrapped in the freezer if you need to!). Frozen fruits and vegetables require no prep at all so they can easily be used in a pinch.

Think of Ways To Be Creative!

Be Creative!
Be Creative!

Decide to go to the farmers market, choose something you haven’t had before then go home and create a meal.

No, honestly, I “wing” a lot of my recipes and it always turns out fine. Ok, almost always. There was the “Fennel Incident”. Fennel, as it turns out, tastes like black licorice. Gross. Who knew?

Dress up your go-to meals. Grilled cheese? Mix it up with a two cheese combo, mustard and a couple of pickle slices. Add a splash of cream and some croutons to your tomato soup. Swap out the ketchup on your burger for some thousand island dressing.

Presto Chango! Leftovers don’t have to be the same thing that they were when they were originally left over. (Say THAT 5 times fast!) Pair the grilled chicken and roasted carrots you had last night with chopped onion, soy sauce, leftover rice and – BOOM! – a delicious (and definitely not leftover) stir-fry.

Riddle Me This

Riddle Me This
Riddle Me This

Who do you have to answer to anyway? Cooking for just you allows you to eat what you want, when you want, using whatever ingredients you want and as spicy (or not) as you want.

Who’s gonna even know? So what if that tuna and spaghetti thing didn’t measure up to your expectations? I’m not gonna tell and you don’t have to either!

No one’s watching, right? Pour a glass of wine, turn up the 80’s pop music and have a dance party in your pajamas while cooking pasta for the 3rd day in a row. Because you can.

Life is what you make it so make it good. Be brave, be bold, be empowered. And above all, have fun.

What are your thoughts on cooking for one? What are your favorite recipes and strategies? Let me know in the comments below!

 

Cynthia

Cynthia@cynthiaeats.com

 

 

Healthy Eating For One – What’s Your Plan?

So you’ve embarked on your healthy eating for one journey but what’s the plan, Stan? Do you actually have an actual strategy in place? How are going to achieve that goal?

 I promised you hacks and tips on healthy eating for one and I’m here to deliver! These are just a few observations I’ve come across on my journey down this delicious road to the dinner table.

Do with them what you will. Here goes!

What’s In Your Basket? – The Store(y) Starts Here

One of the most difficult parts of eating as a single person is the waste that often comes with it.

Many perishables (especially produce) are sold in larger packages and it’s hard to use them up before their time is up. Here are a few suggestions:

Healthy Eating For One
What’s In Your Basket?

Shop the salad bar. Although the salad bar is not the most economical way to buy groceries, there are times it may come in handy.

Take me, for example. Although I do like the occasional salad, I’m not a salad eater for the most part. After I’ve eaten the one salad I’m going to have for the next month or so, I struggle to find a use for the rest of that lettuce and all those stinkin’ cucumber slices.

This is where the salad bar comes in handy. It’s not just for salad building, either. Browse the salad bar to acquire small amounts of fresh ingredients in any meal you’re planning. There’s no waste and no prep. Win-win.

Pasta. Yes, pasta. You can take out whatever amount you want and just pop that box right back on the shelf where it will wait patiently for next time.

My two favorite ways to serve it are with sauce or as a pasta salad but it’s incredibly versatile.

There are so many shapes and flavors, made from a variety of ingredients (including gluten-free), that the possibilities are endless!

Shelf-stable and frozen items. In the same theme as pasta, there are many healthy items in the store that can be portioned out in varying amounts.

Many things you buy on the shelf have a very long life ahead of them such as nuts, peanut butter and dried fruits.

In the freezer section, you can find vegetables, fruits and loose, unbaked rolls.

Single serving. This is a category that also might appear to be less than economical because single-serve items typically have a higher unit price (cost per ounce, pound, etc.).

But consider that if you buy a bigger unit that you’re not going to finish before it expires, then you’re not saving money at all. Think yogurt, milk, and cereal.

Weekly Meal Prep Ideas – Not So Lazy Sundays

Healthy Eating For One
Weekly Meal Prep Ideas

Portion out meat/poultry. As soon as you get home from the store, open up all those packages of meat and separate them into serving-sized portions.

Seal each portion individually in sandwich bags. Then place those bags in a larger freezer bag, label it, date it and pop it in the freezer.

The same goes for ground meats, sausages and hot dogs.

Do some advance prep. Take a look at your meal plan for the week. (You DID make one, right? Good.)  Is there anything you can do in advance to make your weekday cooking less stressful?

For example, hardy vegetables (potatoes, carrots, cauliflower, etc.) can be prepped and stored in water for up to a week, while softer vegetables can be done 3-4 days in advance.

Salad dressings and marinades can be also prepared in advance.

Cook ahead. Make a big batch of something (like this classic meatloaf) and freeze it in single-portion sizes.

Things like hearty soups or lasagna freeze well and are easy grab-and-go, one-dish lunches.

Trust me, it will make your exit out the door much smoother on Monday morning.

Think breakfast. French toast, pancakes and waffles can all be made ahead and stored in your freezer, making breakfast a piece of…um…toast! Just pop ‘em in the microwave or toaster for a sweet treat.

This Basic Overnight Oats recipe can be made in advance and stored in the fridge for up to 5 days.

Good Morning, Sunshine! – Tips For Planning Your Day

Healthy Eating For One
Tips For Planning Your Day

Don’t overdo it. Take the time to think about how much time you have (or are willing to take) to prepare/cook your meals during the week.

One of the biggest defeats in this game is planning to make a healthy, hearty, home-cooked meal on Tuesday evening (in quadruple to ensure you have extra to freeze up for later), only to realize that you’re too pooped to make it happen once you get home.

Make it easy. Choose easy dinner recipes for one so you don’t have to worry about packaging the leftovers for the freezer. This Spinach Feta Pizza comes together in just a few minutes with very little mess or cleanup!

Do as much advance prep as possible on your free days.

Simple recipes like this Strawberry Banana Yogurt Smoothie make breakfast a snap. Put it in a travel mug to sip on your way to work.

Double up. Choose recipes that specifically serve two or three like this simple Szechuan Style Shrimp. By making a meal you can eat a number of times during the week, you free up some spare time to get the laundry done, call a friend or just chill.

It’s Not Over (‘Till It’s Over)

Healthy Eating For One
It’s Not Over (‘Till It’s Over)

This is not an exhaustive list, just a few tricks I’ve picked up along the way.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on these ideas and what you’ve learned on your journey as well! I look forward to reading your comments below!

 

All my best,

Cynthia

Cynthia@cynthiaeats.com

 

 

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