It Takes a Year.

By Casey Seidenberg

I have often wondered how many people make New Year’s resolutions about eating more healthfully. It’s got to be a huge number, right? And how many of these people fall short of their ambitious goals? They start off robust, but after a few weeks, life gets in the way, old habits stake their place and the resolution to keep a resolution fades.

We all know that any significant, lasting change takes time. I believe it takes at least a year, if not two, to transform the way an individual or a family eats. I also believe we should recognize that it doesn’t, and shouldn’t, happen overnight and then adjust our expectations accordingly.

So if you are one of the people who yearn to get healthier in 2013, I suggest you take a slow, methodical approach to change. Don’t just make a resolution; make a plan, a realistic plan.

Start with a list of the specific things you’d most like to change about the way you or your family eats. Every family is different, so scrutinize yours. What’s missing? What’s not working? For some it might be switching your kids from drinking juice to water, or eating more meals together as a family. For others it might be learning how to cook leafy greens, revamping breakfast to include more healthful proteins, or curbing a sweet tooth. We are all so different.

Prioritize 12 items from your list, assign each to a month, and add them to your calendar. Obviously learning to cook garden vegetables is a better goal in the late spring or summer months when veggies are fresh and in season. Sitting down to dinner as a family might be a more realistic goal in January when life seems to slow and move inside.

Tackling one specific goal each month provides enough time to unearth recipes, shop for ingredients and experiment. It is also enough time to introduce a new routine. At the end of each month, you and your kids might not be processed-food-free or entirely aboard the whole-grain train, but you will surely have made progress toward your goal. And that progress can continue into the months to come.

Remember, progress is the goal. We all need to scrap perfection! We don’t need to be sugar-free, 100 percent whole grain or making every single meal from scratch the first year. Rather, next December it should feel very satisfying to say that you learned how to cook leafy greens, your kids drink less juice, and you sit down to dinner twice a week. Those are positive changes that will last. And what is the point of a resolution if it doesn’t last?

A Sample Year

  • January:  Sit down for dinner twice a week as a family. Mark the nights on the calendar now so there are no excuses. Plan the meal ahead so that the evening moves smoothly.
  • February:  Learn to make homemade stock, and freeze the extra for future culinary exploits. You’ll find it isn’t tricky if you are prepared.
  • March: Tis the season for nutrient-rich soups. A little homemade goodness might help keep you healthy as the season begins to change. Use the homemade broth you made in February and experiment with both blended and chunky varieties of soup. Check out Soupergirl.com if you live in the DC area and don’t have time to make them all from scratch.
  • April: Learn to cook dark leafy greens. Invest in a cookbook such as Greens, Glorious Greens, or hit the Internet for recipes. Don’t be afraid to try selections such as Swiss chard, mustard greens and bok choy. Greens have been shown to help prevent spring allergies.
  • May:  Incorporate protein into the breakfast meal. Eggs are a good bet as is a warm quinoa cereal. Make your own granola with raw nuts and seeds, use almond meal to make pancakes or waffles, or add nut butter to toast or a smoothie.
  • June:  Make this the month of the bean.  Experiment with all kinds of beans to discover which you or your family likes best. Bean salads are easy to make, as are bean dips. Hummus and white bean dip in particular make great snacks. Also, don’t forget to add beans to any soup.
  • July:  Every cell in our body needs water so get the kids off juice and onto water. Start the transition slowly by watering down the juice until the kids are off the sweet flavor. Their blood sugar levels will thank you.
  • August:  Stockpile summer’s bounty of vegetables by learning the art of fermentation. Fermented foods add nutritional value to any meal. Invite friends over with their own set of mason jars and do it together, or get the kids involved. Fermenting makes a great indoor project for the dog days of summer.
  • September: Eat less sugar. After a summer of ice cream cones, popsicles and relaxed routines, it is time to get back to healthier patterns. Limit sugar in the household.  Start by buying fewer sweet items and curbing dessert. If a sweet treat is needed, try dark chocolate or a naturally sweet whole food such as fruit.
  • October: Integrate more whole grains into your diet. Start some days off with whole oats, experiment with quinoa, barley and millet salads for lunch or dinner, and don’t forget to add almost any whole grain to soup. When you find a few whole grain recipes that you like, keep making them!
  • NovemberSlow down, sit when you eat, chew thoroughly (this is the first part of digestion!), and really taste your meal. Make this a habit before the hectic holidays begin. You may even eat less if you take the time to taste the meal and trigger your body’s natural indications of satiation. This could be an easy way to evade holiday weight gain.
  • December:  Give thanks. Studies show that people who show gratitude are healthier and happier. Take a minute to give thanks before every meal. This small moment might have a big impact on your wellbeing.

Happy New Year!

First published in the Washington Post on Thursday, January 10, 2013.