I hate to cook, but hate to eat processed food even more. I recently joined a Community-Sponsored Agriculture (CSA) farm, and am determined to learn to prepare (simply and healthfully) all the lovely vegetables I receive.
These are the simple rules I follow in order to strive for nutritional excellence for myself and my family.
Maximize vegetables. I try to eat as many vegetables as I can (with a preference for leafy greens), such that they crowd everything else largely out of my diet. I aim to eat fresh, local, seasonal, sustainable produce when possible.
Enjoy whole, plant foods. After vegetables, I aim to eat a diet that consists mostly of fruit, legumes, nuts, and seeds. Again, I aim to eat fresh, local, seasonal, sustainable produce when possible.
Enjoy other whole foods in moderation. I try to eat grain, dairy, eggs, meat, and fish in moderation. I choose low-fat or non-fat varieties when possible and, when eating eggs, try to avoid the yolks. I endeavor to eat animals that have had as natural a life as possible: wild fish, grass-fed beef, free-range chicken, etc.
Balance macronutrients. I aim to eat a diet that is roughly balanced in calories from carbohydrates, protein, and fat. I follow what I think of as a “high protein” diet, but that’s only because my food preferences tend to be so high in carbs and fat otherwise that I must make a concerted effort to eat more protein in order to achieve a rough balance.
Limit white flour. I aim to eat only whole-wheat bread, pasta, crackers, etc. Flour is part of a plant-based diet, but it is not a “whole food.” It has been processed (even if minimally) from its natural state before one eats it. This means I aim to eat less flour (even whole-wheat flour) than whole, plant foods like brown rice or potatoes.
Minimize added sugar, added salt, and added fat. In my own cooking, I try to minimize the use of sweeteners, salt, and oil. For sugar and salt, I will often eliminate them from a recipe or use far less than the recommended amount. For sugar, in particular, I will try to use a less processed substitue, like honey or maple syrup. For oil, I will often substitute applesauce (if baking) or water/broth (if cooking).
Avoid processed foods. I try to avoid “foods” made with natural and artificial flavors, natural and artificial colors, natural or artificial sweeteners, preservatives, emulsifiers, thickeners, stabilizers, or any hard-to-pronounce, "chemical" ingredients at all. I also avoid high-fructose corn syrup and partially-hydrogenated oils. This means that if it comes in a box, a bag, a can, or a package of any kind, I probably try to avoid eating it.