Making the Switch

I remember stories from my elders of having to cut the switch that would be used on their own behinds when they misbehaved as kids. This is not the kind of switch I’m talking about making.

As I’ve been blogging, I’ve had several comments along the lines of “Wow, I know I should be eating more local foods/not eating this processed crap/learn to cook,” etc. I hear wistfulness, self-reproach, and an unspoken “…but it sounds really hard and I wouldn’t even know where to start.” I understand. I’ve been there!

I’ve always liked to cook. Mom and my grandmothers – and even one grandfather – were kitchen wizards, so I learned from great folks. Even so, when I first got out of college, making under $23K a year and teaching several hours of music lessons three days a week to make ends meet, the lure of processed food was very strong. You stop working at 7pm and cooking an elaborate meal is the last thing on your mind…So I thought I’d share some of my own techniques for getting from that point to where I am today.

Changing your eating habits takes a long time. It’s one of our most personal activities, and one of the first preferences we learn to express. One of the joys of being a grownup is eating exactly what you want. (I wasn’t a huge fan of George H. W. Bush, but I had to laugh at his “I’ve always hated broccoli. Now I’m the president of the United States, and I’m not gonna eat any more broccoli!”) And when your cooking for yourself (and possibly others), a lot of mitigating factors go into determining “what you want.”

frzveg.jpgSo today’s idea is that of the add-in. Start with a favorite commercially-prepared food – say, one of those frozen skillet meals with pasta, sauce, and vegetables. I generally find that these have 2-3 times as much pasta as vegetable and far too much sauce. So, next time you heat one of these up, add up to a cup of frozen vegetables. Need some protein? Add half a can of rinsed beans.

It’s such a simple step…so why bother? Well:

  • It’s helping you learn to love your veggies, which are good for you, and often the most readily available local food.
  • It’s stretching that bag of dinner further with no change in convenience.
  • It’s helping ratchet your tastebuds’ expectations down from the over-salted norm of processed foods in this country.
  • It’s augmenting a Kinda Scary processed food (pre-made meal) with an Essentially Benign processed food (plain frozen veggies).

It’s a small, do-able step. You can get anywhere with enough small steps. 🙂
Some of my favorite add-ins:

  • Peel back the top of a 69 cent frozen entree and fill the space with frozen peas, then heat as usual.
  • Add pasta to a “veggie-and-sauce” side dish.
  • Add vegetables, beans, and/or meat to a package of Ramen or Thai rice noodle soup
  • Add peas to a box of macaroni and cheese (just put the frozen peas in the colander, and when you drain the past, it’ll warm the peas)

And please remember – this kind of switch is not about self-flagellation. Sometimes we need to be stern with ourselves and say, “Yo! Self! Get it in gear! Enough of this waffling!” but there’s no point in making a switch, then beating yourself with it. Don’t waste the energy on feeling bad. Just make the switch.



  1. kate said,

    January 3, 2008 at 2:52 pm

    Mmmmm. Peas. 🙂 I do these as well.

  2. Starr said,

    January 3, 2008 at 9:34 pm

    Well, I hate peas, but I get the idea. 🙂

    So far I am working on:

    avoiding artificial sweeteners (I loved my splenda and sweet and low).
    giving up soda and coffee
    getting off the white flour kick (which I wasn’t too addicted to) and pay more
    attention to “whole grains” by reading the ingredients
    eating fruit for breakfast

    I am thinking that I might try 1 meal a week from a recipe that calls for ingredients I have never used or heard of, something from a Vegan cookbook, something… new.

    Wish me luck. Maybe you can get me through to the planting season and then start priming me up to learn to plant some stuff. I am trying to think about what we eat the most of. So far, tomatoes, green beans, and squash all come to mind.

  3. espringf said,

    January 4, 2008 at 9:50 am

    Wow, Starr, that sounds like a great start! Soda and coffee both…whew. But I bet that’ll make you feel great!

    As far as gardening goes, watch for posts on container tomatoes. And you’re lucky…green beans and squash and tomatoes are all quite easy to grow. I think green beans were the first thing I ever planted, and I still get a kick out of watching their little horseheads come out of the ground, then split open into two big beautiful leaves. 🙂

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