Foodiot

I was a former “Foodiot” — an idiot when it came to food. I remember back then how daunting it all seemed to try and get started eating more healthily. At least for an overthinker like me. This post will be a primer of sorts on how to get started eating in a more healthy manner. I’ll discuss how to shop for vegetables, how to store them, and what to look out for.

I’ll be following this post up with an overview of “how food works”, because that too was something I was quite confused about despite thinking I understood it. But for now, you do not need to understand how it all works. You do, however, need to trust the idea that eating your vegetables is a healthy thing to do. I will say that understanding the “how” really helps with making the choices and the commitment to eat healthy.

While I have a particular paradigm that I make my eating choices within, there has never been nor will there ever be a time when eating vegetables isn’t healthy. So for this post, I am going to stick with vegetables. Vegetables will survive all fad diets and nutritional advice, even if they will most assuredely not survive in your fridge for very long. Being the most perishable, they can be the most opaque for fellow Foodiots out there.

One Serving

Before we get into specifics, the number one advice to stop being a Foodiot is to just add one serving of vegetables to one meal a day. Like any other new habit, it’s best to establish the routine firmly first. Forgetting being healthy or reconfiguring your meals. Continue to eat that greasy pizza, just have some carrots with it. Starting that rhythm of including vegetables with meals is the most important step. Soon enough the cognitive dissonance will kick in and you’ll add more and more — by choice, even.

And speaking of carrots, they are superb first food. Carrots will last a decent amount of time in the fridge, and you can buy the baby carrots which are all chopped up, cleaned up and ready to eat. You don’t even have to cook them. Perfect.

Starting slow with one simple veggie will get you into that mysterious “Produce” aisle of the grocery store that you’ve always zipped right past. Look around, see what they offer. Surely you should be aware of many of the most common vegetables from your steady diet of pop culture over the years.

The Big Questions

Some of the big questions for me were “How often do I need to shop?”, “How much should I buy?” and “How long will it last?”

Some quick answers to those questions: Most likely you’ll need to shop at least once a week, and the vegetables will probably last just about that long, as long as you get some containers to keep them fresh (more on that later). As far as how much to buy, that you will have to work out over time through trial and error. A rough guide as far as the minimums I buy for myself:

– 3 stem tomatoes (1/2 per day)
– 4 green bell peppers (gets me some in the daily salads, plenty to snack on)
– 1 bag of baby carrots
– 1 whole celery stalk
– 1 bundle of broccoli (usually two in a bundle)
– 1 cucumber
– 1 large package of baby spinach

What Veggies To Buy?

Start out with vegetables you know and like. Do not get adventurous at this point. Stuff you don’t need to cook or do much prep work for is also ideal. I would suggest carrots, lettuce, baby spinach, tomatoes, bell peppers (green are the least expensive), cucumbers, celery, and broccoli. Typical “party tray” veggies.

One of the breakthroughs in vegetables I had was to prepare my “salads” (more of a collection of vegetables that I eat like it’s from a party tray) in advance. I got some storage containers specifically designed for vegetables, which do indeed keep them fresh longer by at least 2-3 days. I am able to prep 7 days worth of my salads at once, and then I just grab one from the fridge when I eat dinner.

I also cut up a bunch of additional veggies to snack on during the day. You are 253% more likely to eat the veggies for a snack if they are cut up and ready to go. I just plan on cutting up the vegetables as soon as I get home from the grocery store. It’s a little ritual. Get it all done and over with at once.

Some vegetables will not store well with others. I’ve found that cucumbers need to be kept separate. Carrots too. Both will get mushy if packed in the “salads”. But the spinach, celery, green peppers and tomatoes all seem to age fine together.

Things You Will Need

So, you definitely need a few items in oder to do this properly. A knife and a cutting board are essential. You can’t go wrong with an El Cheapo basic cutting knife, but I suggest this Messermeister Pro-Touch 5-1/4-Inch Vegetable Knife which I picked up after all the positive Amazon reviews. They were right, the knife is great. You don’t need anything special as far as a cutting board. I recently upgraded to a bamboo cutting board for more space to cut on. But my old two-buck plastic cutting board did the trick for a good while. For $10, you can get two bamboo cutting boards which looks like a good deal.

As far as the containers, I lucked out with these Rubbermaid containers — and you will definitely want a few of these so you can make a week of salads. These 5-cup sized containers are perfect — you could probably just buy 10 of these and cover 6 days of salads, and 4 for the cut up snacking veggies.

The containers are a worthwhile investment. They actually work, and they will allow you to make it an entire week on one round of veggie chopping. Trust me, I started out cutting the veggies every night! That didn’t last long. In general, one of the food hacks I’ve learned it to bundle in leftovers while preparing meals. If I grill pork chops, I’ll grill up a full chicken breast at the same time and then just store it in the fridge for meals in the next couple days. Often once you are already in the flow of preparing some food (cutting, chopping, grilling, cooking, etc.), it’s much easier to just keep the momentum going. And you already have to clean it all up, so why not combine a few days worth of that labor into one? Your fridge can be used to store more than just leftover pizza.

Where to Buy Fruits and Vegetables?

Again, don’t overwhelm yourself. Your goal right now is to get started and build a habit. Shop at the local grocery store. You may need to try a few as some grocery stores sell better produce than others. What constitutes “better”? The food last longer. Some grocery stores sell food that will start “going bad” quite soon after you purchase it. You may need trial and error to find the right store.

Of course, shopping local and buying from farmer’s markets is another option. But that can be tricky, as selections are limited by not only the season but by the time you arrive at the market in some cases. At least for the smaller, local farmer’s markets. And the larger farmer’s markets aren’t all necessarily selling local produce anyways — often they are buying from the same suppliers as the big chain stores!

Your initial aim should be to go with the route that has the least amount of barriers. You can always move on to these niche sources once you’ve “leveled up” in your eating habits.

Organic?

The organic question is related to the farmer’s market issue: don’t focus on “organic” if it is going to be a hindrance in establishing the healthy eating habit. That said, organic foods — at least once your palette has adjusted back to natural levels — is notably tastier. It’s also healthier because of the focus on the methods of production.

The word “organic” however has very specific technical meanings in the context of the food industry. And that definition is being manipulated all the time these days with its growing popularity. It may not mean what you think it means. And that meaning might change!

A good rule of thumb is that if you eat the peel, organic is a smarter choice: apples, tomatoes, peppers, etc. Anything where the peel is discarded (bananas, avocados, etc.) matters a bit less because any surface pesticides will not have touched the part of the food you eat. Still, organic is healthier as no pesticides are used in the prodcution of the food at all.

Organic is indeed better. Just don’t let the organic factor be a limiting one. Eating fruits and vegetables — even non-organic — is still good for you and far better than processed foods.

A nice set of lists to refer to is the “Clean 15” and the “Dirty Dozen“. These refer to the 15 foods less essential to be purchased organic, and the 12 most ideally purchased as organic.

Washing Vegetables

This is easy: run water over them while “scrubbing” gently but firmly with your hands. Some people suggest a solution of vinegar, but that is not necessary. Neither are any branded vegetable cleaning products.

How Long Do Vegetables Last?

Short answer: not very long, for most of them. Even with a refrigerator and ideal containers. That said, as I mentioned earlier you can easily get a week’s worth of cut vegetables to survive in the fridge. You might see some softening and squishening of those green pepper slices, and once you get past 7 days the spinach will get a bit wispy. Carrots and celery on the other hand, can last quite a long time.

How Long Do Fruits Last?

I didn’t discuss fruits much here, but fruits are slightly easier to incorporate since many of them are “ready to eat” as-is — bananas, apples, oranges, etc. Not much necessary in the way of preparing them. Apples will last for at least a week or two. I cut them up when I eat them. You could easily cut up an apple the day before or cut up a couple for the day at once.

Bananas will last about 2-4 days, assuming you buy those with a healthy amount of green still visible on the peel. I tend to pick up bananas twice a week, as they ripen I’m dpfinishing up the last bunches I got a few days earlier.

The same goes for avocados, they are ripe when soft and that takes about 2-4 days from the hard, green state they are typically in at the store. I just eat the entire thing at once. Yes, an avocado is technically a fruit! They are also not the most beginner-friendly healthy food — but they are incredibly healthy and have lots of the healthy fats you want. When you start to really dig the flavor of an avocado, you’ll know your healthy eating habit has turned a big corner.

Fruit & Vegetable Shelf Life List

(The following lists were pulled from this page.)

1-2 Days

  • Artichokes
  • Asparagus
  • Bananas
  • Basil
  • Broccoli
  • Cherries
  • Corn
  • Dill
  • Green beans
  • Mushrooms
  • Strawberries
  • Watercress

2-4 Days

  • Arugula
  • Avocados
  • Cucumbers
  • Eggplant
  • Grapes
  • Lettuce
  • Limes
  • Pineapple
  • Zucchini

4-6 Days

  • Apricots
  • Blueberries
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Cauliflower
  • Grapefruit
  • Leeks
  • Lemons
  • Oranges
  • Oregano
  • Parsley
  • Peaches
  • Pears
  • Peppers
  • Plums
  • Spinach
  • Tomatoes
  • Watermelon

7+ Days

  • Apples
  • Beets
  • Cabbage
  • Carrots
  • Celery
  • Garlic
  • Hard Squash
  • Onions
  • Potatoes

Palette Progress

That also brings up another aspect of eating healthier: taste. People often complain that vegetables “have no flavor”. This is not true. The problem here is that you’ve been conditioning your taste buds for years and decades to adjust to the “loud” processed foods and added sugars found in most commercially prepared foods and meals.

It’s like going to a concert and standing next to the speaker stack, and then complaining that the speaker on your mobile phone isn’t loud enough. You need time for the taste bud equivalent of the “ringing in your ears” to subside. This will take some time. For me, it tools a few months and it continues to increase even now, years later. I am often blown away by the wide variety of flavor characteristics I can now discern in formerly “bland” foods like green peppers and celery. It’s quite mind-blowing at times and just goes to show how skewed your experience was in the past.

Eliminating added sugars in your diet (added by you or by corporations) will go a very long way in helping you make the switch to eating healthy. But I know that is a massive struggle and challenge. Recommended, but put that on the list for later on once you are regularly eating vegetables and fruits without it being an effort any longer.

Motivation

Since only like-minded people are reading this blog or this post, I know that I can make a few suggestions that will up your enthusiasm levels for putting in the time to make this a habit. Once the habit and routine is established, you’ll start expanding on your own. It’s wedging it into your routine that’s the tough part.

Michael Pollan’s books on food have all been instrumental in really engaging my interest in food and food preparation (as well as the science, history, nutritional and cultural aspects). I highly suggest picking up all four of his “Food Series” books — and I might add that they are excellent audiobooks to listen to while prepping all this food.

“The Botany Of Desire” isn’t specifically a food book per se, but with sections on the potato and the apple, it gets into food enough to add it to the pot.

And for the fellow Deeply Geeky types out there, Harold McGee’s “On Food And Cooking” is the book you want to read.

“Chop Food, Boil Water”

Making the routine of shopping for your food and preparing goes a long way in establishing motivation. Seeing this as a part of the things you enjoy doing each week as opposed to an onerous task is a big help. To paraphrase the Zen saying “After enlightenment, chop wood and carry water”, I think the same holds true for preparing one’s food: yes, it’s a mundane task. But you don’t have to treat it as one. Geek out on it. Realize that the food you are buying an preparing will be turning into you in short time. It doesn’t get much more essential than food and breathing.

You’ll find over time that the focus on food will start to reshape your relationship with not only the food, but with the steps leading up to the actual shopping and preparing, as well as how much you eat, and where those scraps go.

Sure, it’s not very exciting to cut up vegetables. But that’s an experience and a reaction that is well within your control. Get into it.

Chop food, boil water.

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