How to eat healthier in 2016

The New Year often marks a time for bold, lofty goals that are too often never reached, or are reached but then unfortunately not maintained. The number one mistake we make when setting these well-intended goals is that they are tied to a finish line. Declaring to lose those 10, 20, or 30+ pounds implies that once the scale shows a specific number, the work is done, game over. We fail to maintain these “Finish Line Goals” because the focus becomes all about the milestone, rather than the habits that help us achieve the results in the first place.

This year, I challenge everyone to set a goal that has no finish line. Instead, your goal should be to adopt a new, reoccurring healthy habit. A great place to start? Cooking! Kick the New Year off with this nourishing 7-day meal plan!

The Plan

Celebrate whole, real food: Rather than getting caught in the quantitative trap of total calories, grams of carbs, and percent of fat, this plan focuses on the quality of your food. When we divert our attention away from the numbers game and instead focus on the abundance of nutrients, suddenly eating becomes more nourishing and more enjoyable.

Predominantly plant-based: It’s safe to say that we can all benefit from more veggies, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds. These foods will be the core of this meal plan. That being said, there is no one size fits all, so if you know you are someone who needs some additional animal protein in your diet to thrive, this plan is flexible enough for you to do so.

High-quality carbohydrates: The carbs in this plan will feature whole grains, root veggies, legumes, fruits, and vegetables – these foods contain carbohydrates packaged with fiber and plenty of micronutrients – the best way to eat a carb for steady blood sugar and longstanding energy all day long!

Healthy fats: Anti-inflammatory, unsaturated fats such as olive oil, nuts, seeds, avocados, olives will be the main sources of fat in this plan. These are fats you can feel good about eating!

Flavor boosters: These recipes rely on herbs, spices, vinegars, and citrus to brighten your food and pack lots of flavor without relying on sugar, excess fat, and excess salt.

A different take on dairy: To limit the amount of inflammation and saturated fat in our diet, this plan recommends considering non-dairy alternatives. It also includes fermented dairy products like yogurt. The gut-healthy, immune-boosting bacteria of these foods (probiotics) help break down some of the hard-to-digest lactose that are problematic in dairy products. You will also have the opportunity to try an almond-based cheese (Kite Hill). If the idea of eliminating cheese is making your head spin, I encourage you to choose a bold, high quality cheese (so that a little goes a long way), and be light-handed (think of cheese more like butter, use it as a condiment).

See-ya later sugar: With so much sugar hidden in our food, our taste buds have developed a high demand for it. When sweetening dishes, this plan suggests using the natural sweetness in fruit, dried fruit, or 100 percent fruit juice to lend a healthy level of sweetness. If you still need a little more sweetness to round out any of the recipes, choose honey or grade B maple syrup in small doses, and say goodbye to artificial sweeteners!

Healthy staples: This meal plan will ask that you arm yourself with some key healthy staples. Having the right ingredients in your fridge, pantry, and freezer empower you with the versatile tools to whip up something healthy and delicious on a whim, with no last minute trip to the grocery store required. If you don’t already have these ingredients on hand, this first time around may feel like a lot of purchases and a tall grocery bill. Rest assured that this is just an initial investment in inventory - many of these staples will last for a while and you will use them over and over again. The health investment in these fundamental ingredients will pay off in huge dividends later.

While this plan may appear to be all about what you eat, it more accurately demonstrates the power of healthy habits and routines. Getting into the groove of doing some prep work on the weekend, and always packing breakfast and lunch the night before are two game-changing habits that create healthy opportunities for the entire week.

Be prepared to step out of your comfort zone. Cozy up to the idea of trying something new. We all know the famous Einstein quote: "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Progress is impossible without change. There will most likely be something unfamiliar to you in this meal plan. Rather than reverting back to what’s comfortable, I encourage you to be open-minded and embrace these novelties. Have fun with it!

Be flexible, intuitive, and resourceful. Take these recipes with a grain of salt. If a recipe calls for onion and you only have a leek – use the leek! An onion is an onion is an onion – they are all part of the same family and can easily be interchanged. We are not trying to be Top Chef’s here; we are simply striving to eat real food. Relax, and have the confidence to adapt, adjust, and go with the flow.

Get the meal plan, shopping list, and batch cooking guide here.

This article was originally published on Philly.com’s Goal Getter column.