How to eat better food

I'm one of those optimistic people who happen to believe that the new year is the ideal time to reflect on things that matter to us. Take food for instance. It is such an intrinsic part of our lives that I feel I have to take a closer look at my own relationship with it and to share my thoughts with you, fellow paddlers. I'm convinced that we often think alike.

A local approach that pays off In 2012, as I travelled throughout Europe and Eastern North America, I realized, once more, how important the locavore movement has become, not only to serious foodies, but to most people. In the last 12 months many among us have been passionate about this very simple - yet efficient - way of effecting positive changes in people's lives through the easy gesture of buying locally-produced ingredients. Not only is it good for the environment but also for our communities and for our families: when the grandkids visit us in the little New England town where we have been fortunate enough to settle into for sea kayaking, they love to join my husband and myself at the farmers' market and to chat with Rick, who grows heirloom tomatoes, with David who is passionate about his organic hog farm or with Vivian who raises goats and makes the best cheeses around. Then, when we are back at the cottage, the boys are more than happy to give us a hand preparing the picnic for our paddling expedition out to the nearby lighthouse while chatting about their new farmer friends. And the nice thing is that it also makes them more curious and fuels their appetite when meal time arrives. Because of the new and direct link to the source of their food, these usually picky eaters now eat everything on their plate, knowing how hard Vivian, David or Rick work to provide them fresh food. Next summer, we plan to take the boys to visit the farms…

Your health will thank you too! 

There are many more advantages to buying from producers nearby. For instance, since local food is often not processed, there are fewer harmful additives, less sodium, less sugar, less chemicals and none of these awful trans fats in your meals either, which is so important for maintaining good health! But I have to admit that taking this path does mean more work in the kitchen in order to be able to bring delicious meals to the table. It doesn't have to be painful though, and can become one of the pleasures of life. That's why I have decided to come up with a few quick suggestions that might help you start 2013 with an additional burst of flavor and pleasure. Going local and buying food that is not transformed is a delicious way to achieve better health and to have more fun cooking.

10 easy suggestions to eat well in 2013

1. When at the supermarket, try to choose as many fruits and vegetables that are in season locally or that have been processed while they were at their best: apples, pears, frozen berries, dried fruits, root vegetables, etc.

2. Instead of buying imported tomatoes, cucumbers or bell peppers, pick hothouse veggies which have been organically grown using energy-efficient techniques.

3. To avoid spoiling food, make a list of some menus that you'd like to eat in the next week; then make a grocery list accordingly before you go shopping. I usually plan to triple the quantity of every recipe in order to make sure I will have enough leftovers on hand for another meal during the week and then be able to freeze the last portion for later in the month. This saves a lot of prep time! Think slow cooked ragouts, pasta sauces, chili, grilled fish, shepherd's pie, stuffed cabbage or bell pepper, chicken cacciatore, lentil soup or pot pie. They all freeze very well.

4. To achieve the goal of eating better, make a few substitutions in your diet: instead of cooking in butter, use non-stick pans and choose olive oil or organic canola oil.

5. Instead of buying sodas make your own by buying plain soda water that you will aromatize with real fruit juice: orange, cranberry, pomegranate, apple, etc.

6. To add some flavor and precious antioxidants to your daily regimen fix yourself a big pot of jasmine or regular green tea; keep it in the fridge and flavor with citrus fruit.

7. Another delicious way to achieve goal 6 is to start dinner or lunch with one of those options: either a big bowl of green salad dressed with tomatoes, cucumbers, green onions and sprinkled with low-fat dressing. Or a nice platter of crunchy raw veggies with a delicious dip made of yogurt, low-fat mayonnaise and Dijon mustard. Another option: why not cook a delicious vegetable soup? You can put half in the blender, then freeze it and reheat it with a bit of milk later.

8. To add variety, flavor and fibers, pick multigrain breads and bagels instead of white varieties and opt for whole grain cereals such as rolled oats, shredded wheat or puffed brown rice. Fibers are important for lowering cholesterol, reducing the risk for heart disease and diabetes and for regularity. Plus they bring a feeling of satiety that is important for people who lead an active lifestyle or who wish to lose a bit of weight.

9. Don't forget to snack! Whenever you leave for a paddling workout or for a day at work, bring along some healthy snacks: apple, peanut butter on half a pita; almonds, lowfat cheese with raisins and unsalted whole grain crackers; carrot and celery sticks with yogurt dip and some pistachios, individual yogurt with unsalted pretzels, etc. Snacks will provide you with extra energy to perform better and avoid feeling tired and grumpy by mid-afternoon.

10. Don't get boring: learn to spice up your life with all sorts of herbs, spices, vinegars, gourmet mustards, peppers and so on. It's easy to bring more layers of flavor to a bland sandwich or green salad by playing with pickles, capers, dried tomatoes, pesto, olives, citrus rinds, thyme, fresh cilantro, parsley, garlic. Dare to flavor!

Happy New Year 2013!

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