Healthy Diet Makeover, Phase One: Foundations


Just after grocery shopping, while you’re putting things away, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In the 9×12″ baking pan, mix 2-1/2 cups of rice with 5 cups of water, sprinkle lightly with salt, and barely splash with olive oil. Stir to combine, cover with foil, and bake until liquid is absorbed (50 minutes to 1 hour for most brown rice).

When the water’s absorbed, remove rice from oven, let it cool to room temperature, and put half the rice in the fridge in a lidded container. Freeze the rest in 1-cup servings, in Pyrex containers or freezer-strength storage bags.

While the rice cooks, chop anything that needs chopping in order for you to eat it: make carrot sticks, slice squash and cucumber, chop onions or whatever, and put each thing in its own container in the fridge.

Yes, there’s a little prep, here at the beginning — bear with me, it’s worth it! And after a very short time you’ll have a built-up store of pre-made ‘fast food,’ so that you’re not starting from scratch each time. All change is harder at first! Trust me: give it a month, and you’ll see what I mean. For now, that’s why you picked a grocery day where you wouldn’t be rushed!

Some other day this week, when you have time, cook the whole box of pasta, according to the package directions. When it’s cooked and cooled, store half in the fridge; freeze the rest in 1-cup servings.

Fast Food, Redefined!

At least once a day, instead of fast food or Styrofoam-bowl food, eat from the healthy ingredients in your fridge and pantry. Some ideas include:

  • fruit, as-is
  • nuts, as-are
  • tortilla wraps: beans (rinse canned beans in colander, before using), rice, and salsa, mixed together and wrapped in a tortilla, then cooked on the Foreman grill or heated in microwave.
  • tortilla wraps: cooked veggie burger/ unchicken patty cut into strips, wrapped up with with chopped squash and marinara sauce, cooked on the Foreman grill or heated in microwave.
  • marinated veggie-rice bowl: in a large pyrex container or Ziplock storage bag, marinate large slices of onion, squash, carrot, sweet potato, or any other veggie you like in 3 tablespoons each balsamic vinegar and olive oil + 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper. Let marinate at least an hour, up to a few days. When you’re ready to eat, grill veggies on foreman grill. Toss a serving of rice with a little marinara sauce, heat in microwave, and top with veggies.
  • grilled veggie sandwich or wrap: use leftover grilled veggies (above) to make tortilla wraps with spinach and mayo or salad dressing.
  • green salad: chopped squash or carrot, chopped spinach, and a handful of peanuts, drizzled with soy sauce, sesame oil, and rice vinegar.
  • easy chili bowl: cook about 1/2 cup chopped onion in 1 tablespoon of oil for 5 minutes. Add about 1/2 cup rinsed and drained black beans, 1 can undrained chili beans, and 1/2 cup salsa, and cook on medium heat until just simmering. Sprinkle with chili powder, cumin, and/ or hot sauce, if available. Heat about 1/2 cup cooked rice in the microwave, and top with about a cup of chili. Refrigerate leftovers for another day.
  • pasta marinara: toss cooked pasta with chopped veggie patty, marinara sauce, and fresh (or dried) basil or oregano. Cook in microwave or on stovetop in saucepan, until heated through.
  • microwave ‘baked potato’ (or sweet potato), split and topped with black beans and salsa (or chili).
  • pasta salad: cooked pasta (leftover from marinara night), olive oil, lemon juice, chopped spinach, chopped (whatever fresh herbs you found at the farmers’ market), salt, and walnuts.

These are just a few ideas to get you started, that don’t need elaborate recipes. If you feel like adding meat or cheese to these ‘fast food’ dishes, well, I don’t recommend it but won’t give you grief — you’ll still be eating healthier than before, and small steps count!

Anytime you cook anything, make at least twice what you need: refrigerate the extra portion for almost instant lunch or dinner another day. It’s especially easy to make wraps in bulk, for later ‘fast food.’

Store salad wraps in the fridge, without the dressing (it can make the tortilla soggy). Just add dressing right before eating: instant yum! For wraps with chili and rice, or veggie patties and salsa, or any ingredients that are best served warm, make a batch of 3-4 wraps at once, and store leftovers wrapped individually in aluminum foil. Come home from work, throw it unopened into the oven (350/20 minutes) or unwrap it and Foreman grill it, and you’ve got a fast and easy dinner — with almost no cleanup!

Meanwhile, seek out information about why food choices matter: it’ll make it much easier to stay motivated, as you begin the transition to healthier kitchen habits.

Well begun is half done, as they say! I’ll post another installment in a week or so, because there’s still a row or two of organic greens to hoe.

But you’re off to a good start!Β Eat well this week, have fun trying out new food ideas, and definitely play with your food! Don’t be afraid to try new things, in new ways. The key is to start trying to phase in the new foods, and crowd out the old.

Goals, Round One

  1. Acquire basic cooking supplies, preferably including a crock pot, Foreman-style grill, blender, and rice cooker. Just start the process; if it takes a while that’s okay. The crock pot and Foreman grill may be the most immediately useful, if you have to prioritize these purchases for budgetary reasons. Check Craig’s list and resale stores; sometimes bargains are available.
  2. Find out what your farmers’ market and/ or CSA options are, where you live. Plan a non-rushed grocery trip, to start building up your stash of spices and real-food ingredients. Take some processed foods out of the cart, and put some whole-food ingredients in.
  3. Freeze some cooked rice and pasta in 1-cup servings, for future use.
  4. Every day, eat at least one meal and one snack made from the healthy ingredients you bought — more is better, but one is a start! Type ‘vegetarian recipe + (whatever ingredients you have in your newly stocked pantry)’ into any search engine, and see what dinner ideas pop up.

Have fun exploring new food habits, and next week we’ll build on this excellent foundation!

Image credit: Creative Commons photos by judacoregio,Β Neeta Lind, and Max Braun.

Next series installment: Healthy Diet Makeover, Phase Two: Kitchen Groove!

*Not her real name, because privacy is awesome.


  1. Kelli Hall

    GREAT article! Since my husband’s heart attack, I’ve been looking for ways to have ‘heart-healthy’ options in the fridge for his many (MANY) snack attacks. This has DEFINATELY helped! Thank you, Ms. Sitton! I look forward to your next article!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *