As we’re hurtling toward the New Year at unrelenting speed, many of us are carving out moments to reflect and set intentions for the year ahead. In these most hopeful of moments, in the darkest days of the year, our intentions and resolutions aim to create change in some of the most fundamental areas of our lives – how we treat and maintain our bodies, the everyday choices we make, and how we show up in our relationship with ourselves those around us.
Yes, each December we repave the road to misery.
Forgive me for the dramatics. The hard truth is that the vast majority of resolutions do not come to fruition: according to a study by the University of Scranton, only a meagre 8% of folks actually follow-through on their intentions. And that 8% (those keeners!) are only 10% more likely to achieve success than those who don’t make any formal resolutions at all.
This may not be news to you. Also unsurprising is that top resolutions relate to self-improvement, weight, and money. These are all admirable areas for betterment, and despite the grim statistics, are not hopeless.
Success doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Everything is related.
Anyone who has tried to lose weight, successful or not, can probably tell you it’s not all about squats and restraint from eating whole bags of cookies (though those things undoubtedly help.) Weight loss is about changes in habits big and small, revamping our routines, and renovating how we think in order to make lasting lifestyle changes. No wonder it’s so difficult. My first Whole Life Challenge* taught me a lot of things about my body. When I sleep enough, I crave less sugar. Thus, sleeping well helps keep my nutrition goals on track. When I exercise, I sleep better. Thus exercising helps keep my nutrition goals on track. Who knew? Many goals need (or at least benefit from), a holistic or multi-pronged approach. But this isn’t a piece about weight loss, so let’s move along…
Our senses are powerful.
Goals need to be tangible, with sensory cues and minimized barriers.
Here’s a simple, actionable starting point for embarking on a new year that brings together areas of health, money, and your best self:
Look at how you store and manage food.
Now, you might be thinking, “What does that have to do with anything?” But consider this – if you have ready-to-go, easily accessible veggies sticks visible at the front of the fridge, versus a box of cookies at the back of a cupboard that you need a step stool to get to – are you more likely to choose the veggies? Maybe not, but choosing the cookies will definitely be more intentional than knee-jerk. Start by asking yourself, why do I like this? Why do I avoid this? What about this is or is not satisfying? Subtle barriers like an overcrowded shelf or cupboard can impact our decisions.
We know nourishment and hydration are essential. They are part of our every day and find their way into all we do and feel, whether we realize it or not. Food occupies a large portion of most household budgets, can be a source of much waste, financially and otherwise, and is inextricably linked to our health.
What do I mean by barriers?
Here’s an example: I used to manage a restaurant and we had a simple black hardcover notebook as our “communication book”. One time, I replaced it with a binder to make it easy to add things I’d printed off. Just like that, everyone stopped reading it. I mean immediately. Full stop. Why? Because it took up more space on the counter when it was open, which made reading it awkward. Barriers may not be obvious, but they’re real.
The ABC’s of fridge and pantry maintenance:
- What do you have in your cupboards, your fridge, and your freezer?
- Is it all fresh, edible?
- Can you reasonably go through what you have while it is still fresh & edible? In your lifetime?
- Is there anything you avoid or don’t use? Why?
- Do all the foods and beverages in your home align with your life and health goals? Why or why not?
- Are there challenges with space? Accessibility? Visibility?
- Is there anything that would make things easier?
Bundle the Work
If there are things you avoid on the basis of time & effort, bundle the work. For example, if I buy kale, it stays fresher and I use it more readily if I wash it, remove the stalks, and bag it. If I just put it in the fridge straight from the market – no matter my best intentions – it yellows and wilts and eventually ends up in the compost, despite my best intentions. Why? because it’s not ready to go when I need it (read: when I’m hangry).
Batch prepping can revolutionize your kitchen routine with an efficient production approach. Peel a bunch of garlic cloves and store in the fridge. Chop peppers, onions, carrots, and more in advance for quick stir-fries, soup, and snacks. Make the mess once, clean up once, and make life way easier when you get home from work starving.
Prep foods where portion control is a struggle. You may not want to give up or throw out all the foods that don’t align with your health goals, but you can take actions to bring them closer in line with your objectives. For example – pre-portion ALL the cookies – makes for quick brown-bagged lunches and mindful portion control. Individual portions provide a physical cue when to stop, and reusable, re-sealable bags can be more environmentally and budget-friendly options than many of the pre-packed single serve snacks that are in non-recyclable foil or plastic packaging.
Condense & Choose Wisely
I store everything in mason jars. EVERYTHING. I use three sizes of wide-mouth jars, with labeled white plastic lids. When I get low on something, I maximize space by swapping the lid and contents to a smaller jar. When I get to the smallest jar size, I know to buy more (if the contents are something I plan to keep in my pantry.) The labeled lids serve as an ongoing shopping list. I don’t have issues with mice, grain weevils, or other nasty critters, and I’m able to store almost all my dry goods efficiently and attractively on a small shelf in my kitchen. Everything I have is visible, and I can see what’s left at a glance. The jars also serve to freeze soup and other premade meals, and I often have a good stock of empty jars in the rotation that can be used as glasses if I have a big crowd at my house.
The fact that you spent money on something is not a reason to keep it, or at least not a good reason. If you don’t eat or drink it and enjoy it, it shouldn’t be taking up valuable fridge and pantry space. Grab some empty boxes and label them Discard, Donate, and Re-home. All expired foods go in the discard box to be composted or properly disposed of. Unopened packages that are still before their expiry dates can be donated to a food bank or shelter. Opened packages of still edible goods could be offered to friends or family who may use and appreciate them.
Cleaning out your fridge and pantry can be a powerful exercise in intention. Adopt a ‘once it’s gone, it’s gone’ policy for foods that don’t align with your goals. Further streamlining your food storage by not replacing foods that are on the ‘chopping block’ can provide a great sense of accomplishment and ownership over your goals.
Tips for a well-functioning fridge and pantry:
- Determine your essentials and create spaces for them. Choose uniform containers that stack and are easily washed. Choose your containers by the package sizes of what you buy and use frequently, and by appropriate portion sizes. Be wary of marketing, of new and fancy products, and of things you really don’t need and probably won’t use. Embrace the basics. Strive for a pantry your grandmother would understand.
- Label makers are easy to use and super helpful in creating an attractive, functional pantry. Not everyone can tell the difference between salt and sugar, or cornstarch and icing sugar. Help these people in your household.
- Get yourself a good set of spice jars that aren’t too large and that fit the drawer, cupboard, or shelf where you store them, preferably away from heat and light.
- Buy spices in small packages (remember that time you filled your luggage with spices from _________ and then didn’t use them or even remember what they were? Don’t do that.)
- Don’t buy more than you need. Minimize packaging wherever possible. Look for bulk stores that let you bring your own containers. Nothing is a good deal if you won’t use it while it’s fresh and edible. Let’s say that again, all together now: Nothing is a good deal if you won’t use it while it’s fresh and edible.
- Consider unconventional storage – drawers for canned food and open cupboards or shelving for high-visibility.
*Disclaimer: I am in no way affiliated with or compensated by Whole Life Challenge, but I do believe it to be a useful tool to create lifestyle awareness and lasting lifestyle change.