“March comes in like a lion, goes out like a lamb,” the saying goes. Spring is in the air and it brings with it the aspirations for rebirth and renewal. It’s also when the first snow peas of the season may start popping up out of the ground.
So it’s apt that the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetic dubbed March National Nutrition Month, a nutrition education and information campaign it sponsors annually. The campaign seeks to “focus attention on the importance of making informed food choices and developing sound eating and physical activity habits.”
Many of us make pledges to eat healthier for the New Year that we may have forgotten by March. As more research supports the health, environmental, and humane reasons to enjoy more plant-based foods, millions of Americans are increasingly eager to do so. If you’re looking to enjoy more plant-based meals for National Nutrition Month and all year long, here are five tips to help make your healthful eating goals stick.
1. Set clear, well-defined goals for yourself. Instead of setting a goal like, “I want to eat more plant-based meals” try, “I’ll always order meat-free meals when dining at restaurants,” or “I’ll replace two items with plant-based alternatives at the grocery store.” Setting these specific parameters will help make decision making easy.
2. Everything is better with friends. Invite a friend, family member, or spouse to join you on this journey. Our eating habits are immensely influenced by our community. In research published in The New England Journal of Medicine, researchers found that an individual’s likelihood of becoming obese rises by 37 percent if their spouse is obese, 40 percent if a sibling is, and 57 percent if a close friend is. Dr. Walter Willett, chairman of the Department of Nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health warns, “Obesity is ‘contagious’ but physical activity and healthy eating are too, so we want to emphasize the latter.”
3. Shout it from the rooftops. Did you know that verbalizing or writing down our goals can help us stick to them? According to psychology professor Gail Matthews at Dominican University in California, individuals who write down their goals will be 42 percent more likely to achieve them. So tell the world!
4. Make the healthy, plant-based choice the easy choice. Let’s face it, we’re busy people. It’s easy to make bad decisions on impulse and especially when we’re hungry. Making it inconvenient to eat foods you’re trying to avoid and making it easy to eat foods you’re trying to consume more of is critical to success. So wash and cut vegetables and put them and a tub of hummus at eye level in the fridge—in a clear container, so they’re the first thing you see when you reach in for a snack.
5. Provide direction and narrow options. Dr. Milena Esherick, program director at The Wright Institute graduate school of psychology, helps individuals with transitioning to plant-strong diets. “Don’t think about the big picture (“eat healthy”),” she encourages individuals to consider. “Think in terms of specific behaviors (“buy soymilk” or “try Meatless Monday”).
In their Plant-Based Diet Guide, Kaiser Permanente physicians predict, “The future of healthcare will involve an evolution toward a paradigm where the prevention and treatment of disease is centered, not on a pill or surgical procedure, but on another serving of fruits and vegetables.” Millions of Americans are seeking to embrace the Three Rs of eating (“reducing” or “replacing” consumption of animal products, and “refining” our diets by choosing products from sources that adhere to higher animal welfare standards), and with good reason.
Schools in the North Bay like Healdsburg Unified, Santa Rosa Unified and more have embraced this concept, recognizing that eating less meat and eating more plant-based foods is better for our health, for the planet, and for animals. Employing these tips and tricks will help us all meet our National Nutrition Month goals all year long.
Middleton is the senior director of Food Policy for The Humane Society of the United States. She lives in Oakland.