How to Put Healthy Eating on Autopilot this Year

This post is the introduction to a series of six posts (one per week) that I’m doing in partnership with Whole Foods and Garmin to start the year. As compensation, I received Whole Foods gift cards and a Garmin vívofit, both of which I’m using to create the content for this series.

(I’ve also got a $100 Whole Foods gift card and another Garmin vívofit to giveaway to a few lucky readers. I’ll include the details for entering in a later post.)

Over the past year or two, I’ve thought a lot about how we’re eating when we’re doing it “right,” versus the odd week — or sometimes, month — now and then when we get off track. Mainly, I mean those times when life with two young kids gets busy and we fall out of the smoothie routine, skip the big salad each day, and order takeout way more than we should.

And what I’ve determined is that it’s never a matter of willpower. Instead, it’s entirely about preparation.

To kick off the year, I thought it would make for a fun post if I did a big Whole Foods trip with the express purpose of buying those staples that make such a big difference in which version of our diet shows up — the foods that essentially put healthy eating on autopilot for us.

So that’s what I did last night, and below I’ll explain how we use each food to grease the wheels in our kitchen.

First, here’s the haul:

groceries

I bought two or three of a lot of the things shown here — the point, after all, was to stock up — but couldn’t fit them all in the photo.

And here’s how each food makes healthy vegan eating (at least, the Frazier household version of it) easy. Unless otherwise noted, almost all of these foods are Whole Foods brand. And they’re mostly organic, but not always.

Tomatoes, celery, avocado, romaine lettuce — for making salads (usually served for lunch with beans and homemade tahini dressing; see below). Why heads of lettuce instead of clamshell packs? I find they stay fresh much longer and are much cheaper per pound. Usually I get romaine, green leaf, or red leaf … whichever looks the best or is on sale.

Tahini — I use this mainly to make an oil-free dressing, with lemon juice, a little vinegar, tamari or soy sauce, water, and sometimes garlic, ginger, or sriracha to jazz it up when I get tired of one variation. There’s a skeleton recipe in the middle of this post if you’re interested in making it.

Baby spinach — to freeze and add to smoothies. I don’t love the taste of fresh spinach, but I can’t taste it at all in smoothies (and crucially, neither can my kiddos). Sometimes instead we eat it fresh and only freeze it for smoothies once it’s ready to go bad, but this time it went right into the freezer.

Raw walnuts — for smoothies. They’re a good source of omega 3 fatty acids (much more so raw than roasted).

Raw (well, steam pasteurized) almonds — for making raw almond butter in our Blendtec. Unfortunately it’s not easy to get completely raw almonds in the United States.

Pumpkin seeds — a good source of iron to that we usually add to smoothies. I meant to get raw, unsalted, but I messed up and got dry roasted and salted. I’ll try these in my smoothie, but figure out another use if the taste ruins it.

Strider’s Snack trail mix — this is my go-to snack most days. If I don’t have it around, I snack on mostly fruit, and miss out on all the benefits of nuts. The nuts here are raw (again, the almonds are steam pasteurized), but I don’t think the raisins are raw since there’s a little bit of oil in the ingredients. It took me a while to get used to snacking on raw, unsalted nuts, but the raisins really help me to enjoy it.

Ripe bananas — we go through so many bananas in my house it’s not funny (good thing they’re super cheap). In smoothies, with breakfasts, as snacks, as desserts. Ever since the Woodstock Fruit Festival last summer we’ve been buying them very ripe, often spotted, because apparently more of the starch has been converted to sugar and they’re easier to digest this way.

Dried chickpeas — for cooking in the crockpot and freezing in small batches. We use them in homemade hummus, on salads, and in any recipe that calls for chickpeas. I’m not against canned beans now and then, but have found that if we have the dried beans, we’ll make them ourselves, and I like that better.

Dried red lentils and coconut milk — ingredients for a meal-in-a-pinch. The coconut milk isn’t in the recipe I use, but sometimes I use it in place of some of the cooking water for a different flavor. I use either this recipe from Anjum Anand, or the adapted version with easier-to-find ingredients that I included in my book.

Almond meal, brown rice flour, and chickpea flour — for their standard breakfast, my kids eat (and freaking love) Heather Crosby’s Heck Yeah, Banana Pancakes from her book, Yum Universe. They’re gluten-free and vegan, so every few weeks my wife breaks out the griddle, makes a huge batch, and freezes them. Heather was kind enough to let me share the recipe, so I’ve included her recipe at the end of this post.

Ezekiel sprouted grain bread — now and then I’ll eat an almond butter sandwich on it, but mostly this is for my kids, who like that for lunch sometimes. Sprouted grain bread is more expensive than regular, of course, but with this and other foods that we eat pretty infrequently, I’m happy to splurge.

Almond milk (unsweetened) — entirely for my kids, who drink it like it’s their job.

GoodBelly — also for kids. My less-than-two-year-old daughter will drink her smoothie straight up, but my four-year-old son sometimes asks that we put a little juice in his. GoodBelly has added probiotics, but honestly that isn’t the reason we use it … our son just happens to like it.

Mountain Air Roasting coffee — Ethiopian coffee from my favorite local roaster. I make a single cup most mornings via a simple pourover method. (Sometimes I cut out coffee entirely for a month or so, but inevitably miss it and bring it back.)

Pisgah Pale Ale — to prevent me from killing my kids. Actually that’s a joke. The real reason is that I grew up in a state where grocery stores couldn’t sell alcohol, and now it’s physically impossible for me to complete a Whole Foods trip without buying a single. Pisgah is a local brewer who uses almost entirely organic ingredients, and if I had to choose just one beer, I’d say Pisgah Pale is the unofficial Beer of Asheville (western North Carolina, where I live).

Buchi kombucha — local kombucha from Asheville. Buchi is actually one of three local food makers (along with Roots hummes, see below, and Smiling Hara Tempeh) that Whole Foods made low-cost loans to when they opened their new store here. Buchi isn’t cheap, and it has a little more sugar than I’d like in kombucha, so I consider it a treat and don’t buy it often. But it’s delicious.

Roots oil-free hummus — my wife, kids, and I love this local-to-Asheville hummus. This is the oil-free version, but they also have all sorts of out-there flavors like Mango Sriracha and Thai Coconut Curry. They were very cool to my wife when she got a few bad containers of it once, so we’re fans for life. I saw Roots hummus in a San Diego Whole Foods too, so I think you can get it just about anywhere these days.

Maggie’s Conscious Vegan Cuisine (Lentils with Green Thai Curry) — this is the only item here that’s not (yet) a staple in my house. I saw it the other day when I needed a quick dinner and it was pretty good: for 12 bucks, we get three total meals out of it, and it requires almost no time or effort, so I’m trying all the varieties and will eventually stock a few for emergencies (though I must admit that’d be a pretty first-world emergency).

You might have noticed there aren’t many ingredients for actual, homemade dinners here — like I said, this was a stock-up trip for the foods that keep our routine running smoothly. Later in this series, I’ll share a few recipes for weeknight and low-cost meals. Patience …

More fun with habit automation!

If you can’t tell, I’m fascinated by the idea of “automating” healthy habits (see my intro to Doug’s recent guest post on tracking for an example).

What I mean, specifically, is answering the question “what can we do to make healthier choices, literally without having to think about it?” Because after all, willpower is finite. Use it with too many or too tough decisions, and you’ll inevitably crash and burn.

This is what I find most interesting about the wearable technology boom, then, and the reason I wrote yesterday that I’ve resolved not to be so anti-technology this year, is that simple awareness of your habit patterns can be enough to improve them — even with little or no conscious effort to do so.

For example, I’m testing out Garmin’s vívofit for this series. It’s the first time I’ve ever worn an activity tracker for more than a few hours, and I’ve noticed something unexpected:

Simply seeing the number of steps I’ve taken each day makes me want to take more.

IMG_0033

To go a step further (got that, “step further”?), there’s an automatic step goal that’s presented to you each morning. Garmin computes it based on your previous behavior, and then tries to get you to improve just a little bit each day.

When I first read about this feature, I thought, “First of all, I don’t care how many steps I take each day. Next, I refuse to walk or run more just to achieve a goal that some mindless algorithm has set for me.”

Four days in, I’ve been proven wrong. The step goal is hands-down my favorite feature. Sometimes, rather than displaying my total steps for the day, I just leave the goal on the screen and watch it tick down. I want to beat that damn computer!

Similarly, there’s the sleep tracking side of things. The vívofit (and a lot of other devices like it) tracks movement while you sleep, and each morning I look at the report to see how I slept.

I can’t say I’ve made any changes as a result of the sleep data, but it’s interesting to me. And, with this idea of habit autopilot on the brain, I’m curious as to whether simply monitoring my sleep will cause me to sleep better.

Will I, consciously or unconsciouly, start winding down a little earlier, in hopes of seeing a better report in the morning? Skip the glass of wine or beer after dinner? Start to notice that certain behaviors (wearing my Ninja Turtle pajamas instead of plaid, spinning around in a circle three times before lying down, etc.) improve my sleep?

Only time will tell …

As Promised: Heck Yeah, Banana Pancakes from Yum Universe

Pancakes_2_RGB

These are the pancakes that my kids love so much and eat for breakfast most mornings. (They’re what the chickpea flour, almond flour, and brown rice flour above are used for.)

Recipe reprinted with permission from Yum Universe, by Heather Crosby, published by BenBella Books, Inc., 2014

2-4 servings

Ingredients:

Dry

  • 1/2 cup chickpea flour (aka garbanzo flour)
  • 1/2 cup brown rice flour
  • 1/2 cup almond flour
  • 1-1/4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
  • Pinch ground cinnamon

Wet

  • 1 ripe banana
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup
  • 1 tablespoon almond butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Steps

1. In a large bowl, whisk together all dry ingredients. Set aside.

2. Mash banana into a smooth paste, then whisk or blend together all wet ingredients until ultra-smooth. Pour wet ingredients into dry and whisk together.

3. Heat a skillet to medium-high and then add a dollop of oil. Using a ladle, pour batter into the hot pan. When the edges of the pancakes start to dry and the tops have bubbles, flip. Cook other side for 2-3 minutes and serve warm.

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Comments

  1. Great stuff, thanks!

  2. de de deLURKING to say how I loved this post.
    <3

  3. Great post, thanks Matt for providing such great insight.
    I’ve been debating the use of fitness tracker for a few weeks now, can’t wait to hear how you like yours.

  4. Great post! My wife and I got VivoFits for the holidays and I’ve been excited to try them out. I think I’m going to print out your list here for the next grocery store run.

  5. Any chance you could create a printer friendly version of this “stock up” grocery list along with your weekly (semi-weekly?) shopping list and a week’s worth of sample menus?
    Thank you,
    Christine
    http://www.EarthSkyAnimalHealing.com

  6. Your post about putting your diet on autopilot is just what I need to be reading right now. We have 3 people eating 3 different ways in my household and sometimes, after everyone else is fed, I stand in the kitchen feeling like I don’t have the time or energy to make myself a decent meal. Thanks for reminding me to plan ahead for those times by stocking up on simple ingredients for my own quick, healthy meals.

  7. I know what I’m making this weekend :)!

  8. Great post and tips to help start off the new year. Haven’t found a pancake recipe both my kids like. Going to try the banana pancake recipe (it does look yum). Thanks for sharing!

  9. We just did our first Whole Foods trip of the year last night. It’s hard to shop elsewhere anymore. We’re addicted!

  10. Wow, thank you for this post….Trying to be better prepared with our busy schedule and eat healthier. I have actually been trying to make some healthier meal plans and make grocery lists to go with it. Can’t wait to read more of what your family does!

  11. Hiya! I noticed some almond milk back there. Do you have any thoughts on whether its important to avoid carrageenan? I’ve tried making homemade almond milk but it doesn’t feel very cost effective!

    • Hi Isabelle! Yes, we do take care to avoid carrageenan since our kids drink almond milk every day (if it were me, who drinks it less than once a month, I wouldn’t worry about it). Last my wife and I checked, this brand (365) didn’t contain carrageenan, and we had a bit of a crisis trying to find another one when 365 was strangely unavailable for a few months.

      You’re right that making it at home isn’t as cost effective, but I did realize the other day when I bought almond meal and almond milk in the same trip that if we were to make our own and then dry out the waste to grind into flour, it might be close to affordable.

  12. A tip for bananas if they have gone a little too spotty: skin them, wrap them in foil and put them in the freezer. Once frozen, take out, mash until smooth and enjoy a lovely, sweet, creamy all natural banana ice cream. Also good with chocolate chips.

  13. Thank you so much that was fun to read Love what your doing for us xoxoxoxox

  14. I like this roundup. I got a few ideas and some other things I see are very similar too. Would love a post or infographic on grocery list as well. 🙂

  15. The hummus recipes in your book are so delicious and quick and easy! Why did you buy store-bought? 🙂

    I love the 365 Almond Milk and now I buy in bulk because I was also at crisis stage when it went short for a period 🙂 Hopefully that glitch in their manufacturing supply is worked out??Do you have an “in” to figure out why that happened? Thanks, Matt!

  16. great stuff! I love the idea of going on autopilot! I’m the person who will think of awesome complex meal menu plans, prepare all meals on one day and half way through the week I’m looking for something not on the menu or plan…normally something unhealthy. I keep telling myself to get those “go-to” healthy foods that I love for those moments but never do. I may just have to do it if I want to have the mental and physical energy I love when I’m in the eating beam.

  17. Love my VivoFit! I replaced the Fitbit when I (accidentally) drowned it this summer stand up paddle boarding. Great post!

  18. I’ve never heard about the Mango Sriracha or Thai Coconut Curry flavored hummus flavors before. But I’ll be making them this week! Thanks for the great post.

  19. I’ve just started reading your blog recently. As a fellow, No Meat Athlete, I’m delighted by all of the insights you share! Thank you!! And I have to agree with you… preparation is truly what makes all the difference. I use that trick to get me up and going for a run or to the gym in the early morning. If I pack my gym bag or lay out my running outfit/gear the night before I am 100% more likely to actually get up in time to go… If I don’t prepare, I simply don’t do it.

  20. Kimberly M says:

    Thanks for sharing your shopping trip. I buy a lot of the same stuff, but I did get a few new ideas, and I always appreciate the new recipes!

  21. Gill Ewing says:

    Great post I shall certainly use for my own grocery list. Special thanks for the idea of freezing fresh spinach (I buy fresh and frozen and never thought of doing this before!) and the banana pancake recipe too. Wonderful!

  22. Hi Matt. Being a triathlete and runner myself I know that Scott Jurek would love this blog. My personal thoughts however is that fish and chicken is ok too eat as part of a balanced diet.

    Most households can definitely increase their intake of vegetables and fruit especially during the winter when it’s important to eat those dark green veg.

    Anyhow, thanks for the post….you’ve found a new follower. 🙂

    • teddybear says:

      I commend anybody for reducing their animal consumption and increasing their vegetable consumption, but I don’t think eating chickens or fish is healthy. Chickens are full of antibiotics and campylobacter, fish are full of mercury and pollutants. As somebody who cannot go vegan due to IBS/intolerances, I find whey protein, goat’s cheese and homegrown eggs answer all my nutritional needs without needing any animal flesh. I hope we can all be vegetarian one day 🙂

  23. Hi Matt! thanks for sharing your article. I do similar things with snacks, I make snack bags and carry them with me so that I dont end up eating junk when the 4pm boredom strikes 🙂
    BTW, I’m assuming the beer you mentioned is vegan? Do you have a list of vegan alcohol? 🙂
    Have a great day

  24. I always kind of cringe when people tell me that I have such willpower. “you run everyday, you eat vegan, you drink water, you don’t drink alcohol” .. I try to explain that this is due to habits and how I choose to live my life, this has nothing to do with willpower. Great post!!

    • Great points, Julie! I could have written the same thing – living this way makes me happy! No will power involved 🙂

  25. It’s definitely time to reboot after the holiday splurge! I did a big Whole Foods shopping trip this morning and bought a big container of baby spinach. I put two giant handfuls in my morning smoothies, so it doesn’t last too long, but I love the idea of freezing it as soon as I get home. Thank you!

  26. Hi, Please could you tell me the gram weights and millilitre capacity of the respective dry and wet “cup”
    Ingredients for the pancakes. I am in West Yorkshire,England and although there are conversion websites available
    I somehow always seem to mess it up!

  27. Love this Matt, but only one avocado?! We need more haha they are great! Ever tried the bosco? Spinach, avocado, grilled vegetabled topped with honest mustard dressing alongside 4 strips of garlic bread – a real taste!

  28. That is a terrific idea for the spinach… I always buy some for smoothies but sometimes have a difficult time eating it all before it gets mushy in the bag. Aside from cleaning the spinach, is there anything you do to it before sticking it in a freezer bag?

  29. Hi Matt, We are heading in to the big city today go to a Whole Foods to stock up! Thanks for all the great ideas and inspiration!!! Since we don’t have a Whole Foods nearby, I am always too overwhelmed when I go into a Whole Foods. Your post gave me a great list of things to try there. They should continue to sponsor you!

  30. Great post! It validates that what I already buy (minus the bananas, which I refuse to eat and admitting that will probably get me kicked out of the running community!) is keeping me on the right track!

    Just wanted to point out that Whole Foods is a great resource but not necessary. Many “standard” grocery stores, and even Walmart, have an extensive selection of organic, local and / or naturally vegan foods! Sometimes I think people are discouraged from eating vegan or in a more healthful manner because they think they *have* to shop at Whole Foods in order to do so.

  31. Hi Matt, great post! I’m a big fan of your posts and recipes. Just starting out on a new journey as a health coach and listed your book on my website/blog as one of my favorites!

  32. I made these pancakes. Took a risk and doubled the recipe because I’m cooking for one and trying to do batch cooking so I always have healthy foods at hand. Used a 1/4 cup measure and ended up with 24 pancakes. The ones I didn’t eat are safely tucked away in my freezer. These turned out really, really good.

    Just curious if anyone has tried these with pureed pumpkin in place of banana?

  33. Carolyn says:

    Excited to try batch freezing this pancake recipe but was just a wondering what people have found to be best way to re heat the after freezing for best texture?

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