The Food Spectra: A Game-Changing Way to Simplify Your Food Decisions

I discovered this magical way of viewing food in college, when money was scarce, free food was plentiful and greasy, and I found myself gaining weight and feeling kind of icky often.

Ever since, I’ve viewed food on the four spectra of:

cheap, easy, healthy, and delicious.

Here is where that free pizza they were handing out on campus fell:

Whereas the image I had in my mind as synonymous with “healthy,” which was a big green salad, was here on the spectra:

Is it any wonder I accepted the free mediocre pizza and wrote “healthy” off my list of possibilities? I didn’t like vegetables, and the siren call of “cheap” and “easy” was compelling.

What’s currently driving how you eat?

Defining Terms

It turns out that every one of these metrics, with the exception of “healthy,” is highly personal.

All the science I’ve seen points to a whole food plant-based diet as being the Healthiest. It reverses and prevents many chronic diseases, promotes a healthy weight, and helps people feel their best.

But are whole plant foods Delicious? That, it turns out is a matter of opinion. I was a veggie-hater my whole life until I made the switch to a plant-based diet. My tastes have changed and I now eat hundreds of dishes I would definitely call delicious! What I’ve found is that while some plant-based foods are more universally delicious, like a freshly picked strawberry, others are only delicious if the rest of your diet isn’t full of processed food. Broccoli has its own appeal, but will lose to Cheetos because Cheetos don’t fight fair.

What does Easy mean? For some people it means essentially instant. If they can buy the food already made, that’s easy. Spending time in the kitchen chopping stuff definitely means that particular food is not easy. Leftovers are easy and that’s one reason we love them around here. Of course there’s a continuum.

We often think in terms of whether obtaining and preparing the food is Easy, and neglect whether the food makes our life overall easier. 100 million Americans have Diabetes or Pre-Diabetes. I think chopping stuff up for a salad is overall easier than living with diabetes. Just sayin’. My husband tells me there were a lot of things that were hard about being 100 pounds overweight that he didn’t fully realize until he slimmed down.

How about Cheap? This, again, is highly personal and dependent on your immediate situation. For someone who is used to eating out, making their own meals is automatically cheap. For someone who is used to ramen, fresh spinach is going to come with a sticker shock.

One thing we rarely consider is how expensive it is to be in poor health. Everything from life-long medication for blood pressure to sick days taken from catching yet another cold take their toll, and anyone facing heart surgery would tell you that it’s far cheaper to fight heart disease with kale than it is with an operation.

How I Make Food Decisions

We try to eat a 90% whole food plant-based diet. That means aside from an occasional indulgence, I make Healthy my first decision criteria.

When I first made that change 10 years ago, it limited my options dramatically. I didn’t want to eat anything that wasn’t at least somewhat delicious, and I didn’t know how to cook with vegetables, thereby causing many things to be hard. Oh, and did I mention my husband was in medical school and we were going to have our first baby? Cheap was highly important as well.

Thank goodness for beans and rice.

(As my tastes changed and I learned how to cook better, those beans and rice got more delicious and even easier. )

Apples we could go pick ourselves? You guessed it. Healthy, cheap, easy and delicious.

Oatmeal? Healthy and cheap. Once we learned how much yummier steel-cut oats were and all the great stuff we could add to them? More and more delicious. We figured out where to buy steel-cut oats inexpensively in bulk and how to cook them without spending time standing at the stove. Now they tick all the boxes.

See how magical this is? Now when I encounter a new recipe (or a subpar store-bought cookie at an event), I can quickly evaluate whether I want it in my life.

As you may have guessed, I give more weight to “Healthy” than the other categories. “Cheap” is rated less now that I have more wiggle room in my budget. “Easy” is more important now that I have 5 children I’m homeschooling.

Simpler Food Decisions

Difficult recipe? It had better be out-of-this-world delicious or it’s a definite NO.

Healthy but contains beets (ie not delicious)? NO. There are plenty of yummy healthy foods. I can pass on things I just don’t like.

Delicious recipe but not healthy? Usually a NO from me because delicious food is only briefly enjoyed whereas the effects of fueling your body well endure. Besides, I’ve been eating this way long enough I have dozens of options that are both delicious AND healthy. It’s not either/or. It’s both!

Delicious and healthy? YES, please. In my experience, if I find something that is both delicious and healthy, there are lots of ways to get it cheaper or easier.

Put it on The Food Spectra

If you’re new to the idea of plant-based eating, hang in there. Stick to your goals and keep finding those things that are healthy AND fit the other criteria that are most important to you.

With some time and practice, it will become easier and your tastes will change so that the big bowl of salad is actually delicious. Trust me, I’ve changed from being a veggie hater to a veggie lover!

2 thoughts on “The Food Spectra: A Game-Changing Way to Simplify Your Food Decisions”

  1. Thank you for the post. I am an avid runner and try and eat as healthy as possible but time can hinder my eating a little so I like your food spectrum and taking easy into consideration. I am looking forward to looking at and trying your recipes!

  2. I love this post! the line ” I think chopping stuff up for a salad is overall easier than living with diabetes” really hit home for me. I make the majority of our food from scratch because it’s healthy, inexpensive, and typically I can have food on the table in less time than it would take to order and have food delivered. Its all a matter of perspective – and I love yours 🙂

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