“Diet” recommendations are everywhere this time of year. If you are a human who participates in social media, you could be led to believe you’re a terrible, weak person who needs to atone for what you’ve put into your body over the past several months by following a deprivation-based eating regimen that will rob you of the enjoyment of eating. Even if you have managed to overcome the guilt and shame all this information can inspire, the sheer volume of advice on how to “eat better” can be paralyzing.

Let me be a voice of reason in your news feed! First, you are not a terrible, weak person. And, while some people respond well to the structure offered by so-called diets, you don’t have to be on any diet at all to make nutrition a cornerstone of your wellness regime. And in fact, you’ll recognize more sustainable, long-term health benefits by not thinking of what you put in your body as a diet at all. Making (mostly) healthy nutrition choices is medicine! Choosing proper nutrition is a cornerstone of avoiding chronic disease and living a longer and more joyful life.

So, here is what I call the ‘sane common ground’—eating guidelines that are supported by scientific evidence as we understand it today. In this four-part series, I’ll explain what’s behind each recommendation and share some tips on how to incorporate them into your life throughout the year—straight from my family to yours.

#1: Cook at home.

According to a 2003 study of developed countries, there is an inverse correlation between time spent cooking at home and rates of obesity, with the United States and United Kingdom sadly coming in first place for the highest rates of population obesity and lowest average time spent cooking. France, whose decadent cuisine we wouldn’t normally put in the “healthy” category, had the third lowest rate of obesity among countries studied and spent 19 more minutes per day cooking than the U.S. population. Italians (also known to have pretty good food) spend a similar amount of time cooking as the French and also ranked low on the population obesity scale.

Other arguments for cooking at home:

  • Cooking skills correlate positively with weekly vegetable consumption (see #2), according to a European survey of 4,436 respondents.
  • Children who are more involved in home meal preparation consume healthier diets, according to a Canadian survey of 3,398 10 to 11-year-olds.
  • It’s cheaper (I can’t cite evidence for this one, but I’m pretty sure it’s a safe bet).

So, if you regularly source meals in the drive-thru or are on a first-name basis with the local Postmates crew, how do you start? Here are some ideas:

Make a meal plan.

If it is too overwhelming to plan a whole week at a time, plan three days in advance (more frequent trips to the store also means fresher produce!). When you plan your meals in advance and shop for that plan it is much easier to stick to it than if you are making last minute plans after a long day when you are already hungry or grumpy (who hasn’t said “let’s just order pizza” in that situation?). I know when I plan my meals in advance, I am more likely to plan a salad or more veggies as part of the meal. This will also save you money as you are less likely to find a bunch of unused food that is out of date that you bought without a plan and then did not use—and less food waste is also better for our planet!

Meal prep with the next few days to week in mind.

Making a bean and rice bowl with veggies today for dinner? Great! Make twice the beans (Instapot beans are a favorite in my home) and use them later in the week in a soup, on the side of another dish as a quality protein and fiber source—heck just eat some with cheese on top (one of my daughter’s favorites). You may not have time to make fresh beans several days of the week but if you do it once and plan ahead you can have this higher quality staple available to throw into or on anything. Same with veggies. Making a soup that calls for two ribs of celery? While you are chopping cut up the rest of the bunch and put in reusable containers to keep on hand as an easy snack or addition to your lunch.

Make cooking fun!

Get a fun apron for the kids and some kid-safe knives and get them involved in chopping. Put on some fun music. If kids are involved in the decisions and preparation, they are more likely to make good food choices. Ask them to cut up that extra celery and choose a nut butter or cream cheese with a few raisins on top for their lunch.

If you’re not sure where to start making changes in the way you eat, the first step is simply starting at home! I recommend making one or two concrete and realistic changes at a time until they become habit and then building on those.

Be sure to read the other posts in the series to learn more ways to incorporate sound nutrition into your daily life: