Solutions For Unhealthy Eating Patterns

By: Cassidy Hobbs
NC Cooperative Extension

One of the top reasons for unhealthy eating patterns that I hear from community members is, “I know what to do, I just have a hard time actually doing it.” Then there is the ‘I’m too busy to eat healthy’ and ‘it’s too expensive.’ My favorite is ‘I know I shouldn’t eat out so much, but I don’t know how to cook healthy.’ If you fit into any of these categories, today is your day!

We all know that physical activity is important for overall health, eating more calories than you burn leads to weight gain, sugar adds lots of unwanted pounds and health risks, and (if you have been reading my articles) you know fiber helps manage blood pressure, blood sugar, weight, and cholesterol as well as lowers your risk for cardiovascular disease.

The problem arises when it is time to apply that information. Suppose you find a recipe that aligns with all of the current, research-based dietary information, but it appears the recipe is too time-consuming or you don’t have all of the ingredients. Don’t count out that recipe without considering the following.

Consider this recipe: Taking care of the prep work beforehand is the key to saving time. If buying pre-chopped vegetables is in your food budget, they can be huge timesavers. If not, do the work ahead of time.

For this recipe, cut and boil the sweet potatoes, brown and drain the turkey, and cut the vegetables ahead of time. In order to save even more time, go ahead and prepare the mashed sweet potato topping in full, keeping it in the fridge for the following night when you plan to put the recipe together.

If you already have leftover mashed potatoes, use them as an “ingredient swap” or as a “pre-prepared ingredient” instead of thinking of them as boring leftovers. Yes, swapping the sweet potato topping for leftover mashed potatoes would alter the nutritional information shown in the recipe, as well as the taste, but you are swapping potatoes for potatoes.

It is also possible that your family does not like everything in the recipe or you could not find everything included in the recipe. Don’t fret!

I made this recipe last night, and my greatest tip to you (aside from prepping some ingredients ahead of time) is to use recipes as a guide. It can be easy to pass up a great recipe because you do not have all of the ingredients, but recipes aren’t rules! There is more than one way to do things, right? Recipes are no different.

This recipe suggests that you peel the sweet potatoes, however, I chose not to peel the potatoes because I knew I was planning to throw them into a blender and essentially make a puree- after all, leaving the skin on is extra fiber! My blender is smaller than average so I had to split my potatoes up into groups and blend them a little at a time.

During this, I later realized that I never added the sour cream- oops! The mash tasted great even though I left out an ingredient! Rather than using the vegetables suggested in the recipe, I used half of a bag of mixed peppers and onions sautéed and mixed with a can of drained mixed vegetables (corn, potatoes, carrots, lima beans, and green beans).

While preparing the meat mixture for the pie, I realized I did not buy tomato paste, so I used ketchup. I didn’t have rosemary or fresh garlic on hand, so I substituted Italian seasoning for the rosemary and garlic powder for the cloves of garlic.

Keep in mind that just because the recipe calls for “fresh” does not mean you have to use fresh items if they aren’t available or in season. Frozen or canned options are great ways to save money, and reusing leftovers as “pre-prepared ingredients” conserves monetary and time resources.

My Shepherd’s Pie turned out great, and I used the recipe as a guide to make it my own. If you are looking a vegetarian option, use vegetable stock rather than chicken stock. Mushrooms, beans or lentils make for a great turkey swap. The point is, recipes aren’t rules and recipes can be prepared in stages to save time.

For more information, contact Cassidy Hobbs at the N.C. Cooperative Extension, Johnston County Center by calling 919-989-5380 or emailing