“You are what you eat” is a phrase I heard a lot of growing up –– when I reached for a twinkie at a friend’s house and my mom handed me an almond flour cookie instead, or when I was given a Spirulina colored lollipop in lieu of a sour apple Blow Pop after school. I learned at an early age that what we eat directly impacts how we feel, and while I can’t say that I always listened or understood, that simple principle became the guiding force in my life and influenced much of what I do today. 

When my mom was a young woman, she suffered from terrible allergies. She tried the conventional route of allergy testing and medications, but nothing worked. She began to research alternative health and wellness, and found her way to the organic and natural foods movement. This was 40 years ago and green juice and plant-based food didn’t yet have the following it has today. My mom became a renegade scientist, testing recipes and products, and much to my dismay at the time, I was her test case. 

As I got older, I started to understand the relationship between food and my own well-being. I founded Spring Café Aspen eleven years ago on the premise that food should taste delicious, while also nourishing and fueling us. I wanted to create a restaurant where people could enjoy my food philosophy in a thoughtfully curated and non-toxic space, and so began my own journey into health, wellness, and nutrition. This became even more important when I became a mother and had children of my own. I came to realize that it’s one thing to care about what you put into your own body, but it’s another challenge entirely to source the best and cleanest food and ingredients when you are caring for three tiny beings and you know that their future health depends on the choices you make daily. 

The question I get asked most often is where to start. There is an overwhelming amount of information available to us thanks to the internet and social media and it can feel daunting to have to overhaul your entire kitchen. Here’s the thing: you don’t have to change everything all at once. In fact, sometimes changing just one or two things can truly lead to long-term change.

If you’re looking to incorporate Microsteps into your routine to help you be more mindful of your nutrition, here are a few to start with: 

1. Open your pantry or fridge and choose three foods, drinks, or ingredients that you know are not the best for you. 

This could be your morning cereal, a can of soda, or even something less obvious, like your daily loaf of bread. Can you commit to swapping out better-for-you options for these few products and see how it makes you feel? Chances are if you make a few better choices, you’ll feel better and that will make you want to keep going. 

2. Shop organic whenever possible. 

Buying organic fruits, vegetables and grains is one of the best choices you can make for long-term health and disease prevention. Industrial farming utilizes chemicals like glyphosate, which could be harmful to our health. Buying organic, albeit not perfect, guarantees that your food is free of the worst offenders of big agriculture. Plus, here’s a trick to make buying organic more simple: All fruits and veggies have a small sticker with a product number. If it starts with a 9, it means it’s organic. If it starts with a 4 or any other number, it means it’s conventional. This is a great way to make sure your apples are indeed organic! 

3. Look up the “Dirty Dozen” list.

Each year, the Environmental Working Group publishes a list known as the “Dirty Dozen.” This tells the consumers which produce tests positive for the highest levels of chemicals. Crops like apples, strawberries, spinach and corn always make the list. It’s helpful to print out the list and take a copy to the store with you. That way, you can avoid the worst offenders and load up on the clean fifteen instead –– the environmental working group’s list of the least harmful conventional produce. 

4. Commit to cooking once a week.

One of the best ways to clean up your food is to cook it yourself! There are so many chefs and food creators making easy and accessible weeknight meals. Pick one day a week to cook, and aim to make this meal organic and vegetable-focused. Some easy weeknight dinner ideas that feed a crowd are vegetable stir fry with tofu, vegetarian lasagna, a veggie grain bowl, or homemade taco night. These are all recipes you can easily search for online and find many wonderful and simple options. 

5. Look at the ingredients. 

Ingredient lists can be complicated, but there are a few things to look out for if you’re trying to eat more nutritiously. Here are a few ingredients to steer clear of, and what to aim for instead:

  • Refined sugars and artificial sweeteners, like sugar, cane sugar, aspartame, sucralose, high fructose corn syrup. Instead, try coconut sugar, agave syrup, maple syrup, date syrup, or stevia.
  • Highly processed seed oils, like Canola oil, soybean oil, or vegetable oil. Some more nutritious options are avocado oil, coconut oil, or olive oil.
  • Preservatives, like tripotassium phosphate or BHA.
  • Glyphosate. Some products are not certified organic, but are purity label certified or certified Glyphosate free. Look for these labels especially when buying oats and rice based products, which are two things that are usually high in Glyphosate.