How can I get organized for healthy eating?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I know how to eat healthily. But as with other things in my life, getting organized enough to eat that way every day has been a challenge. Do you have any tips?

DEAR READER: You’ve hit on a fundamental problem with successfully making healthy changes. Knowing what the healthy choices are is just the first step. If you aren’t organized enough to put those choices into practice, you won’t reap the health benefits.

You know you should pack a healthy lunch for work. You’ll save calories, fat, sodium and money. But the fridge is empty and you’re out of sandwich bags. Instead, you bring a few extra bucks to work — and end up having a much larger, and less healthy, lunch than you need.

The answer for breaking this cycle is incredibly simple, but it worked for me: organization. If you form a plan and stick to it (yet build in some degree of flexibility), you’ll be able to carry out your health goals more consistently.

The first step is mapping out your schedule. The best way to really know how busy you are is to mark it on a calendar. This will help you recognize times that you’re free for grocery shopping and exercise. Then create a grocery list of healthy staples. You can use this list each week to help you stay organized and steer you toward healthy choices.

These sample items are a good place to start your list:

  • FRESH FRUIT: Eat at least two fruits each day, aiming for day-to-day variety.
  • VEGETABLES: Eat at least five servings of vegetables each day, again aiming for variety.
  • GRAINS: Look for “whole” grain products with at least 3 grams of fiber and less than 5 grams of sugar per serving.
  • NUTS AND SEEDS: Keep the portions small for these higher-calorie foods (no bigger than a flat handful).
  • FISH: Eat fish at least two times each week.
  • POULTRY: Aim for skinless.
  • TUBERS AND LEGUMES: Aim for beans (black, white, garbanzo, lentils), yams, parsnips, turnips and colorful potatoes.

If you need more help getting organized, a new book called “Organize Your Mind, Organize Your Life may help. It can help you do many things you want to do, in less time.

In future columns we’ll talk a lot about how to eat meals that are both healthy and delicious. But your question is not about WHAT healthy eating is. Your question is about how to get your life together to eat the way you want to eat — healthily. To do that, you need to set aside a little time and make a plan. Once you do, it’s hard to make the argument that you’re just too busy to be healthy.