What if your New Year’s resolutions to eat healthier and lose X-number of pounds simultaneously made planet Earth healthier too? How great would that be?

We typically fill January with lofty me, me, me self-improvement goals, hang all else, that are doomed to fail because of their unspecific grandiosity. Sorry to be so harsh, but you know perfectly well what I’m talking about.

The key is baby steps. After six weeks of too much sugar, salt, fat, and liquor, here are my top “incrementals” that will take me (I hope) from wish to reality:

Eat out less. Sorry, dear chef friends, this month I’ve got to tighten my belt in all manner of ways. It’s just too hard to resist your decadent offerings when all I have to do is point to them on the menu. Too hard to keep from cleaning my plate or ordering dessert. Plus, um, how much sodium in a serving of baccalao?

Cook more. The surest method to portion control, healthy eating, and extra dollars in the bank is to shop for and cook our own food. It’s very self-limiting. Here’s where the bigger picture added value comes in: As any activist food writer—Michael Pollan, Marion Nestle, Mark Bittman, among others–will tell you, the act of home cooking provides the opportunity to support local agriculture and purchase foods that were grown in ways that protect and restore the soil.

If you don’t yet shop from local producers, try this baby step in 2015: Buy from a local farmer at least once this month. Winter is a great time to ease into farmers’ markets; they are smaller and more manageable. If you live in a cold climate (brrr, I’m talking to you, Midwest and east coasters), you’ll be surprised at what you can find beyond jams and Christmas garlands. If you are in the Los Angeles area, treat yourself to my winter farmers’ market tour on January 28, when we will focus on seasonal ingredients that help us reach our New Year’s goals.

Next, add monthly visits to the farmers’ market and watch the seasons evolve as more and more crops appear. By the time the hurly burly summer markets arrive, you’ll be a pro at sussing out the bargains. If this is too big a step for you, make a resolution to shop more often from the perimeter of the supermarket, where  the whole foods live. That’s the best way to purge processed foods from your system.

Eat simply. Wherever you are on the healthful food scale, add just one day a week of light, clean, meatless cooking. By clean, I mean steamed, poached, or roasted rather than fried, sauced, or otherwise fat-laden. But don’t skimp on flavor. Eat more easy-to-prepare  vegetable-based soups and stews like the no-cream, creamy parsnip puree pictured above, Elegant Borlotti Bean and Swiss Chard Soup with Red Carrots and Wild Mushrooms, and the Beans, Greens, and Butternut Squash Stew recipe below. Fill in the week with light, fish-enriched one-pot meals like this easy Detox dinner or any of these other suggestions:

Happy virtuous eating! Let me know what works for you.

Greens, Beans, and Butternut Squash Stew

Makes 6 to 8 servings

4 dried smoked tomatoes
1 chipotle chile (NOT the canned kind in adobo sauce)
1 to 2 bunches Swiss chard (enough to yield 8 cups chopped greens), or other quick-cooking green, such as Tuscan kale
1 medium onion, chopped
4 large cloves garlic, minced, about 2 tablespoons
2 pounds winter squash, such as butternut
3 cups cooked beans, such as cranberry or peruano, and their cooking liquid (see below)
1/2 cup vegetable stock or water
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, avocado, or grapeseed oil
Kosher or sea salt
1 large lime
A nice big handful of cilantro
Cooked quinoa or brown rice to serve, optional

Soak the tomatoes and chile in ½ cup hot water for 10 minutes. Use a kitchen scissors to snip the tomatoes in small pieces and to split the chipotle lengthwise leaving the stem end attached. Return them to the soaking liquid.

Meanwhile, wash the Swiss chard and strip the stems from the leaves. Chop the stems crosswise into small pieces. Cut the leaves crosswise into ½-inch wide ribbons. (If you are using kale, discard stems; they are too tough.) Peel the butternut squash and cut into 1- to 2-inch pieces.

Heat the olive oil in a wide pot over medium heat. Stir in the chopped onion and chard stems. Add a generous pinch of salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the garlic and cook 1 minute.

Add the squash cubes and about a ½ teaspoon salt to the pot, top with the chard leaves, and cover the pot. Cook until chard is wilted and squash is bright orange, 7 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Stir in the beans and ½ cup of their cooking liquid. Add the tomatoes and chipotle and their soaking liquid. Add ½ cup water or vegetable stock and the remaining salt. Cover pot and reduce heat to low. Simmer the stew until squash is tender and flavors are blended, 15 to 20 minutes. The dish may be made to this point a day ahead and reheated. Spoon into bowls (over quinoa or brown rice if using), and top each with coarsely chopped cilantro and a squeeze of lime.

Click here for a printable version of this recipe.

© 2012, Amelia Saltsman