And it’s easier than you might think. 

By Dawn Perry
January 04, 2017

I’ve only made one New Year’s resolution for 2017 (well, one new one: I always promise myself I’ll stand up straight, stop rushing, and make peace with my night-guard retainer, but that’s another story). This year I’m resolving to pack my lunch. For the past 13 years I’ve had a job at which I was cooking for the better part of the day—which meant finding something to eat was never an issue. But this job (as Food Director at Real Simple), which I started three-and-a-half months ago, is different. I’m still thinking, talking, and writing about food all day, but I’m not necessarily in the kitchen cooking food. And while my office has plenty of great, healthy options nearby, buying my lunch every day is starting to put a strain on the piggy bank.

So here’s the deal I’m making with myself: I’m going to make every effort to pack my lunch on most days. Not everyday, but most. Which I know isn’t a big deal for a lot of you who don’t cook at work, but it’s a stretch for me. That means taking seriously some of the things I am constantly telling you guys to do at home, i.e. cook more than you need for one meal, do some advanced prep and meal planning on the weekends, and shop smart. So, nothing major and all totally manageable (she says on day two).

I know a lot of you have made food-related resolutions this year. These might include honorable pursuits like eating a balanced breakfast, cutting back on caffeine, eating more whole grains, or simply learning to make scrambled eggs. All things I support if they’re right for you right now, and changes you can actually make without too much remorse if you run off course.

That’s the thing about food resolutions. They are intimidating and often loaded with emotion. We set lofty goals during the coldest and darkest month of the year—I think we can all agree there are more appropriate times to try juicing than when the daily temps average 38°F—and give ourselves a really hard time if we don’t stick to them.

We have to eat for necessity, and it’s my hope (and my life’s work) that I encourage you to eat for pleasure and in good company. To serve a side of rules and regulations alongside our already noble efforts during the dead of winter seems unusual at best, and cruel at worst.

Which is why I’m keeping this year’s resolution so simple. Sure, I should be better at meal-planning, stop counting bacon as a legitimate protein, limit the second glass of wine to weekends, etc. But when it gets dark at 4:30 in the afternoon, a splash of Gamay and a platter of cheese and crackers for dinner is basically the edible equivalent of a light box for those suffering from seasonal affective disorder.

In the past I’ve aimed to eat oatmeal everyday, but I got bored (and there was this really good bagel place downstairs). I’ve tried giving up coffee, but that was no fun for me (or anyone I had to deal with in the morning). Packing my lunch is something I know how to do; I’ve just gotten lazy about it. It doesn’t require any new skills or willpower, just some forethought. And, most importantly, it’s not the end of the world if I mess up.

My feelings about food resolutions are the same as my feelings about resolutions in general. That is, if you want to start or stop doing something, you start or stop right now, whether it’s July 3rd or December 16th. Yes, it’s challenging, but you do it because it’s right for you, not because you have to, and certainly not just because it’s January 1st. When you pick resolutions that suit you, changes that make your life easier, that actually make you feel better, they’ll be easy to stick to.

All this to say, no matter what resolutions you make this year, even if it’s just—ahem—packing your lunch for work or school, go easy on yourself. The point is that our resolutions make our lives better, easier, healthier, happier. Make your resolutions realistic and give yourself a break if you fall off the wagon (or whatever vehicle you hitch yourself to). My therapist once told me following a particularly traumatic breakup, “Try not to beat yourself up over this, even if you sleep with him again.” It was important to hear at the time, and even better advice for tackling life’s other tough commitments. Like blowing off the brownies. These can be hard times. Don’t make them any harder than they have to be.

So, be well, stay well, and, unless medically necessary, don’t put too much pressure on yourself this year. Happy New Year.