With the start of 2012 comes all of our new year’s resolutions … work out more, quit smoking, spend more time with family and friends, find a job. This list also includes a few food-related goals: become a vegetarian, stop buying pints of Ben & Jerry’s, consume more locally grown produce, cook at home more often. Now that we are back in Santa Barbara, away from grandma’s chocolate chip cookies and homemade-gravy-drenched goodness, we have considerably more control over stocking the pantry. Making healthy eating and lifestyle choices now will have a positive effect on our futures.

Here are some small, quick steps to changing your eating habits for the better:

Set reasonable and measurable goals.
I would love to be a Victoria’s Secret model, but sometimes reality holds you back a bit. Consider where you are now and how much effort you will actually put into this. You are much more likely to follow through on a goal that is realistic.

Eat smaller portions five times a day.
Forget about the three core meals. Eating lean meals including (but not limited to) poultry, fish, beans, eggs and nuts a few times a day boosts your metabolism.

Incorporate the food groups into your diet.
While fruits, vegetables and whole grains are arguably more important, a balanced diet is also key.

Opt for nutritional foods.
While a salad may sound like you deserve an award, keep in mind that iceberg lettuce is essentially water. Check out other options like raw spinach that offer you something other than the label “green vegetable.”

Check out your nearest farmers’ market for your produce.
It not only supports local growers, but it’s generally cheaper than what’s at the grocery stores. Plus it’s just a great place to go on a Sunday. The Camino Real Farmers’ Market is held every Sunday morning through the early afternoon

Never go grocery shopping when you’re hungry.
I am incredibly guilty of this one. Believe me, you spend way too much money, buy lots of frozen food and regret every single purchase you just made. It’s not worth the remorse. Make a grocery list and stick to it.

Avoid the goodies.
Foods high in saturated fats, trans fat, cholesterol, salt and added sugars should be enjoyed in moderation. While I would be a hypocrite to say cut them out entirely, knowing when to stop plunging your hand into the M&M’s is imperative.

Snack before going to a big meal.
This will prevent your eyes from being bigger than your stomach while deciding between entrees.

Make your changes gradual.
Your body likes being able to adjust to things. If you suddenly cut something out of your diet, both your mental and physical self might relapse quickly.

Stay focused.
It’s easy to give in … especially when it’s so much easier to just go order a quesarito. Focus a little longer and it will be significantly easier to continue eating well.