Eating more fruits and vegetables won’t be a problem for me in January because I recently decided to do a second annual month of vegan eating. In other words, I’ll be eating ONLY plants this month. This isn’t an ideological thing, I just like to dive deep into a culinary challenge. Last January proved reasonably easy, once I cleared all the dairy products out of my fridge and stocked up on unsweetened soy milk, seitan, tempeh and other such thinags, all of which I enjoy because I ate them as a kid in Southeast Asia. I bought lentils and dried beans in bulk, and filled the cupboard with low-salt canned beans. I have a great rice cooker and would cook enough brown or basmati rice for several days. I roasted a lot of cauliflower, broccoli, sweet potatoes, garlic. I toted leftovers into work and nuked them for lunch.

By week two I was hankering for cheese and eggs, but not for meat. The bigger challenge was that I fell into a sort of hunkering-down rut: a lot of earnest repetition. That’s what happens when you’re on a one-month gig—you can see the finish line, so you don’t really have to innovate. I eventually stayed vegan for almost two months, but I wasn’t experimenting enough.

This time I’m determined to experiment more. A recent meal at Mario Batali’s all-vegetable restaurant in Eataly was instructive. It was the best food I ate at that grand, multi-restaurant Italian theme park in Manhattan. They served caramelized, roasted delicata squash with a layer of creamy, fresh mozza on crusty bread, with olive oil and a tiny bit of salt (show here at right). Who would have thought: squash bruschetta? It was staggeringly good. They also served a terrific shaved-vegetable salad with baby carrots and brussels sprouts (shown bove). I’ve had several shaved-veggie salads recently, using ribbon-thin strands of even tough vegetables like raw turnip, fennel and carrots, with a bracing vinaigrette.
So: more cooking techniques and a wider variety of  vegetables, to avoid the rut. I’m going to use January to expand my skills as a cook.

*See our complete guide to January's Healthy Habits Challenge: Eat More Fruits and Vegetables and check our blogs for updates from Cooking Light staffers who are taking the Healthy Habits Challenge.