Leveraging the Familiarity Principle :: Basil Artichoke Chicken Butternut Squash Pasta with Cauliflower Alfredo

When facing an opportunity to make a change in our lives we usually have two options:  to orchestrate a big, sweeping, dramatic shift or to take small, incremental steps of progress in the desired direction.  There are certainly merits to both approaches and the ultimate efficacy of either is dependent upon our own proclivities, the nature of the change that we are tasked with, and the circumstances and other constraints surrounding it.  There are many cases where people have been struck by a lightning bolt, new insight, or deep conviction which caused them to instantaneously start or stop doing something virtually overnight and never look back.  A new idea completely disrupts their existing patterns of thoughts and beliefs to the extent that a change is sudden and seemingly irrevocable.  For others, they may feel that taking a big step is a more effective (or at least a less painful) strategy, like “ripping off a Band-Aid” or “going cold turkey”.  By making a drastic alteration quickly, it is easy for people to capitalize on the initial energy that is felt in goal setting and they be able to build momentum which helps them to continue on the right path from there.  But for many others, a very popular, effective, and less intimidating approach has been to make small and consistent progress which over time shapes routines and patterns  to yield sustainable and lasting results.

There is a lot of research and anecdotal evidence to support those people and circumstances that fall into that last category.  To begin with, it just makes sense.  In order to run a marathon, running a mile will be a prerequisite.  Before you can write a novel, you need to write a sentence.  Also, there is often something very motivating about achieving some small, measurable wins which fuels endurance even after the initial excitement and enthusiasm fades.  And another reason that the one-step-at-a-time strategy works is because it gently settles us onto the right path, by allowing some time for adjustment from the familiar to the new.  In The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg describes many different scenarios which illustrate our inherent preference for the familiar due to the activation of regions in our brains which are “associated with pattern recognition and helping the brain decide which inputs to pay attention to and which to ignore.”  By citing  various scenarios across many different industries and settings he concludes that “whether selling a new song, a new food, or a new crib, the lesson is the same:  If you dress a new something in old habits, it’s easier for the public to accept it.”

I believe this is important when making a shift to eating more nutrient dense and less processed foods.  Most people have tried dieting and failed countless times, often rebounding from their short lived success and results to a situation worse than their previous status.  While the knowledge has really always been there, in recent years it seems as though there has been a shift towards educating people that healthy living is for life and that making fundamental changes to the way that we eat and exercise forever is much more effective than anything which is for a defined period of time or which is ultimately unsustainable.  But for many, this is easier said than done.  This is where I think that the familiarity principle can come into play, especially with some of those first baby steps towards your goals.  Many people have a deep appreciation and love for foods which are hard to let go of, even though they understand that these same things may be making them sick or tired, or “fluffier” than they would prefer.  If you can find ways to adapt some of your old favorite meals into some more nutritious alternatives, you may find the transition easier and increasingly tasty as your body begins to better recognize and appreciate real foods and flavors.  By introducing and substituting some healthier ingredients for some of the most problematic ones, you are able to dress that old comfort meal or beloved dish in some new clothes and to your surprise, you may 1. not even notice the difference (REALLY!) or 2. find that you like the new version even better (this happens to me ALL the time).

One real life example is this Basil Artichoke Chicken Pasta with Cauliflower Alfredo Sauce.  The flavors are intense and the textures are substantial – so although you probably won’t mistake the butternut squash noodles for fettuccine any time soon, I am sure you won’t miss your standard pasta either.   Tried and tested by those who generally eat a standard diet/mainstream foods, this was something that they were willing to try based on the fact that it was inspired by a more common dish (familiarity) AND after trying, they appreciated the more vibrant and rich flavors as something relatively novel to be savored.  Substituting the creamy butternut squash for pasta, the cauliflower for dairy-heavy alfredo, and topping the whole thing with the punchy basil and artichoke sauce achieves a complex melody of flavor which is far more exciting than plain broiled chicken and steamed broccoli, but still comprised of only whole and minimally processed ingredients.

Another important point about this recipe, is that you can mix and match any of the component parts to save you time and spice things up!  I made these items as part of my #Sundaymealprep and have already added the delicious Basil Artichoke Sauce to some hard boiled eggs as a protein and healthy fat snack (it also goes well with eggs of any kind, chicken or fish as a nice topper) and plan to use the leftover Cauliflower Alfredo Sauce for an entirely different Shrimp Zoodle/Courgetti Dish later on in the week.  Mixing and matching your prepped items like this is a fantastic way to avoid waste, save time and money, and keep things exciting.


Basil Artichoke Chicken Butternut Squash Pasta with Cauliflower Alfredo

Prep time: 

Cook time: 

Total time: 

Serves: 4

A ridiculously rich and indulgent blend of real food flavors with all winning component parts that can be enjoyed not only together but also as pieces of other meals throughout the week.
Cauliflower Alfredo Sauce (separate recipe below) 2 cups
Butternut Squash Noodles
  • Butternut Squash,1 large or 2 medium
  • Olive Oil 1 TBSP
  • Sea Salt and Black Pepper to Taste
Baked Chicken
  • Chicken Breasts 4 each
  • Melted Coconut Oil 2 TBSP
  • Sea Salt and Black Pepper to Taste
Chopped Sundried Tomatoes .25 cup (30 g)
Basil Artichoke Sauce
  • Drained marinated artichoke hearts 1 cup (170 g)
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil .25 cup (60 ml)
  • Fresh Basil Leaves .25 cup (6 g)
  • Minced Garlic Cloves 2 each
  • Zest and Juice of half a Lemon
  • Sea Salt .25 TSP
Butternut Squash Noodles
  1. Line a baking sheet with foil and preheat the oven to 375 F/190 C.
  2. Cut the ends off the butternut squash so you have a flat surface to work with and then carefully cut of the peel, working from top to bottom.
  3. Spiralize the butternut squash using a desired shape and size. I picked a medium version which is most similar to fettuccine.
  4. Toss the "noodles" in a medium sized bowl with the olive oil, salt and pepper and then spread them out on the foil lined pan.
  5. Bake for about 20-25 minutes until the squash is cooked through and then set aside.
  1. Meanwhile, line another baking sheet with foil and place the chicken on the tray.
  2. Drizzle with coconut oil, season with salt and pepper and place in the oven on a separate shelf. Bake for about 15-20 minutes until cooked through to 165 F/74 C
Basil Artichoke Sauce
  1. Place all the ingredients in a blender and blend until well combined, but still slightly chunky. Enjoy as a topper for this meal or with literally any other protein as a sauce!
Putting it altogether
  1. Place the butternut squash noodles in a large bowl along with the warm Cauliflower Alfredo Sauce and toss lightly to combine.
  2. Separate the butternut squash mixture onto four serving plates.
  3. Slice the chicken into ¼ inch strips against the grain and chop the sundried tomatoes. Add both to the top of the butternut squash noodles
  4. Spoon a couple of tablespoons of the Basil Artichoke Sauce over the top and enjoy the flavor explosion!

Cauliflower Alfredo

Prep time: 

Cook time: 

Total time: 

Serves: Varies

Versatile dairy-free Alfredo Sauce which is easy to make and can be used for a variety of Whole30, Paleo, or conventional pasta dishes!
  • Coconut Oil 1 TBSP
  • Small Yellow Onion, Diced 1 each
  • Garlic Cloves, Minced 5 each
  • Cauliflower 1 head
  • Bone Broth 1 cup (235 ml)
  • Unsweetened Almond Milk .5 cup (120 ml)
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
  1. Chop the cauliflower into small florets, about 1 inch pieces and set aside.
  2. Melt and heat coconut oil in a medium stockpot over medium heat and sautee the onion for about 5 minutes or until soft and translucent.
  3. Add the minced garlic and cook for another 1 minute.
  4. Add the chopped cauliflower and the bone broth to the stockpot along with the bone broth and cover.
  5. Allow the cauliflower to cook for about 10 minutes on medium heat or until the cauliflower is soft.
  6. Then add all contents of the pot to a blender along with the remaining ingredients and blend until smooth and creamy!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Rate this recipe:  

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.