Posts tagged ‘healthy food’

May 18, 2017

Healthy is Beautiful

Why can’t we see that healthy is beautiful? This week there were radishes in my CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) box. I immediately thought of my grandmother. As the host of all of our Sunday family dinners, birthday celebrations, Thanksgiving meals, and Christmas lunch, she never molded, garnished, piped or styled anything. She didn’t take the time to weave a lattice top over her apple pie, she just rolled a second crust and put a few slits in the top. Her one nod to beautifying her food was the radish rose. Even those she kept simple, using a few rudimentary cuts. Then she placed them on a china plate – sometimes her pattern and sometimes her mother’s.
If this leaves you thinking the table was bland or ugly, think again. A simple white on white table cloth held pristine china, real silverware, cloth napkins, and a row of serving bowls down the center brimming with food from the garden — bright yellow corn, red tomato slices, green okra or string beans with new potatoes. Even the stuffed peppers were home grown, and the dark red Bing cherries were picked fresh from a tree in her yard. Gran may not have used the silver service that sat in her china cabinet next to the dining table or made room for flowers and candles on the table, but her table was elegant, inviting and filled with colorful, fragrant, delicious, fresh food.
What would Gran think of styling or plating food? I don’t know if she’d object. She wasn’t particularly rough around the edges. Her grammar was impeccable, her nails were always perfectly manicured and painted bright red, and she never gave up her high heels. She just had her own sense of priorities and a limited amount of time. That led to practical decisions. Gran was able to discern that fresh ingredients and skilled preparation would trump appearance in the long run so that’s how she allotted her time.

She also shopped and delivered groceries to a disabled man on a regular basis, made regular nursing home rounds to visit old friends, was church clerk and worked 40 hours a week. If you had suggested she style her food rather than perform these tasks, I’m pretty sure she would have stomped her foot and sent you out of the room. That sort of prioritizing just made her mad.

Maybe it’s my grandmother’s influence, or perhaps I’ve just hit that age when lots of things don’t make sense, but our current priorities leave me frequently feeling out of sync. We spend lots of time, energy, and money making things look good on the surface when doing so means sacrificing quality, health, resilience, accomplishment, character, learning, and deep connection. You can see this in play in many areas:
Relationships – Dump this imperfect person for the next imperfect person instead of examining our contribution to the problem
Parenting – Help the child with his homework so he gets a good grade rather than allowing him to learn from failure
Education – Teach to the test instead of teaching how to learn and process knowledge, i.e. think critically
Finances – Spend and borrow so we appear affluent now rather than plan and save for later
Beauty – Starve, cover, augment, inject, fill, and color instead of appreciating the beauty of our natural attributes
Psychological & Emotional Health – Numb with drugs, alcohol, video games, excessive spending, and overworking rather than feeling and healing
Politics – Say what appeals to constituents right now no matter how a policy will affect the country in the future
Nutrition – Substitute packaged, processed, fortified and convenient for fresh, whole, nutrient-rich, minimally processed and variety
Medicine – Treat symptoms with meds in instances when lifestyle changes can be equally effective

The shift in priorities from Gran’s era to now is rarely questioned, but it doesn’t seem to be serving us well. In my city, the homicide total to date is more than double last year’s rate as of this date. The number of nonfatal gunfire injuries has increased 92 percent. Opioid addiction is at an all-time high. Chronic disease is increasing across all age groups. Political divisiveness and hostility now frequently erupt into contentious confrontations. Rudeness abounds. Bad behavior is presented as the norm of the reality TV star. The US barely makes it into the top 20 list of countries with the highest standard of living as measured by the Social Progress Imperative.
How many of these problems could we reverse simply by prioritizing basic healthy practices-
Getting enough sleep
Eating fresh, minimally processed food
Finding a way to be active 5-6 days per week
Making time for stillness
Forgiving ourselves
Owning our decisions
Setting boundaries
Showing appreciation
Practicing gratitude
Listening to each other
Showing compassion

Of course, there’s no way to know, but I believe we have the ability to improve anything on which we focus our energy. If we simply viewed healthy as beautiful, it’s clear we’d throw lots of time, money, and energy into achieving a healthy state. Perhaps we can start by pausing a moment to see the beauty in colorful fresh vegetables, fragrant herbs, and listening to each other over a bowl of homemade soup.

With her energy focused on growing and preparing vegetables, making pickles and tomato juice, and keeping the cookie jar full, Gran may not have had time for frilly or fancy, but she certainly provided a beautiful spread. She’s been gone for more than 20 years and we still talk about those meals. We miss them. On Gran’s table, healthy food had lasting beauty.

The lasting beauty of healthy food that contributes to healing – that’s a priority I can get behind!



October 22, 2012

Convenience Foods – Is All Convenience Created Equal?


In our overworked, overachieving, over-busy culture, we have come to value convenience. Our gas stations offer convenience stores filled with edible packaged products just down the street from a row of drive-through restaurants that promise quick meals we can eat in the car on the way to our next deadline.

When we want a full meal at home, we grab a frozen entrée and pop it in the microwave for five minutes. If we’re worried about health, it’s easy to read the nutritional information on the label for reassurance that we are on the right path. In fact, the label may contain familiar platitudes: Fat-Free; No Added Sugar; No Trans Fats; Low-Carb; High-Fiber. Attractively packaged and ready to consume, processed foods have become a family meal mainstay.

Convenience isn’t a bad thing per se. Incorporating convenient food allows us to move faster, do more, and increase accomplishment. As a culture, we value accomplishment so much that most of us keep adding duties and activities to our family lives so that we have more and more opportunity to achieve it. In the process, we have come to view all convenience as inherently good. We give no thought to the possibility that there is any other way to view it.

As the health of our nation declines, it is time to ask:  Is all convenience created equal?

When I say “convenience food”, what is your first thought? Perhaps it’s a frozen waffle, a protein bar, or your favorite drive-through French fry. Most likely it comes in a brightly colored cellophane package or paperboard box. It is much less likely that you immediately visualize an apple, a banana, a bowlful of fresh cherries, a chunk of Manchego cheese, some raw carrots, or a handful of raw cashews, but are these fresh items any less convenient to consume? Are they any less tasty than their processed counterparts?

It is true that fruit, a chunk of cheese, or a few loose nuts may require a few minutes of time to clean or package for transport to your office. Does such preparation take more time than you would spend in a drive-through line? Does it take more time than you would spend walking to a vending machine? Must a carry home meal on a busy night be from a fast-food drive through? Why do we restrict our view of convenience foods to prepackaged, processed choices?

Advertising supports our belief, although false, that without processed foods we’ll be missing the essential vitamins, minerals, and fiber with which they are “fortified”. Package design entices with words like rich, creamy, crunchy, nutritious, and delicious. Many of our favorite convenience foods are filled with sugar, carbohydrates or high fructose corn syrup that makes us crave more sugar and carbohydrates. Some are filled with salt that can trigger craving as well. Perhaps the reason most significant reason we grab packaged food is habit.

As studies continue to show a direct correlation between our diet and an increasing number of chronic diseases, choosing convenient, fresh, unprocessed food even when we’re in a hurry may be the most important positive health choice we can make. Fresh convenience foods are low in sodium, usually have no added sugar, no trans fats, and are often low-carb and high-fiber. Fresh foods do not require stabilizers like starches and gums, flavor enhancing chemicals to make them taste fresh after a long shelf life, plus they are full of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.

Sometimes the hardest thing to shift is our thinking. We just can’t imagine how we will feed ourselves and our families without our “habit” foods. Perhaps it will help to see what a busy day without prepackaged or typical “fast” food might look like! Let’s take a look at some options!

For breakfast you might choose:

1)Plain Greek yogurt drizzled with honey, 10-12 raw almonds, and 1/4 cup of blueberries, raspberries, strawberries or golden raisins.

2)An apple, half a banana, some cheese and a boiled egg.

3)Left-over steak or grilled chicken, a grapefruit, an orange, or some grapes.

Your morning snack could include:

1)Slices of red bell pepper, yellow squash, or zucchini with store-bought hummus and a pear.

2)Dried dates stuffed with a raw pecan half and a slice of smoked Gouda cheese.

3)Celery sticks filled with all natural sugar-free peanut butter topped with raisins.

Lunch at your desk is a great time for leftovers. If you don’t have any on hand and need to grab something quick, try these options:

1)Fill half an avocado with tuna from a pouch and some cottage cheese. Eat it with baby carrots and tomato slices.

2)Run by your local home-cooking buffet and fill a to go container with grilled chicken breast, broccoli and carrots, or green beans and squash or black-eyed peas and turnip greens.

3)Pick up a container of smoked meat from a barbecue restaurant. Without the sauce, the meat can become part of many entrées. It’s great in a salad over lettuce or maché. Eat it with traditional barbeque sides from the restaurant, or substitute your favorite raw vegetable or fruit.

Instead of processed salad dressing or vegetable dip, mix 2 tbsp sour cream and add Penzey’s Brady Street Cheese Sprinkle to taste for dip. For dressing thin the mixture with 1 tbsp yogurt or 1 tsp of milk.

If you need an afternoon snack, grab some:

1)Trail mix made with raw seeds, nuts, and fruit with no added sugar, salt, or fats.

2)Eat some of the smoke meat you saved from lunch with dried apricots, mango, or cantaloupe. Just make sure there’s no sugar added. Dried fruit is incredibly sweet all on it’s own.

3)Plain yogurt with half a banana and some honey if you like the added sweetness.

Pick up dinner on the way home:

1)30 minutes before you leave the office, order hamburger steaks or grilled chicken breasts, baked potatoes, and salad to pick up on your way home.

2)Go by the grocery and pick up a rotisserie chicken, a bag of frozen green beans or English peas.  If the store has a salad bar, make a salad. If your kids have different topping preferences, put those items in a separate container to add at home. If your store doesn’t have a salad bar, grab a container of cubed fresh pineapple or one that has a mix of melons or berries. At home, mix some plain yogurt or sour cream with a bit of honey and some cinnamon to turn the fruit into a delicious fruit salad.

3)Avoid having to go to anywhere after work by buying additional smoked meat by the pound at lunch and placing it in the refrigerator at the office. If you’re competing for space there, a cooler in the car may be an option. At home, make barbecue salads or serve the meat with whatever frozen vegetables you have on hand. You don’t have to top the meat with barbecue sauce. Its smoky flavor will go with anything.

For those of you who cook on days that aren’t as busy, leftovers can make a crazy day a breeze. Frozen vegetables take only a few minutes to cook. Keeping them on hand is another way to make eating healthier easy when things get hectic. At my house, scrambled eggs are a good fallback when all other plans fail. I always have them. I can throw in some cream cheese and leftover English peas and have a tasty meal in 5 minutes. That’s less time than it takes to pick up a meal on the way home.

You may have noticed the lack of grains, breads, and crackers in these meal possibilities. Why? Because this exercise is about shifting our thinking to open our minds to healthier choices. Most of us need more vegetables, fruit, and protein every day, so recognizing that we can eat satisfying meals without relying on grain carbs can help get us out of the habit of filling ourselves with breads instead of leafy greens, berries, poultry, fish, beef, and pork. That doesn’t mean you should never ever eat gluten-free mac & cheese. It just means that it is more healthy if that’s an occasional occurrence and your habit is to reach for a grilled chicken breast and steamed asparagus.

When it comes to nutritional value, not all convenience is created equal. Next time you grocery shop, take a moment to look around the store. Look for convenient foods with as little processing and packaging as possible. Expand your horizons, eat tasty food, make healthy choices, and still get everything done on time.  You can do it, and your heath depends on it.