Posts Tagged ‘diet’

I didn’t go to the grocery store to educate a checker. I just wanted to pick up a few things, including some produce. I was pleased to find rhubarb, because I want to make a rhubarb custard pie. A pass past the clearance shelves to see if there were anything I couldn’t live without, which there was not, and I headed for the checkout. I usually don’t use the self-checkout even when I can, preferring instead to cast a vote for a job for a living person. The checker whose line I chose seemed at ease and efficient, but when she took the rhubarb out of the basket, she said, “Now you’ve stumped me. Is this red celery?”trimmed rhubarb

“It’s rhubarb.”

“Oh, okay.” Then she picked up the cauliflower. “This isn’t cabbage, is it?”

“Nope. Cauliflower.”

As she finished ringing me up, she said, “I’m not really up on my vegetables. Mainly because I don’t eat all that many vegetables.”head of cauliflower

My intention in telling this story is not to be critical or make fun of this young woman, and the bagger who wasn’t much more knowledgeable. I tell it because I believe this is all too common. School children don’t know what a potato is, even though they eat tons of French Fries and chips. They can’t tell a pear from an avocado.

This is a handicap. A learned — or lack-of-learning — disability. The cure? Garden. Neighborhood gardens. Garden with friends or parents or kiddos. It doesn’t have to be big. If you don’t have any other space, plant something in a container on your patio or balcony. Your friendly neighborhood garden center will be happy to coach you.

Patio container with soil and new lettuce plants

Newly sprouted lettuce on my balcony

Also cook. From scratch. We live in a time, as Michael Pollan, author of Cooked, has said, when we Americans spend more time watching other people cook on television than we do actually cooking.If you’ve never cooked anything, don’t start by trying to do what those celebrity chefs are doing. Look up basic instructions and recipes online, and just try something.

You don’t even have to cook to cut up the cauliflower and dip it in ranch dressing. (You might even try making your own ranch dressing. It’s cheaper and better than the bottled stuff.) Eventually you might even step out and bake a pie from real rhubarb. 

Cooking, too, can be fun with someone else. Kids love it, especially when it’s a shared activity.

Obviously this is about more than giving correct answers on a pop quiz on vegetables. No one debates the nutritional benefits of eating vegetables, which is what this checker told me she does not do. We gain power to care for ourselves and our families when we have a working knowledge of actual food (as opposed to food-like substances, again to quote from Michael Pollan), how it grows and how to prepare it.

So you’re welcome Ms. Checker. Glad I could introduce you to some of my friends today.


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I replaced my computer last month. I won’t go in debt for such things, so that plus all the accompanying software and a car repair put a dent in my emergency fund. Over the next few months my goal is to replenish it. Therefore I’ll be even more careful to live simply, frugally.

For instance, when do I really need to buy groceries? How about shopping in my cupboard and fridge/freezer first?

My last trip to the supermarket yielded an 8-lb. bag of locally grown potatoes for $1.50. Usually I don’t use that many potatoes before they grow  sprouts and go soft (baby sprouts I just break off and use the potato anyway), but I’m determined not to waste them this time. So breakfast this morning — a day off so more time to cook — was one potato, shredded and fried in olive oil, with one egg fried in the same skillet. Yummers, and it’s real food. I know for a fact all the ingredients in my breakfast. To drink: OJ and coffee. By the way, regular coffee in a regular drip coffeemaker, black. Pennies, not dollars at a coffee shop.

Being frugal empowers me to move forward rather than being tethered to paying for the past. In fact, if you think about it, simple living is a future-oriented mindset.


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My heart feels loved

I got a fantastic surprise Sunday, when my son Paul showed up here. I was invited to his cousins Eric and Tara’s birthday party, and when Eric and his wife Terri walked in, Paul was with them. Seems they’d been planning this for, oh, about 6 months. I was over the top happy. Still am. I’m not on vacation, and they all three are, but even getting to share a few meals and conversation, in person, feels great. It’s superb for my heart.

The day before that birthday party, I’d learned the results of the lab work that was part of my recent, long overdue physical. My cholesterol was slightly elevated, which I guess didn’t surprise me but I was hopin’ not. Immediately something switched over in me, a determination that I will, yea verily, exercise and establish more heart healthy eating habits. A nutritionist had recently spoken to our staff at work about the 3 Biblical types to eating: feasting, famine, and everyday eating. She pointed out that our Western diet is very heavy on feast food — highly refined/processed, fat- and sugar-laden, etc. — which is not healthy for any of us. It makes sense to me.

So when the sloppy joes, potato chips, macaroni and cheese, birthday cake and ice cream were served at the party Sunday, what did I do? I ate it. It was time to feast–celebrate not only birthdays but getting to see my son unexpectedly.  I could have spinach salad and my homemade lentil soup later. Which I did, and frankly, it tasted better than the party food.

My daughter had some good counsel a few weeks ago, too. She didn’t share it as counsel, just to tell me her own thinking as she works at cleaning up her diet. Her approach, which sounds wise to me, is to not try to change everything all at once, or drastically, but to make changes that build on each other — when you’ve adjusted to one level of modifications, then go the next step. Improve I will. I like legumes and rice. I really do. I can certainly fill up more on veggies and fruit. And yes, I can start exercising more — walking, while the weather is nice. This too is good for my heart.

Thank you, God, for these gifts, and for understanding my heart even better than I do.

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The yogurt verdict

I made my first batch of slow-cooker yogurt yesterday.  My Crockpot spent the night in a bath-towel cocoon, and I filled ten 8-oz. containers with the results first thing this morning. After they chilled all day, I just enjoyed my first sample. It didn’t set up like the commercial stuff, probably because it doesn’t have any of the extra thickening agents in it, but that’s okay with me. It’ll be great on cereal. I actually don’t mind the taste of plain yogurt, but for this sample I happened to have about a teaspoon of jelly left, so I mixed it in. Perfect. I’m sure it will be good with honey, or a little smushed-up peaches too.

Other homemade things that actually taste better than even the best supermarket versions:

  • My brother John’s homemade vanilla ice cream. To die for.
  • Bread fresh out of my oven.
  • My pie crust.
  • Cream of mushroom soup.
  • Angel food cake.
  • My crabapple jelly. Especially on that bread fresh out of the oven.
  • Tomatoes out of my garden — when I had one. I’ve never had a tomato from a supermarket that measured up to those.

Mind you, I’m not a foodie. My cooking skills wouldn’t impress anyone. I regularly burn rice, and I’ve eaten way more, shall we say, blackened asparagus than I’d care to admit–but then I guess I just did.  Usually I cook as little as I can get by with, which means I cook for more than one, eat it more than one way, then freeze leftovers. But it sure feels good to make something fairly basic that I know has good (and fewer) ingredients, and save significant cash in the process.

These are not new ideas. It’s all been said before. This is just my witness.

What do you do to maximize flavor and nutrition and minimize cost?

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I’m going to try to make my own yogurt in my slow cooker — recipe here, on the “Year of Slow Cooking” blog. Need I tell you how much this appeals to my frugal nature’s  desire to get the most good from my food dollar?

Ever since I saw a Michael Pollan speech online in which he drew a distinction between real food and food-like substances, I’ve wished I still had that Salton yogurt maker I sold at a garage sale, oh, about ten years ago. Well, now apparently my slow cooker will do just fine. I’ll let you know how it goes.

That’s all for now. Onward

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I have just watched two episodes of Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution. If you haven’t seen it, you can catch it here or on hulu.com. Jamie Oliver is well known as a British chef. He has a vision to improve, nay, revolutionize, the way people eat in England and the United States. The main problem: our addiction to processed foods. (The video of his impassioned talk about this at last month’s TED conference is worth watching, too.)

On the show, he goes into one town in West Virginia to try to change habits and attitudes, starting with one elementary school and one family. I watched transfixed.

The health implications are scary. The government bureaucracy that perpetuates the junk in lunchrooms is shocking. But what got me the most was what children are being taught, or not taught, about food and life. It makes me sad and angry.

Six-year-olds in the school Jamie Oliver went to could not recognize fruits and vegetables. Yeah, some of their wrong answers showed a thin connection to the real thing. An eggplant is shaped similarly to a pear. Tomato and potato sound alike. Cauliflower and broccoli both are bumpy. But they couldn’t even identify a potato, and they had no clue that’s what fries were made of.

Then when he prepared a from-scratch meal for the school for which the kids would need forks and spoons, the kitchen staff and the principal had to think long and hard where the cutlery even was. When Jamie asked about knives, they just about came unglued. Didn’t he know you don’t expect five- through ten-year-old children to use utensils? (And of course one of those kids could go on a killing spree in the school with a table knife!) The staff even asked for documentation to prove Jaime’s truthfulness when he said that kindergartners in Britain are using them all the time.

I suspect this is way too typical of schools all over the nation. What are we doing? What does the future hold? It is so easy to teach these things, first at home and then reinforced at school, and we’re not doing it well at all, apparently. Not only are our children becoming less literate, their social skills are becoming more medieval.

One day after Jamie’s initial veggie/fruit test, the class invited him back for a redo. The teacher had taken initiative and in that one day they’d learned their way around a produce stand. Just like that–and they were proud. It doesn’t require a curriculum, scope and sequence, and certainly not a lesson plan, with metrics, submitted for review at all levels up and down the school district. It just requires living life with children, including them in day-to-day stuff.

Here’s what that might look like, in the life of a family. Take your children with you to the grocery store. Talk to them as you shop, particularly in the produce, meat, dairy, and bread aisles. I’m not talking about formal teaching,  just conversation: “Let’s see if the apples look good.” “Oh, eggs are on sale. Let’s get some.” Help them to recognize a potato before they know what a bag of chips is.

Keep the conversations going at home. Talk to them as you put the groceries away, or even let them help when they can. If you plan some family meals, actually at the table, you combine the food thing with the utensil thing. Get the kids involved in food prep and table setting. If we don’t teach our children to be competent with forks, spoons, and knives, we are handicapping them. According to child development milestones, most children are capable of using forks and spoons like adults by the age of four. Do we expect them to somehow morph into civilized, socially adept humans at, say, high school graduation? A child wants to learn new skills. Sure, it’s messy, and it requires some attention from busy parents. But they’ll get it, and my gosh, don’t they deserve it? Or are they just a notch above the family pet? Why do we put them in soccer when they’re four and continue to push athletic skills, but somehow assume they’re incapable of learning to use tableware until they’re learning multiplication tables ?

Talk to your children, casually, about all of life, including food and meals. Also, don’t many toddler word books have pictures of foods and kitchen items? When my children were small, reading to them and even looking at pictures with them kept me sane at times. If I was bored with the board or cloth books, I bought el cheapo grocery store ones that I didn’t care if the kids tore. If I was still bored, I’d page through an old magazine with them, pointing out and naming pictures and adding any other little bits of conversation I could manufacture. Lots of those were pictures of food. Not only is this a reading readiness activity, it teaches real-life skills and it provides a snatch of mother-child quiet time.

I understand that American parents are stressed to the max these days. But something is more than horribly wrong if we don’t have time to include our children in basic daily life or enjoy simple food.

The bureaucracy that is the American school system? For now I’ll just say that I am an education counterculturalist and a friend of true teachers everywhere, and that makes perfect sense to me.

(Honesty requires me to tell you that among my healthy grocery choices today, I also bought a short tube of refrigerator biscuits. See, I’m not immune from the temptations of uber-processed foods. My body will make me pay a very uncomfortable price, though, if I indulge often, and I’m not willing to go there.)

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