cooking healthy vegetable dishes
leek and lettuce on a chopping board
leek and lettuce on a chopping board

The advent of take-out and drive-thru promised less stress at the end of a long work day, but before we had a chance to cash in on this promise, pizza, burgers, and nuggets took over the school lunch then chips and soda danced into the office. Soon they were welcome into the sanctity of the home.

Under the illusion of alleviating stress, we accepted the same narrow repertoire of processed foods everywhere, a practice which has left us and our children vulnerable. This caption often appears on the news - ”U.S. children are developing adult type diabetes at an alarming rate”. 

Our young generations are more familiar with pizza, buffalo wings, fried chicken, cheese tacos, french fries, soda, and energy drinks, than they are with oats, rice and beans, and water. Since fatty, sugary, and fiber-less foods cannot match the abundant nutrition stored in plants, children end up overfed and undernourished. Ironically, we still suffer from stress.  

Farmers still grow bok choy, spinach, Swiss chard, kale, cabbages, collards, whole oats, brown rice, quinoa, barley, buckwheat, corn, amaranth, tomatoes, peaches, peppers, strawberries, plums, oranges, bananas, blueberries, pumpkin, yam, taro, ginger, cauliflower, broccoli, avocado, lentils, pinto beans, chickpeas, peanuts, soy beans, raw unsalted walnuts, almonds, pistachios, and sesame seeds. However, these are rare offerings among commercially prepared foods or salad bars. We desperately need to renew our acquaintance with the great variety of whole foods that nature provides.   

Good food nourishes and protects our immune system, which is threatened by our pressured schedules, so we cannot be paralyzed by the idea of finding time to shop and cook.    

Begin by noticing the colors on your plate. Increase greens, reds, and yellows; reduce brown and white. Get together with friends and prepare this website’s squash soup. Make enough so everyone can take some home. Add a bunch of kale or collards to your cooked beans and turn them into stews. Throughout the week you can mix them with rice. Try to eliminate meat, cheese, and dairy. Avoid white flour. Do not eat fried foods. Stay away from sweet drinks. These simple steps protect against obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.

Do we even know anyone else who is successful at this? Be a leader. Any child can help to prepare recipes like the ones in Greens on a Budget. Create opportunities for them to acquire simple cooking skills, which are absent from their lives. Schools have allowed franchises to take over the cafeteria, so it no longer functions as a kitchen. Students could use a laboratory in school where they could experience an integrated food curriculum and at home they could practice with family cooking sessions.   

Call less for take-out. Children need to develop a healthy relationship with the food that will nourish them. When they are very young they can pluck grapes from the stem, separate an orange in sections, add ingredients to a bowl. Older kids need to learn how to read and follow recipes and use a sharp knife. No matter our ability, we can draw, write, or otherwise express something about our food experiences.  

Children who spend time in the kitchen learn to value food and the hands that prepare it. Children who linger at the produce section of the market see the rainbow of colors produced by the earth. Encourage them to slow down and observe. Teach them to be less wasteful, to respect themselves and their environment. They will feel and function better. They may even demand real food.

As the adults that we are, we could lead by example and trade some old habits for new wholesome ones. Consider some of the following suggestions:  

Choose water as your only beverage for one month and notice that your craving for sugar quickly melts away. Add slices of cucumber or fruit to your water pitcher for a festive and refreshing presentation at the dinner table.

Avoid meats and fried foods for a month and notice the changes in your digestion. Register any improvement in your energy and well-being. Take before and after close-up photos of your face.

If you smoke, set a quit date. Talk to your doctor or your pharmacist. Make a plan. Find a buddy who will support you day to day. Step into the change with confidence. Now is the right time. You can do it. As soon as you quit smoking your burnt taste buds begin to heal. You can expect them to recover in a few weeks. You will enjoy food without the use of too much sugar, too much salt, or too much fat. Every bite will provide you the gift of its full nourishing potential.  

Allow your body to adjust. As you begin to load up on healthier foods your body will start to get rid of accumulated toxins. Be kind to yourself for the first three to six weeks. Drink plenty of water and rest. Try to be aware of your stresses and breathe. Do not let this experience go unnoticed. Write down the changes you experience in your body and in your mind. Take excellent care of yourself. When you get frustrated read what you have been writing, write some more, and renew your commitment to yourself. 

Recognize food’s power. Food helps us celebrate cultural and family traditions. It is at the center of most religious and social holidays. Food holds a firm place in our every day life. Food is healing medicine and it nourishes our soul. Participate in its bounty.

I remember a quote printed on the inside of a tea box that reads something like this ”The way I live my days is, after all, the way I live my life”.  Since one day follows the next, when and how will we plan for change?