Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Road to Better Health is Bound to be Bumpy - Healthy Eating

Obesity is epidemic in this country and the news is full of stories about the excesses that are ruining our health and shortening the lives of our children. Before you get defensive you need to understand that as parents we are only partly responsible for the situation. Food manufacturers and restaurant owners, and yes, our government must share the blame, but we need to do something about it.

Everyday there is a news story telling us that what we were once told about a particular food is now considered incorrect and what we once thought was good for us is now thought to be bad for us. While the government is telling us obesity in children is a major problem, fast food restaurants are advertising bigger, fatter, more calorie-laden options. It is confusing for all of us. How can we keep up? What can we do about it?

I believe certain basics are true. I believe the closer our food is to its natural state the better it is for us.That doesn't mean meateaters should eat their meat raw, but if it isn't covered with cheese or creamy gravy it is probably better for you. I personally believe we eat too much meat in this country but this post isn't about that. I am not interested in changing meateaters to vegetarians. This post is about healthier eating and making changes toward better health.

I married a meat and potatoes man.  One day I decided, after a lot of reading on the subject, that we should become vegetarians. Vegetarian cookbooks that were available at the time were not encouraging. Becoming a vegetarian seemed to involve mixing and matching different kinds of protein foods to get the right combination to make up for not eating meat. After reading the cookbooks I was sure there was no way I would be able to convert my husband to a vegetarian lifestyle. I almost gave up, but I had the cookbooks so I figured I had to at least try a few recipes. I did and I was right, hubby wouldn't eat them.

Then it dawned on me! I could fix most of the dishes that we were accustomed to eating but make them vegetarian. And that is what I did. If I removed meat from a recipe I replaced it with something else  to make up for what was missing. (Portabello mushrooms have a texture similar to meat. Today the stores have many meat substitutes.)I didn't worry about complementarity but instead I concentrated on preparing good meals, that tasted good and that fit our style but without meat. Why should this matter to you? Read on...

On the road to healthier eating you have to expect a few bumps, but that shouldn't stop you. It is a retraining of our thinking and our tastebuds. If you are used to eating food that is drowning in cheese sauce it will take a while to adjust to the idea of eating food without cheese sauce, but it can be done. Make changes slowly. Perhaps you will need to slowly reduce the amount of cheese in the sauce, and reduce the quantity of sauce in a serving. Look for other healthier ways to season your food, and eat the less-healthy choices less often until you can elimate them completely. Concentrate on the foods that you like that are healthier choices.

Lightly salt foods before serving and take the salt off of the table. Make eating healthier a family project and get the kids involved. Teach them, and yourself, to read product labels. Know what unhealthy things to look for (high fructose corn syrup, all kinds of sugars, sodium quantities, chemical additives you can't pronounce, etc) and make better choices. The shorter the ingredient list the better. If you can't pronounce it, and don't know what it is, you probably shouldn't eat it.

Try to reduce fats, salt, sugar, white flour, and excess cheese from your diet. Use healthier fats. If you are switching from white rice to brown rice do it gradually. Mix the two together and when your family has had time to adjust to the change you can increase the brown rice and eliminate the white rice. You can do the same thing with pasta. Look for a blended pasta or use half white and half whole wheat pasta. Increase your family's fruit and vegetable consumption by adding them to casseroles, sauces, breads, etc. where they are hidden.

The health of our children is our most important responsibility. Don't give up on making changes just because the family balks, or the changes are difficult. Be patient and make changes gradually. I have heard that because of obesity many of our children will not live as long as their parents. How sad.

Also limit the fast food meals and if you must go out to eat watch those choices. Some places will let you modify your order. When fast food commercials come on teach your children why bigger isn't better, and more cheese and bacon is unhealthy for everyone. Tell your kids restaurants are in the business of making money not taking care of the health of customers.

Portion size is out of control in this country! Eat smaller portions. Maybe your children aren't cleaning their plates because you gave them too much. Try giving them less. When you dine out you can even split a meal between two of you. My husband and I do this often. Some restaurants give you entirely too much food, and I still can't waste food when so many in this world are starving. Ironic isn't it? While much of the world goes hungry, our problem is obesity. We need to change our ways and our thinking about food.


billkirkwrites said...

Well said, Shari. I personally kind of like the feeling of being a bit hungry. Savoring the first bite a meal, the first swallow of a cup of coffee fixed just how you like it, the first taste of a nice red wine, is as good as it gets. Those long-awaited first tastes explode on the taste buds can almost be felt all the way down to your stomach. Yummmmm....

L. Diane Wolfe said...

I totally agree!
I am a vegan, but one can eat bad as a vegetarian, too.