The Future of our Children is on Our Forks

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My mama always told me you are what you eat.  I don’t know about you but cheap, fast and full of crap is not how I want to be known.

Eating healthy is expensive, time consuming and inconvenient, so the barrier to entry into the kitchen just got a little higher, right?  That’s what society wants you to think, because then it keeps you on medication and diet plans.  The habits of good health are faster, cheaper and better than any drug on the planet.  The pill only addresses the side-effects but it doesn’t get to the problem.  We can’t let go of our plates and our kitchens to propaganda.  Back in the 50’s, ads touted the benefits of adding 7UP to baby diets to augment the benefits of breast milk.  So, you mean to say man is smarter than God?

Society tells us so many things. I mean, what would big biz do if you figured out that the keys to the kingdom of life, love and beautiful skin wasn’t in a pill.  Industry keeps manufacturing what I call ‘Phoods’ – food made by pharma – with a laundry list of ingredients you can’t pronounce and side effects that leave you losing your appetite. Remember when those potato chips came out with Olean?  Olean was the brand name for Olestra, a calorie-free, fat-free, fat-substitute discovered by Procter & Gamble in 1968 ‘by accident.’ Olestra was approved for use as a food additive in snack foods in 1996 and soon after became famous for its disturbing gastrointestinal side effects, including violent diarrhea and anal leakage. That’s scientific jargon to mean pooping in your pants, folks.

Let’s stick to the real deal, not frankenfood designed in a lab meant for rats.

Even natural foods stores want to fill our carts with a bunch of snack foods, chips and drinks being touted as ‘healthy’ but loaded with sodium and sugar without much nutrient benefit at all.  I love that you can get the organic equivalent of Oreos, Doritos and Gatorade but if the only merit they deliver is being made with organic ingredients but their sill nutrient void, I don’t see the merit. The good news is there are a lot of great selections out there that are coming clean with their labels, and they can be fantastic additions to your everyday plate.  Dips like hummus, salsa, guacamole and Greek yogurt, sprouted grain chips and crackers, protein packed bars and shakes, and lean meat jerky are all great snack choices as long as they’re balanced in the sodium and sugar departments.

Food is, quite literally, information. The heritage of the food, its ordinance, its upbringing are all imprints and all of this passes onto us.  The foods we eat can be vibrant and full of energy, like a rainbow chard that basks in the sun and feeds from rich, nutrient dense soil, and is picked a few miles away.   We take that into our bodies and things get serious. All the chlorophyll does some major magic and our cells do a happy dance, oxygenating us into a focused and present state.  It is a chain reaction, and there is no choice but to feel vital and strong.

Do you think 150 calories of soda and 150 calories of broccoli will do the same to benefit your body?

One is full of artificial ingredients, colors, flavors and more than the daily recommended allowance of sugar in one serving.  The other one is packed with vitamin A, B, C, and phytochemicals that are proven to help clear your lungs of bacteria.  And chances are you couldn’t event eat 150 calories of broccoli because you’d be too full.  It’s your choice.

As one of my health mentors, Dr. Mark Hyman says, what you put on the end of your fork is more powerful than any pill you will take.  Every bite has the power to affect you positively or negatively, feeding you or adding to disease.

Here’s the good news for us caregivers.  Mealtime doesn’t have to be over the top and crazy complicated. I love all the pinspiration out there but geez, talk about pressure.  If you can’t make everything from scratch, light it perfectly and showcase it for everyone to see and ogle over, you are not a failure.  What it does need to do is be is delicious, balanced and clean.  So let me define clean.  That means:

  • Free of artificial preservatives, chemicals, colors, flavors and sweeteners
  • Free of white flour and sugar and all of its AKA’s (high fructose corn syrup, etc)
  • Free of GMO’s, pesticides and hormones

And the goal is to fill half your plate with non-starchy veg, whether that be literally a half plate filled with salad or vegetables that have been pureed, sautéed, steamed, baked, stuffed, stir fried, grilled, raw or however you like to enjoy them. Whether you’re cooking for yourself – and yes, you deserve that – or for a whole brood, there is social justice in enjoying beautiful meal that you sourced, cooked and can enjoy in the comfort of your own home.

We have been so preoccupied with calories, fat and carbs but less about the chemicals, additives, sodium and sugar.  When I started in the food industry 23 years ago, I was the demo coordinator for a regional chain of natural foods stores called Alfalfa’s Markets.  My job was to help people create delicious, simple meals with the products we featured in the store and allow people to experience it by cooking in front of them.  We were just defining what Organic even meant.  While some of the products were new and unfamiliar, what blew my mind was, most people really had no idea where to start.  The idea of shopping for dinner was overwhelming, shopping was scary and time consuming and let’s face it, it took time.  That was before Food Network and the tv sport I call ‘food voyeurism’ – watch and drool but never actually cook anything.

Which one are you?

Back in the day, I remember my parents would make dinner and we got two choices: 1) Eat dinner.  2) Don’t eat dinner.  My mom was not a short order cook and the last thing she was going to was customize everyone’s mealtime event.  There were choices of what to put on your plate but they were all home made and resembled real food.

I’ve taught tens of thousands of families how to cook and over the last 21 years, I’ve observed some very interesting food personalities – from the enabler to the compulsive dieter.  Identifying your approach will help us figure out how to get you down the right grocery aisle.

Which profile that describes you best?

The veggie disser:  Puts down vegetables and relegates them to the bottom of the food chain because of their own twisted relationship with them.

The tragically hip:  Gets their life advice from fashion magazines and stocks condiments, cigarettes, rice cakes and Diet Coke in the fridge trying to look like they don’t eat.

The fit fatty: Eats clean but drops their kids off at the gym daycare with a bag of chips and cookies, then does the drive-thru because their kids want fries and a shake.

The food pusher:  Rewards kids with dessert and their ‘favorite foods’ if they complete certain tasks, including eating their vegetables (which you diss on).

The clean plate club bouncers: Forces kids to eat everything on their plate OR ELSE, even if the portion sizes are gargantuan and gross.

The soda-swiller:  Allows kids to have sugary soda and sports drinks pretty much whenever they want.

The instant crap-o-phile:  When assessing their grocery cart, one finds everything in a box or package.

The fried chicken: Is scared to try any other technique but frying, which makes mealtime a greasy-roll-in-the-flour-fest.

The couch potato chip: Believes that exercise may compromise their crunch-time and decides moving is reduced to the buttons on a remote.

If your own habits are coloring the way you raise your kids, get motivated to break them if not just for their sake.

I was a featured chef on the Emmy-nominated show ‘Recipe Rehab’ for three seasons.  It was my challenge was to take the featured family’s recipe and make it better.  All the favorites you could name, I was challenged to rehab them and keep them tasting great, lightening up the calories, fat, sugar and sodium while still making them user friendly.  These were family recipes, often times passed on from one generation to another so the sensitivity to tradition was high.  It’s a wonder some of these families made it through the generations.  These dishes were literal gut-bombs. An apple pie with 82 grams of carbs and 55 grams of sugar per serving.  A plate of nachos with 40 grams of fat and 1800 mg per serving.  It went on….cheese enchiladas, spaghetti and meatballs, chocolate cake, cupcakes, pizza, fried chicken, mac n’ cheese and tacos. My personal favorite was the cake challenge.  This chocolate cake weighed in a whopping 700 calories per serving with over 30 grams of fat and 75 grams of sugar per serving.  So, the first thing I did was remove the sugar, heavy cream and butter and replaced them with pureed beets.  Yup, those cute little red veggies that people have a violent love or hate relationship with.  The family had two kids so I knew I was really taking a risk by having them use the beets.  Even Danny Boome, the host of the show, said ‘Mareya, did you say you’re using pureed beets?  I just heard a gasp across America.”

The craziest part?  My recipe won the challenge.  Whoop, there it is. 

Not even using the beets and knowing they were in the recipe held the kids back and led to them picking it as the winner. The families were completely willing to try these new takes on their favorites and many of them ended up adopting the better-for-you recipes as their new family traditions.  The idea is so powerful, because you’re not taking away what you love – your ethnic mainstays, your family’s lifeblood.  You’re just giving them a much-needed oil change.  In some cases, a pretty major overhaul, but nonetheless, it proves you can still have your apple pie, nachos and beet-iful cake, and eat it too.

Not to mention, families who eat together produce kids who get better grades, eat healthier, are less likely to be obese and feel better about their being.  What price can we put on that self-esteem?

The last thing I’m going to do is judge you. God knows we’re all just trying to make it through.  I want this to be a wake-up call, and a call to action. If we are going to nurture the next generation to greatness, we need to fix our attitude about what we stick in our mouths and how much we move our asses.  As a human, it is not in our DNA to thrive on drive-thrus, frozen dinners and anything in a wrapper.  Let’s not get caught with our pantries down.  It’s time we take a close up look at ourselves in those magnifying mirrors with the bright lights that don’t hide anything and take some responsibility for ourselves and our families and our fridges.  Food can be a competitive sport and an over-the-top escapade of indulgence on TV but in real life, it’s nourishment, energy, longevity and love.

Let love lead the way!


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