I know, I know, I haven’t written a blog post in a very, very long time. I’ll just leave it at this: last year at this time, my mom died. A few months after that, my dad passed away, too.
From dealing with elderly parents the past few years, my mind has been more on aging gracefully than eating gracefully. But if I’ve learned anything of late, it’s that they’re ever so connected.
During this time, I've also been teaching kids how to cook and eat healthy with a national non-profit called Wellness In the Schools. As my parents became the children and I became the reluctant parent, I realized that a lot of the culinary skills I used in dealing with children (including my own child, now in college) helped me in dealing with my parents.
Working with mostly underserved kids everyday, I saw firsthand how much junk food they bring for lunch and how they avoid the salad bar and other healthier options that are readily available. Sadly, many have never been exposed to them at home. I see lots of obesity, diabetes, asthma and allergies. Cut to fifty, sixty years later and you can see how these things can play out, especially with the obesity and diabetes.
My parents had so many health issues but they never made the connection that food can be medicine. You can imagine how many times I explained to them how their first line of defense with the diabetes, the acid reflux, the hypertension, etc. was to eat healthier. So I’m going to focus this blog more on how eating healthy can affect us as we age. As kids, we all think we’re indestructible and will live forever.
We can all make gradual changes in the way we eat. Going on diets is difficult because it’s all about loss, but if we add things or “crowd the plate," as we teach the kids, with some healthier options, eventually we might have less and less fries on our plate and more and more salad. And guess what? After a while, we don’t miss the fries as much.
My parents never saw a vegetable they liked. I would sneak some broccoli or other vegetables into their pasta, the way many parents do with their kids. (I know this is controversial but I'm all for it!) My dad was severely constipated- partly because of medication, but mostly because he didn’t eat any fiber. When I spoke to him one day about how diet could be helpful, he more or less admitted that it was easier to take a pill. He was from that generation where doctors were considered gods and if the doctor gave him a pill, he’d rather take that than make a lifestyle change or two.
In my schools, I learned that one way to get kids to eat salad and other healthy greens is by having them growi their own food. We have hydroponic gardens in some schools. In other schools, there are programs where the teachers and children grow enormous amounts of greens in outdoor gardens. (See Edible Schoolyard, for a great example). When you’re involved in growing and harvesting your own food, you become more likely to eat it. I love that some of my kids who wouldn't be caught dead eating the salad bar at school would eat Swiss chard when they'd see me walking around with a bowl of it that's been harvested from their tower garden. I always tell them, try it five or six times, because you need to give yourself time to develop a taste for something new.
Now that’s it warm out, if you've never done it before, start bringing some healthier foods to your diet by growing a few herbs. Start with basil, cilantro and parsley because not only are they full of vitamins, but they complement so many things that we eat. I used to buy my herbs from my local farmers’ market. Being a city girl without a lot of direct light, I now grow my own with a small hydroponic garden. My parents wouldn’t eat the broccoli or other greens, but they did like that pesto I’d make with fresh herbs in some of their foods. So did the kids. Herbs add such great fresh flavor to what you eat but also have wonderful health benefits. Basil is anti-inflammatory. Parsley aids digestion. Cilantro has tons of Vitamin A. If you end up having too many herbs, just throw them in the food processor with a little olive oil, garlic and salt and make pestos that you can freeze in ice cube trays.