Proper eating is about valuing your own health, and the health of those you care for, so in my work, I try to help people set realistic goals (i.e. easy and doable) for themselves. Cooking from scratch is a step in the right direction. Whether you are using a few processed foods, or canned vegetables to get dinner on the table, or cooking from basic or gourmet recipes – cooking at home is a good habit.
But how many times do I have to say it? There is no one-size-fits-all diet.
I believe people should enjoy the food they eat, and nurture their body with the nutrition that it needs. I also believe eating is influenced by important cultural aspects, and people certainly have different food preferences. Of course in addition, physical activity is also vital to health, which is why I go to the gym twice a week, and run, walk or use a cardio machine 3-4 times a week (but I mostly enjoy getting outside for walks or runs).
The easiest way for me to share my thoughts on balance and enjoyment of food, is to tell you what my pantry looks like. Some may want to judge me, but I’ve always said – I practice what I preach. Rather than tell you what you should eat, and what you should avoid, I think it’s better to show you how you can balance out healthy foods with treats.
I don’t expect you to replicate my pantry, I expect you to work towards healthier eating, and get advice from a professional if you need it.
Staples in my ‘fridge:
- Fresh eggs (although they don’t require refrigeration, we put them in there anyhow). These are from the hens we raise in the backyard henhouse (aka ‘chicken tractor’ – hand built using recycled materials.) We recycle any rotten produce or moldy bread to the hens to eat in addition to their feed and water.
- Fresh vegetables. In season – from the summer garden planted in raised beds using the recycled composite decking material that was left after we tore our deck down (asparagus, tomatoes, herbs, eggplant, variety of peppers, onion, squash, beans, peas). We also buy vegetables at the store, and not organic-exclusive.
- Fresh fruit (we buy this at the store, but also have apple, pear, peach trees; grapes, blueberry, raspberry bushes) Right now there are apples, grapes, strawberries, blackberries, one kiwifruit, one grapefruit, lemons, limes, and an avocado in the fridge.
- 1% milk, low fat or nonfat Greek yogurt, half and half
- Coffee (hence the half and half – for our daily coffee habit)
- Romaine lettuce (I won’t lie – some of it goes to the bearded dragon), spring greens, carrots, asparagus, assorted mini sweet peppers, celery, sugar snap peas
- Lunchmeat drawer: baked ham, turkey, hot dogs (it’s summer), Laura’s fresh ground beef, cheddar cheese (3 blocks of different variety), American cheese deli slices, grated Romano, Feta, goat cheese, hummus, a package of shredded taco-blend cheese.
- Freezer – pork loin, shrimp, sirloin or beef roast, frozen bell pepper strips, spinach, ice cream
- Brummel and Brown® spread, Philadelphia® cream cheese spread, Tops® Strawberry cream cheese
- Salsa from the deli, grape jelly, peach jam, seedless blackberry preserves (I love toast)
- Orange juice
- Nestle’s cookie dough (my 16 year old son enjoys baking these on occasion, but I also bake from scratch)
- A variety of condiments (Heinz Ketchup, mustards, pickles, relishes, mayonnaise, salad dressings)
- About 12 varieties of pasta (none of them whole wheat at the moment)
- Uncle Ben’s Instant Brown Rice (hey, sometimes I am in a hurry to get dinner on the table before we get “hangry” or right after Track practice)
- Quinoa, Barley, boxed Pilaf
- Applesauce, canned peaches (lunchbox)
- Oreo cookies (again, the hyper metabolic 16 year old)
- Tortilla chips, pretzels, potato chips (unopened, for crowds)
- Cereals – At least 4 types of ready-to-eat breakfast cereal (with 3-9 grams of sugar/serving), and oats.
- Canned tomato puree, 2 jars tomato sauce
- Almonds, pistachios
- Kind bars, Nutrigrain Bars (again, 16 year old who runs out the house in the morning 1 minute before the bus comes)
- Crackers – Nabisco® Triscuits and Wheat Thins
- Jiff Peanut Butter (son’s favorite)
- Marshmallows, Hershey Bars, Graham Crackers (yep, it’s s’more season and we love family time at our fire pit to enjoy this sweet treat – one each, plus a marshmallow or 2 on the side)
We have a second small refrigerator where we keep soda pop and extra food (the back-up gallon of milk, half and half, or large platters or bags of produce when entertaining). Since soda, lemonade, or iced tea are “occasional beverages” it’s not front and center in the kitchen where the milk and water are. I feel this helps maintain the message that soda (like beer) isn’t something you drink every day.
We also follow these guidelines in my home:
- Don’t skip meals. At a minimum, have a glass of milk in the morning before school or work.
- Include all food groups when packing a simple lunch – protein, bread/grain, fruit/vegetable, milk/yogurt
- Enjoy a home-cooked meal for dinner, even it’s simply meat from the grill with a vegetable or fruit.
- Eat out less than 3 times a week.
- Encourage the kids to eat fast food no more than once per week, or less. Choose small portions when there.
- Only drink soda or sugary drink with meal sometimes when dining out, but not every time (have water or milk sometimes).
- Limit between meal eating. If you’re hungry, plan a snack of fruit, veggies, cheese, or nuts.
- Eat chips, crackers or cookies only after you’ve eaten a healthy meal or snack.
- Get some exercise.
So what’s in your refrigerator and pantry?
As my mother used to say: Cook what they like. As a parent it’s your job to expose children to a variety of foods, and their job to eat it. If children are exposed early on to vegetables, they will eat them, but they will not like every one. If your family doesn’t like kale or spinach, then don’t try to shove them down their throats! Offer broccoli or carrots or snap peas or whatever vegetables they enjoy.
The same goes for other meals. Take breakfast cereals. If my son likes to add 2 teaspoons of sugar to oatmeal, I think that’s okay. Oats are good for him. If he likes ready-to-eat cereal for breakfast that has 9 grams of sugar per serving, I don’t have a problem with that either, because I’m not serving cereal for dinner, and I know he’ll eat the veggie and meat that we have.
When I counsel people, I don’t expect them to recreate my pantry, I help coach them into figuring out how to create the healthiest pantry that they can, and to modify habits that may lead them to poor choices. There are as many ways to create a healthy diet (one that’s full of fruits and vegetables, low in sodium and saturated fat, and moderate in sugar) as there are people.