Tonight I was invited to speak at our church to a group called MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) about "Healthy Living & Menu Planning." I was trying to think about a simple tangible way to express some of the steps our family has taken over the last two years on this "healthy living journey."
My friend Brandy suggested I make a list of baby steps for moms to start taking with their families. It's not that we're leaving you dads out, but mamas do have a lot of influence on food choices. I fully recognize that each family is unique and we all have history and habits to overcome. For some, they may tackle one baby step for the whole year of 2009. Others make work at it gradually through the days and months. I'm big on baby steps. I don't believe in "cold turkey" new year's resolutions that often expire even before we change the calendar to February.
The following are 8 Baby Steps, which are actually adult-sized steps in a lot of ways, to a healthier, happier you. I don't advocate diets. My dream is to inspire people to enjoy delicious, healthful, diverse food created by God.
Here's what I shared tonight:
1. Read labels.
The first step to improving your health is paying attention to what you're eating. Check out the ingredients list on food already in your pantry, refrigerator or next time you go to the grocery store. Ingredients are listed in order from highest quantity to lowest quantity. We avoid foods that have lots of chemicals and dyes or unfamiliar ingredients. If it says, high fructose corn syrup or has sugar as the first ingredient, we put it back on the grocery shelf and walk away slowly.
2. Cut fast food.
Most of us know fast food is the pits but we don't take the steps to get rid of the convenience of taking the kids through drivethru on a rushed night. Watch some of the recent documentaries like "Super Size Me" or "Fast Food Nation" and you'll discover plenty of reasons to rid your diet of these highly-processed, empty calorie, heart attacks on a plate. But what can you do on a practical level? Plan ahead. We make a list of our menus on Saturdays, shop for the food on Saturday and Monday, and then have a plan for the week so we don't need those "emergency trips." If you have to make an emergency trip through the drivethru, try a healthier option like Quizno's, In 'n' Out or Chik-Fil-A. These places aren't perfect but they have some good choices.
3. Avoid processed foods.
Pre-packaged, boxed and frozen foods that have a long shelf life are generally processed foods we try to stay away from. These foods have many added preservatives and chemicals that are not good for our bodies. Not to mention that the processing of these foods removes the protective and healing factors found in foods created by God. One baby step may be cleaning out your pantry. Another step if you just have to have that boxed Mac 'n' Cheese or that frozen orange chicken is to try Annie's Organic Mac 'n' Cheese or Trader Joe's frozen orange chicken. Read the labels - less chemicals like MSG, for sure. And a good rule of thumb is "homemade is always better." When you make it at home, you can save money and incorporate more whole foods that rich in nutrients.
4. Avoid white sugar.
This is a big one especially after all the holiday cookies, candies, cakes, etc. But there is a healthier way. It's all about baby steps. If you want to cut white sugar (and a few pounds!) from your diet, start slowly. Trade homemade for store bought. Then look at your cookies, cakes and pie recipes and try cutting the sugar content in half. Train your body slowly. The next step might be looking for sweetener substitutes. For example, honey is a God-created food with hundreds of health benefits. There's also real maple syrup, brown rice syrup and even organic raw sugar, which is still sugar but at least it goes through less processing and chemicals compared to that evil white stuff. Avoid artificial sweeteners at all costs. Aspartame, which is in Nutrasweet, and other fake sugars are neurotoxins and seriously mess with your system. These are worse than white sugar. Time to put down that diet soda.
5. Avoid white flour.
This isn't about losing weight at all but if that's what you're after, chucking the white flour is the way to weigh down. The first step in avoiding white flour is to look for 100% whole wheat options. For example, trade your white Wonder bread for whole wheat varieties available at Costco or Trader Joe's. (Be sure to still check the label for sugar content and strange ingredients.) You can also substitute and use whole wheat pastas and brown rice to get more of those whole grains in your diet. When baking you might try half white-half wheat for starters or try whole wheat pastry flour, my personal fave for desserts. We buy King Arthur brand or Bob's Red Mill, which are both unbleached, unbromated flours - in other words, chemical free! A final step may be experimenting with new protein and nutrient-packed flours like spelt, amaranth and others.
6. Incorporate more fruits & vegetables.
The average kid eats one fruit or vegetable per day - at best. My husband was a Physical Education teacher and he found this to be true. Many moms have heard of the 5-a-day plan but it's much harder to get kids to comply. Our bodies need more like 9-10 fruits and vegetables a day. For our family, the first step was having fun and exploring the diversity of fruits and veggies God's created. We try to eat a variety of colors. The next step is to look for locally-grown produce, which tends to be riper and have less pesticides because it has less distance to travel. We take a weekly trip to the farmer's market and local fruit stands to fill our fridge with cheap, luscious produce. The final step, of course, is going organic. We buy organic foods like berries, lettuces, peaches, etc. that don't have a protective skin. We also try at least one to two vegetarian meals a week to help compensate.
7. Incorporate more omega-3s.
The ratio of omega-3s to omega-6s (bad cholesterol) in the American diet is 1:20 even though it should be closer to 1:4 for good health. Our diets are heavy on the omega-6s. We made the step to start incorporating more omega-3-rich foods into our menus. These include walnuts, flaxseed, dark leafy greens, soy, salmon, trout, halibut and eggs. Flaxseed, for example, is very cheap to buy in bulk (try Winco!). I grind it in my coffee grinder and throw tablespoons-full into our smoothies, homemade breads, soups, stews and sauces. It doesn't have a taste and it's wonderful brain food! We also eat fish at least once a week now and I've discovered a host of yummy fish recipes. I grew up thinking I hated fish - my taste buds have definitely changed.
8. Incorporate more quality meats in your menus.
One of the biggest steps for us (since I grew up in a carnivorous family) has been eating less meat and buying more quality. Our first step was cutting the amount of meat we eat in half and getting used to other sources of protein like beans and whole grains. The next step was looking for grass-fed, organic and cage-free options. Since we cut our meat intake in half, we used the same amount of money and applied it to buying these quality meats. One day we hope to buy a whole or half organic cow so we can save by buying in bulk. The final step is cutting "unclean meats" from your diet entirely. For us, that meant saying bye-bye to pork and bottom feeders like shrimp, clams, crabs and lobster.
Again, these are baby steps. Be nice to yourself. Take a few seriously and tackle them together with family members. Make a game plan. Try to think of ways to make eating healthy foods fun. My friend Michelle said she hosted an apple taste-testing night with her family. She bought 10 kinds of apples, sliced them up and let the kids debate. You could do this with veggies, fruits and more. My friend Cindy strategically keeps sliced veggies like "trees" (broccoli) and carrot sticks out on her kitchen counter all the time so her kids get the idea that these are snacks that are always available.
I'd love your feedback. Are you taking baby steps in 2009 with your family? What steps have you already taken? Success stories and hard journey stories are welcome. Questions that provoke research are also welcome. That's how I learn. Thanks for joining us on the journey as "honor God with our bodies" (1 Cor. 6:19) in this new year.