Where does one start with a topic as big as our daily food. For me, the real food choices began when I thought I didn’t have any choices left that I could make. But that takes a while to get to. Forgive me. I’m going to ramble a bit.
Growing up, my mom cooked great food for us. We weren’t the house on the block with the “candy cupboard” (and yes, there was a neighbor who had a pantry stocked completely with candy and chips for their kids). My mom also had veggies, fruits, bran muffins, meats, milk, juice, etc. in the house for us. And, we had our beloved peanut butter and Kraft Mac-N-Cheese (we were a brand loyal bunch on our mac-n-cheese as a group). My mom cooked healthy meals – all with veggies, milks, meats, etc. We were treated to fabulous fresh corn on the cob, watermelon, cherries, strawberries, etc in the summer and other seasonal items.
I don’t know if my mom thought about the fact that she was choosing the foundations of our healthy eating for life. At least not like there is pressure to do so today. I *do* know that my mom chose wisely. We didn’t have Hostess cakes and soda endlessly on hand (although we begged for soda… that didn’t come until I was a teenager…LOL). We ate family meals – TOGETHER – not apart and not in front of a television. She packed healthy lunches (when we brought them from home…) and support our food choices in other ways.
What she didn’t control – nor could she -were the food choices that we made outside of the home. Like what we ate when we ate the “hot lunch” at school. Although I must admit, in elementary school my memory of our school lunches is sketchy at best. Beyond the day when we were somehow treated to marlin or the ever present turkey-chunks-in-gravy-on-mashed-potatoes, I don’t remember much. I do know that I wasn’t a chocolate milk drinker (still don’t) nor did I eat chocolate cake (still don’t). I enjoyed the canned fruit “salads” that were served… but now when I read the ingredients, I wonder about what I really ate. Some of the canned fruit items are decent… others are dubious.
In middle school, the school favorite food was a vending machine. And NOT a junk food vending machine either. It was filled with huge, crunchy red apples and sunflower seeds. Students would rush to the machine during lunches and after school for our snacks. It was honestly a highlight. The lunches didn’t improve (more turkey-chunks-in-gravy) but the snack options were new to middle school.
It was in high school that student choice really mattered. Our high school had (has?) an award-winning lunch program. They had a fresh salad bar, an “ethnic” food line (changing everyday of the week to a new cuisine type), the regular “hot lunch” offering… and a veritable school-run mini-burger joint (read: french fries, hamburgers, fried chicken patty sandwiches, “nuggets” of some sort, etc). Here’s the deal though: the school MAY have had the other fabulous offerings, but my friends and I ate 99% of our meals from the mini-burger options. In fact, I’m sure I could blame much of my booty on the daily cheeseburger I chose for myself.
The thing about food and me in high school is that I never connected the dots. I never saw my food choices as being the things that are driving my long-term health or that they would eventually lead to serious health issues in my future (or my major continuing booty issues that are now thigh and tummy issues too…LOL). I guess I figured that I “could” change or “would” change and that the change would be easy, quick, life-altering and have immediate impact on my health. As though eating an apple could cure me of any illness or any crappy food I had ingested within the last month or lifetime. Oh yeah, I was an optimist (or naive).
Food choices are something that changed when I thought I didn’t have a choice any more. Upon being diagnosed with Celiac Sprue, I was informed (as I have said before) that it would “easy”. “You just can’t eat bread, pasta, pizza, cakes, cookies, etc anymore,” the doctor said before hanging up the phone. I immediately went over to the computer and tried to figure out how to spell “Celiac” based on his pronunciation on the phone. When I found the only and only cookbook (Thank you, Bette Hagman) that existed within 25 miles of my house (and I lived in Chicago, people!) that address my “new” needs, I realized that “easy” was not the term I would be using for a while to explain my new diet.
Within a few days, my Love and I cleaned out our pantry of all things gluten-filled and fill many a grocery bag for donation to food banks, a few more bags of things to bring to friends (flour, etc) and sadly, a few more garbage bags for the dumpster out back of open containers of things that we wouldn’t be using any more.
Then my food choices got REAL. We realized that seasonings and bases of items that are naturally gluten-free were NOT gluten free. That my Love’s fabulous egg rolls and stir fries would need to be adjusted so that we could enjoy them together again. We began shopping at different markets that had more natural food offerings because that was the easiest place to start. I still employ the skills I learned in those first few months of gluten free shopping when I go to our local grocer. And while organic is great when we can afford it or are willing to buy it (like for dairy products for the Chicklet), I know how to cook better. I’m willing to pick up new items, take them home and try them. I shop where I know I will find the “safe” food to eat and I go at it.
My Chicklet is well primed to cook and bake too. She is always in the kitchen when we are baking and cooking. She rushes in when she hears the mixer or the food processor kick in to gear. She loves “dips” (like hummus, etc) on her plate and is fearless about what she is willing to dip in to it too! (Garlic hummus on your orange slices, anyone? What about with your blueberries? A little barbeque sauce?). She relishes fresh fruits and veggies. (So far, she has only declined to eat broccoli, but we’re working on it.) She think juicy meats are to die for and there is no better treat than a lovely slice of orange, apple, watermelon, cantaloupe, etc after school. I love this kid. And my husband and I are committed to helping her maintain her love of good food as she grows up too. We fill her lunch bag with the goodness she enjoys and a few new treats to try as well (today it was a mini-box of raisins). Someday that lunch bag will have broccoli in it, I promise, too!
This month (May), my niece and nephew turn a year older and the Chicklet turns two. My nephew enjoys cooking and baking. He likes the challenge of trying a new ingredient or finding a new recipe to try. His parents (my sister and her husband) are completely supportive of their boys exploring foods and the kitchen.
My niece, on the other hand, has a mom who loves to eat… but doesn’t cook. At. All. Really. My sister (the other one, I have two) taught my niece how to make mac-n-cheese (from a box) and “Hamburger Helper” (from a box) so she wouldn’t have to live off the microwave-ready meals that her sweet mom makes for them both.
Since birthdays are around the corner, I am delighted to be giving both of these kids something they will LOVE: Jamie’s Food Revolution Cookbook.
Jamie Oliver, a reknown chef from the UK, has worked for years to change the eating habits of children in the UK by changing their school lunch programs. He has a culinary school that seeks to give skills to at-risk teenagers and young adults, and then employs them in his restaurant “15“. He has several professional accomplishments, cookbooks, acknowledgements, etc. but he CHOOSES to use his time and money to help change the way we – and people in the UK – view, consume and manage our food choices. And he is starting with our kids. There is a lot to review a learn about the “Food Revolution” that you may find of interest to you and your family as well. Jamie is hoping to arrive in Washington DC with 1,000,000 signature on a petition (over 500,000 have already signed, including yours truly and my Love) to help get change moving through our school lunch programs. Things have to change in order for our kids to have better.
Remember the day when ketchup was considered a vegetable serving for kids in schools?
Well, things like that are still happening.
I’ve seen it. Teaching certainly brings the food and beverages that kids are being served and eating right in to my daily life.
Our school lunch program guidelines have run amok and afoul of our knowledge of food and nutrition and our kids are paying the price. This is the first generation of young people who have a predicted shorter life span than their parents. That blows my mind. Our hard-work to create conveniences is killing us slowing essentially. There are many families (like my nieces) who sustain themselves on what is available, what is convenient, etc. I get it, I do! Trust me! I have a toddler at home and am almost 7 months pregnant. There are days when I wish for more convenience too – but then I realize that it doesn’t take more than 30 minutes for me to get a healthy meal on the table for my family (fajitas last night… mmmm YUMMY!) and the price is cheaper than if we went out to eat. (Not to mention, since I made them, I know everything is gluten-free and there is no danger of cross-contact or outright gluten-filled goodies hitting my plate.)
So I guess I’m posting this to see if you are willing to sign the petition to support this change for our kids… AND US. What a great gift it would be to know that sending our kids off to school (where MANY MANY MANY kids eat their only meals of the day) also meant that we were caring for their bodies and health and not just their minds.
So if you can, if you have the time, here are a few things to check out.
(info after the last episode of the TV show highlight the change in Huntington, WV)
And a quote from Jamie to finish (and yes, he is straight to his point):
Oliver said: “Parents can be the most positive, powerful force in a country or they can be disgusting, backstabbing traitors. When little Johnny comes home and says, ‘I didn’t get my nugget today,’ it’s wrong to say ‘Oh, all right, darling,’ and give him some [expletive] horrible Lunchable and a pack of potato chips and a luminous drink.”
In the end, Oliver said, he will do whatever is necessary: “One thing you have to learn about me is that I do not think I am a superman. I do not think I’m special. I’m in a position that I’m using. I believe in people. I believe in local ambassadors of change. I genuinely think there is an energy right now. It’s the time to put some common-sense things in place.”
Please sign the petition today.
Happy gluten free & healthy eating to all!
PS. I’ll be back in the next couple days with our fajita recipe. It was so easy! Really! You’re going to love it too!
Latest video from Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution just came in my mailbox…thought I’d update the post with it: