Good nutrition is the cornerstone to health and yet there are so many forces working against us. The soil is not as rich in nutrients and minerals as it once was. Our food is harvested too early and from too far away leading to reduced nutrient components. Conventional produce is covered in chemical pesticides and herbicides. Junk foods filled with chemicals, additives, preservatives, sugar and sodium are plentiful, convenient and cheap while healthy options are difficult to find. And now, we’ve manipulated many of our foods at their genetics and are eating them without any confidence of their long term effects. Eating healthy is a daily challenge. It’s no longer a matter of counting calories, reducing fats or eating more salads and less meat as it once seemed to be. Healthy eating is a conscious choice and behavior that one participates in every hour of the day and in every decision we make.We vote with our forks for companies we wish to support and we vote with our forks whether we want to get sick or live.
This is all the more difficult when accepting the fact that this return to good food, to cooking from scratch and focusing on whole foods comes at a time when we really don’t have any time for it, any knowledge of cooking or any craving for these whole foods. Our lives are overscheduled, overcommitted, overobligated webs of busy-ness..
We are so busy! And what are we busy with? Taking on these new jobs of reading labels, grocery shopping, cooking, washing dishes, reading recipes, planning meals can be very daunting. Especially when you consider that 28% of American’s can’t cook. I would even argue with this and say it’s more like 28% of American’s CAN cook. Just because you can boil some eggs or bake some chicken breasts in a can of potato soup doesn’t mean you can cook a meal every night or cook a variety of nutritious foods. I certainly fall in this category. I’ve cooked for 20 years but I’m just learning how to cook for health. I’ve enjoyed cooking and could make a fantastic holiday dinner and had about a dozen staples I could count on to throw together for dinner. I even enjoyed trying something new from a cookbook, but if you looked at the foods I prepared compared with what is available, it would appear I only worked with some of the same ingredients over and over again. Further, I cooked with a lot of pre-packaged convenience items. Cans of soup thrown over a chicken breast, boxes of tuna helper, frozen meatballs. These foods made me feel like I was giving my family home-cooked meals without requiring me to actually invest the time in all that prep work. And I had plenty of excuses to support my choices. I work full time in a demanding job, I have two young kids and I’m a single mom. Even before I was a single mom, I was working full time and did not have help in the kitchen and all of this was a lot to take on. Many nights those frozen meatballs meant the difference between eating something that looked like dinner as opposed to eating a bowl of cereal, so I felt like a big success.
In addition to cooking for convenience, I cooked for flavor. That meant I had a lot of cheese, a lot of meat, and a lot of starches that we all love. The vegetables I prepared were more like garnish. If they were on the plate, then I’d done my job as a mom by providing vegetables, but aside from the obligatory “no-thank-you” portion, they went uneaten–even mine.
So, here I am, still working full time, still a single mom, still an average cook but one thing has changed: I am informed. I now know about the consequences of a poor diet. I know about the uncertainty around GMOs. I know about the importance of eating organic, local, in season foods, and eating a variety of them. I know about the nutrients and minerals and how essential they are to your body and immune functions. I know about all the toxic additives, preservatives, food colorings, emulsifiers, you name it that are lurking in those “convenient foods.”
And once I knew, I couldn’t keep doing what I was doing. Not without tremendous amounts of guilt and tremendous anxiety about what I was eating and feeding to my family and where it would get us.
So, I started to make changes. Some were more painful than others. Some were fun. Some were a disaster. Some were expensive, some were cheap. All of them challenged me to think differently and to consider where my time was best spent because all of them took time. And I’m always short on time. But with practice, things got easier.
The surprise in this was that when we started eating better, I started feeling better and this renewed health gave me a gift I was not expecting: more time. Not only was I getting more efficient in my skills and more prepared with my meal plans and snack plans and lunch plans reducing trips to the store or outings where we had to eat fast food or go home and miss something, but I got more time back in new ways too. There was less time spent on the couch aching and feeling sick not wanting to eat or cook or move. In fact, in the past 6 months now, there has been none of that. There have been fewer sick days for my kids too. We went from about 15 sick days a year for the kids (which would mean more than that for me because once they got better, I got sick) to … wait for it… zero sick days last year. Zero.
I didn’t just change our eating habits, I also removed all other toxins from our house and I know that contributed to our improved health too but that is a discussion for another post. The point is, being conscious of all the things in our environment, our food and our lives that are assaulting our immune systems, our endocrine systems, our quality of life, our pocketbooks and making changes at whatever pace we can handle to avoid, reduce and remove these things from our lifestyle while seeking ways to reintroduce those things that boost our health and vitality is an investment that will pay off for years and in uncountable ways.
Just take it a day at a time, a meal at a time, a purchase at a time. Small changes, even over a short period of time do add up to a big impact. Just think of what one change, avoiding all soda, would do for your health. That would be huge! Then changing your laundry detergent to something non-toxic. That change is practically imperceptible in the scheme of your daily life because it is simply a change in brands and not a change in habits, but it will make a big difference to your health too. One at a time, you can add small things back into your lifestyle while removing others, and before you know it you will realize that you feel incredible and would never go back to those old habits.