When my husband and I got married, I was not a great cook. Capable, for the most part, but not great. Over the past 16 years, I have improved a lot. It didn’t happen overnight. But each year, we made minor changes, sometimes major changes, to our diet. I took cooking classes, not because I was so horrible, but just because I enjoyed learning new techniques and trying new cuisines. I gathered a few recipes from here and there, and we have a somewhat eclectic recipe selection now.
I started baking most of our own bread six or seven years ago and really enjoyed it. My girls would rather eat my bread than anything store-bought. They can put away four loaves in a few days. I’ve slacked off the bread baking in the last year because our lives have been much busier and I ran out of wheat berries. It’s hard to find an economical and quality source. The wheat I get at the store does not make good bread, and the co-op I have ordered in bulk with doesn’t seem to be in existence anymore…or at least no one is returning my emails. To fill in the bread gap, I only buy a “store-quality” loaf a week for sandwiches and sometimes a more expensive “designer” loaf for myself. While I love bread, and so do my girls, it’s pretty far down the healthy food scale when compared to vegetables and fruits. So, it’s probably a good thing that circumstances have had us reduce our consumption.
Also, this year one of my daughters developed a dairy allergy. So, I have struggled the last few months with eliminating all milk products from her diet. This was a real blow to our healthy habits, because we swear by raw milk. The rest of our family still drinks raw milk daily, but we have stopped cooking with it, as well as butter, cheese, sour cream, cream cheese, whipped cream, etc. It’s taken a lot of adjustment, but we’re slowly eliminating it. We have chosen coconut milk and coconut oil to replace milk and butter. We have not had any major flops from the substition, though many ingredients do react differently. Our pancakes aren’t quite as fluffy, for instance, but they still taste really good.
I haven’t cooked with packaged foods in years, but I occasionally still use convenience foods, such as hashbrowns or pre-made pizzas. Life happens, you know. I made a commitment to give up a few things at a time so as to not get overwhelmed. One thing I thought would be a big deal was Velveeta. This was pre-dairy-free, so we used Velveeta in a lot of things, such as mac-n-cheese and grilled cheeses. I don’t think I’ve bought Velveeta in over a year. We adjusted pretty easily, overall. I only buy real cheese now, and in much smaller quantities for just those of us who like cheese on a sandwich or grated over a dish. This enables me to buy a higher quality cheese. We never liked the pre-grated cheese at the store, but we ate so much cheese (like a pound a week) that it was the most economical. Now, we probably don’t eat a pound of cheese in a whole month.
Besides what we have reduced, replaced, or eliminated, I have added more fruits and vegetables to our menu. Almost every meal has a fresh vegetable added in some way. Soups are easy, of course, but you can add vegetables in other dishes, like casseroles, spaghetti sauce, and chili. I keep fruits for snacks and mix up berries to add to breakfast or as a light dessert for dinner. I started small with just a bite or two on the plate. As my girls got used to that, they began asking for more or helping themselves. The natural sweetness of fruit has reduced their sweet tooth cravings, not entirely eliminated it, mind you, but definitely reduced it.
I did not introduce my children to sodas at all, and for the most part they still don’t care for them. My parents drank Sprite, and a couple of my girls liked to have one with them as a treat. An occasional soda wasn’t worth having a stroke over, but I still never bought them for the house. I will likely relent for my dairy-free child and start buying the sodas with cane sugar as a once-in-a-while splurge when she can’t have what everyone else is having. We, like many Sourtherners, enjoy sweet tea. But I stopped making it recently just to see if anyone really missed it. They didn’t much. We can drink tea when we have lunch with my dad, but otherwise we now only drink filtered water or milk with meals.
If you’re looking for ways to improve your health, starting with small changes to your diet is the best place to look. Please share how you want to changed this year.