Never mind the 10 (!) Yom Tov meals you just finished and the Cinnabon you stuffed in your mouth the minute Pesach ended. Today our kitchens are back to normal and our stomachs will be too. And if there ever was a time for a fresh start in how we feed ourselves and our families, these weeks post Pesach and leading up to Shavuos are it.
That’s because the seven weeks between Pesach and Shavuos are a time of continual growth. What better time to make a commitment to healthy living? Following are seven tips for creating a healthier home that my kids and I developed. My plan is to write a few posts every week about each tip. The idea is to adopt one tip per week, or adapt the ideas to what works in your own home. If you have any of your own suggestions, do share!
1. Buy food plain and flavor it yourself. Take a look at the ingredients on flavored oatmeal, flavored yogurt or packaged couscous. They’re full of ingredients you can’t pronounce and pretty much don’t need. They’re meant to preserve the products’ shelf life and taste salty or sweet enough to keep you shoveling in the spoonfuls. Plain yogurt, plain oatmeal, raw and plain grains–not only is it healthier to flavor food yourself, but it’s also cheaper. For yogurt and oatmeal, we add honey or real maple syrup.
2. Avoid trans fat. If you haven’t done this yet, toss out the trans fat. This isn’t so hard these days because avoiding trans fat is now so trendy that even Oreo’s no longer contain it. Look for partially hydrogenated oils, margarine or shortening in ingredient lists and then look for an alternative, similar product. In your own baking, instead of margarine, use butter, coconut oil or at the very least, Earth Balance.
3. Avoid the dirty dozen. Eating all organic is just not plausible for everybody’s food budget. If that’s the case, check out this list of a dozen fruits and vegetables to buy exclusively organic. Most of these organic products are available at produce stores because they are so popular. If one of the items, like strawberries, is too expensive because it’s out of season, don’t buy it. Better to do without and eat it when it’s cheaper and deliciously ripe.
4. Add whole grains to your diet. Not every family is able to switch over entirely to whole grains without an all out riot from the kids. Try instead to add whole grains little by little. Add a cup of whole wheat to baked goods when a recipe calls for two cups of flour. Mix in some brown rice with your normal white rice recipe and call it pilaf.
5. Eat leafy greens. Leafy greens are the power food of every diet, yet most people hardly eat any. And for Orthodox Jews, who take time to check the leaves for bugs, I’m pretty confident the servings of leafy greens on most plates is even smaller. Leafy vegetables are brimming with fiber along with vitamins, minerals, and plant-based substances that can protect you from heart disease, diabetes and perhaps even cancer. Plus, if you know how to cook them, they’re delicious (I promise!). It’s easy to toss in spinach or kale to a recipe, while serving the same meal to picky eaters plain. Eat it enough, and you just might encourage the rest of your family to give it a try.
6. Avoid highly processed foods. This might just be the hardest tip to adopt. Take it on little by little, though, and you can make it work.
7. Get moving! No doubt the easiest way to get moving is walking. By necessity, Orthodox Jews all live within walking distance of synagogues, friends and institutions. In my own neighborhood of West Rogers Park, Chicago, we live in walking distance of many stores as well. Yet, the only time most people walk is on Shabbos! Sure, walking takes a few more minutes, but it’s worth every one. Weight loss, sleep regulation, muscle development, decreased risk of heart disease, osteoporosis and diabetes are only some of the many benefits of walking. Walking is also a way to connect with friends along the way or take time to think. Shavuos marks the beginning of summer, so get moving!