Yeah I know I’ve been MIA. Work’s nuts and ALSO I was at home (praise the lord – New England >>>>> Texas in the summertime) for some family visits tacked onto a trip for a super awesome wedding (HEY PATSY!). While driving from CT to Philly for said wedding, I entertained myself by reading Dear Prudence columns because why not?
One in particular entitled “I’ll have what the toddler’s having” rang true. In said column, a woman writes for advice about what to do with her fiance, who is a very picky eater and chooses only foods like pizza, chicken fingers, french fries, and grilled cheese for no reason other than he doesn’t like the texture of other foods. Since he is currently (as a twenty-something) healthy, he sees no reason to change his habits. The problem with taking this approach is that while an active lifestyle alone can keep health pretty good to a certain point, bad food does catch up with you. You can’t watch the plaques slowly building up in your arteries, and it’s highly unlikely that someone who isn’t a trained dietitian will pick up on subclinical micronutrient deficiencies. In a person of healthy weight, the health effects of a poor diet will strike once a person reaches middle age, and by that time it’s really tough to get on track.
Even excluding all health considerations, exploring the world around you through food is a great way to get to know new cultures, to connect with the local food system and the people who are a part of it, and to appreciate nature. Food is more than just fuel. By putting a limit on what you are willing to eat, you limit your understanding of all of these things. Worse yet, you limit the people you share your life with.
The sad truth is, there are many grown adults out there who eat like children. I’ve always had a bit of a pet peeve for people who are unwilling to try new foods, but when it gets so bad that they simply will not eat vegetables or anything other than what’s found on your run-of-the-mill kids’ menu, it’s infuriating. Typically, I give people some sort of tip or trick to get around the hurdles that they’re experiencing with nutrition, but for this one, there is no easy way out. You can’t pop Rainbow Lightning or a multivitamin and think that’s the same thing as a balanced diet. You can’t outexercise a bad diet. There simply are certain things you need to suck up and do in order to be a successful human. One of those is giving a shit about what you put in your body.
If you feel a little bit concerned about whether or not you’re eating like an adult, here some very very simple guidelines. For the college students reading this, start practicing. For the early-mid twentysomethings, you’ve presumably had some time to fend for yourself and I really really hope you’ve done some of this on your own. For everyone else, if you haven’t grown up in the eating department yet, GET ON IT.
Tans are for beach babes, not dinner plates. Imagine with me for a moment a plate of chicken tenders and french fries. Or buttered noodles and garlic bread. Or grilled cheese and potato chips. What do they have in common? It’s all “kid food”, it all pretty much tastes the same, it’s all loaded with salt, fat, and calories, and it’s all tan. Not pretty. A plate full of tan is both visually off-putting and a good indicator that you’re not getting the nutrients you need from your food. You might say “Well what about grilled chicken breast with brown rice and sauteed mushrooms?” to which I would say stop being a smartass, and who has ever actually put those things together as a meal? While all those foods are healthy, it’s always a good idea to go for (natural) color variety. Skittles don’t count.
Adults cook. Men cook. If there is one thing that I wish I could do differently at my job, it’s that I wish I could actually cook with people. Friends, a roasted vegetable is a beautiful thing. A pile of canned green beans that have been boiled to hell is most definitely not appealing. There are so many patients who come into my office who think they hate “healthy food” but who have never actually attempted to make anything “healthy” themselves. Learning how to employ different cooking methods in order to create meals that are pleasing to your own tastes is key when it comes to eating well. Even healthy-sounding foods that are purchased at a restaurant are often made unhealthy by toppings and dressings that add fat, salt, and/or sugar. Cooking at home is truly the only way to know what’s going into your food. In order to do that, you’ve just gotta get in the kitchen. Take some lessons, watch the food network, or ask your mom. Whatever it takes it’s worth it. And men with ladies (or ladies with men! or ladies with ladies! or men with men!) who do all the cooking, you still need to be competent. What happens if that person goes on vacation or something else more morbid or depressing?? You need to be able to take care of yourself. This isn’t Leave it to Beaver. This is REAL LIFE.
Cheese sauce is not a seasoning. Herbs and spices are seasonings. Part of your culinary education is not only how to take the food from raw to cooked, but how to make it taste delicious. There is are right and a wrong ways to go about doing this. Fat and salt are the main ways that “kid foods” get flavor – grilled cheese cooked on a buttered flat top, cheese on everything. While cheese sauce may be the only way to get a toddler to eat broccoli, you can wipe your own ass and therefore you need to eat your vegetables sans queso. Become familiar with different herbs and spices, how to use them, how to grown them, and then play. Here in Houston we have several spice shops that are filled with amazing products. Find one near you, walk around sniffing, and pick out something that smells awesome. It’s basically Yankee Candle but after you get to eat something delicious. Some of my favorite seasonings? Smoked paprika, Old Bay*, Tony’s*, Paul Prudhomme, Mrs. Dash, curry powder of all kinds, garlic powder, and good old fresh cracked black pepper.
* = these contain salt, so beware if you’ve got high blood pressure
Eat your vegetables. A few years ago, I was running with a friend of mine when he asked “Lauren, if I don’t eat vegetables but I eat a lot of fruits, is that ok?”. The answer is NO. A few months ago, I cheered for him as he passed me up around mile 5 of a 10k, and he responded “It’s the vegetables!” Happy dietitian 🙂 In all seriousness, one of the most common resources I give patients is a vegetable roasting guide. But even if that’s too much effort, frozen vegetables are still the bomb. Whether they’re raw, frozen, cooked, or fresh, all vegetables are good so cook them without tons of added fat and get ’em on your plate. For ideas on how to boost your veg intake, check out this post.
It doesn’t need to be fried (trust me). Lots of “kid foods” are fried, but that same crispy texture can be achieved by roasting. Whether it’s making crispy oven “fries” or baked chicken parmesan, there is always always a healthier option. I really can’t think of a good reason for any home to have a deep fryer. Bottom line, make the better choice because it’s out there.
Kids should eat like adults too. I know I’ve been calling the greasy tan crap “kid food”, but in reality it shouldn’t be. If you have kids, you don’t have an excuse to keep chicken nuggets in the freezer and a table top deep fryer in the cabinet. The more you offer novel foods to your child, the more accepting they will be of eating different things now and as they grow older. There is no reason to set a precedent that your children should eat mac n cheese and hot dogs while you eat healthy foods – they should be offered the same healthy options.
Peace dudes. Hopefully I’ll be more consistent (but probably not – nobody pays for these rants).