What do you do when you have been diagnosed with high cholesterol and your decision is to 'change your lifestyle' rather than pop a pill? How do you manage to cook and eat as a family without forcing everyone down the heart-healthy path? Well, what's wrong with a heart-healthy diet?? Oh, getting some resistance from the peanut gallery? Children are notorious for turning their noses up at 'healthy food' … or are they? Men, too can balk at the sheer mention of healthy eating, but do they really? Let's look at some gentle ways you can introduce heart healthy foods in your house. I try not to shove the good stuff down their throats, so to speak, but as the chief cook I can incorporate some healthier choices into the foods they love. Mashed potatoes is a good example. I used to prepare them the good ol' fashioned way – peeled Idaho potatoes mashed with milk, plenty of butter, salt, and pepper. Plus I made some the 'new' way … organic whole small red potatoes cooked with some organic carrots and smashed gently. I added a bit of butter with olive oil and some salt and pepper. Once they got used to that, I added a little chopped fresh spinach (for color) and now they all eat it with plenty of chopped spinach. A small change, but one that is healthier than the earlier way to eat mashed potatoes.
Another way to incorporate the good stuff is in a salad and hopefully your family eats salads! If they're stuck on iceberg lettuce, slowly start adding romaine and other lettuce types, even spring mix and spinach. My grandson does not like lettuce so the switch to spinach was well received. He loves to make his own salads, too. Perhaps your children will enjoy that as well. His current favorite is a take on Wendy's Apple Pecan salad with chicken and we have mimicked it at home. Recently he tried spinach with strawberries, bleu cheese (yeah, I know for a six year old to like bleu cheese is odd, but he loves it!) with roasted pecans and a pomegranate dressing. "Good to the last drop," he says!
I keep plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables on hand. This time of year your local farmer's market can provide a wealth of heart-healthy foods. It's so easy to grab a bag of chips and a soda when the hunger monster attacks, but a cold sweet melon cut in bite-sized pieces can easily fill the void and it's jam-packed with nutrients, too. So many fruits lend themselves to a quick snack … apples, peaches, pears, plums, kiwis (and yes, you can eat the skin, too!), fresh pineapple and the list goes on and on.
I also keep plenty of vegetables the kids (and spouse) can grab on the go. If you don't own a mandolin it's a great tool for the kitchen. It makes a quick and easy way to slice vegetables into kid-friendly size pieces with little effort.
Keeping individual containers of sliced carrots, cucumbers, peppers, cherry tomatoes, celery, broccoli, cauliflower is a great way for kids to make their own healthy snack. Of course, they'll probably want Ranch dressing with their veggies at first, but offering them other options will open them up to trying new flavors … like hummus!
I make my own croutons by simply cutting pieces of my whole wheat and their white bread into crouton-sized pieces, spreading them on a cookie sheet and spraying them with Pam and sprinkling them with Italian herbs. Toast in the oven until lightly browned.
Need bread crumbs? Same thing only I save all my bread ends in a basket and when I have enough I break the bread into pieces and put in a blender with Italian herbs and some salt and pepper.
Shall we talk about popcorn? Sure, I was sucked into the extra butter, movie style pop in the bag popcorn, but is that really the best choice? Air-popped? OK, I don't really like it either so what are some options? Just a lighter fare and portion control – a good place to start. My carnivore husband adds butter and salt to his bag of extra butter movie-style popcorn – I've learned to pick my battles. With the grandchildren, I offer a lighter popcorn or use the old-fashioned Stir-Crazy popcorn maker where I can add healthier oils and less salt with no butter. They love to watch the kernels pop into fluffy tidbits of happiness.
It's easy to incorporate healthier oils, less salt, add herbs and spices, reduce the quantity of foods consumed aimlessly, add more salads and healthier cheeses. If you make changes slowly they'll hardly notice. Then, get them involved … read ingredients on packaging together … review the listed nutritional analysis … and serving sizes. Talk about how science is creating our foods and simplify. If you can't pronounce it without some effort do you really want to eat it?
Another way to start without a major change at first is to eat correct portion sizes and eat balanced meals. Take a look at the new food "pyramid" and follow its guidelines.
It's that simple.
I am ...
... a former blogger for a health site, which means eating healthy aka heart smart
which has become a passion for me. I will start at the beginning when I first
discovered I had high cholesterol.