My husband recently learned his cholesterol is a bit elevated, nothing to really worry about, but good to be aware. My husband is a meat-eater, without a doubt. He could easily eat a 32-ounce ribeye, fat and all, without blinking an eye. He loves steak tartar (freshly ground raw beef) on white bread (or pumpernickel if we have it), slathered with butter, an whopping slice of onion, and plenty of salt and pepper. He grew up in the fifties where many of us made choices that are affecting our health today. We learn as we go and do the best we can with the knowledge we have ... if we’re one of the lucky ones. Every day I hear of someone who has had a heart attack, then continue to eat the way they always have. Change can be scary and many people have the attitude that they can have what they want when they want it. Of course, genetics plays a huge role, but I, for one, will look at my genetics and adjust what I can to be the best I can be.
As the primary meal planner/preparer, what are my options as I prepare meals for my family? It’s simple, really ... here’s a quick list of some easy things to do promote heart health for your family:
- Keep plenty of seasonal fresh fruit available and skip the chips and cookie aisles at the store
- Pass on the saltines and Ritz and provide whole grain crackers and choose a lower fat cheese or soy cheese,
- Lose the high sugar, empty caloric dry cereals and provide better choices - if the cereal is eye-level for your child it’s not the best choice. Teach your kids to look UP! Read labels and help your child make better choices, too. LEAD BY EXAMPLE!
- Still drinking whole milk? Go for 2%, then 1% ... and how about milk alternatives? Soymilk, almond milk, rice milk? As the chief meal preparer, you can easily slip in milk alternatives while cooking and baking. You family won’t know the difference. All alternate milks do very well in baking.
- Snack on ‘good for you’ quick breads (pumpkin, zucchini, orange-cranberry and banana walnut) and skip the cream cheese or butter. Try apple butter and homemade is easy and wonderful! Be sure to use some whole wheat flour or oat flour ... experiment! The options are endless.
- Eat more salads and start shifting away from heavy salad dressings - try a simple balsamic vineagrette and fill your salad plate with mixed greens instead of head lettuce? Got a fussy salad eater who only likes head lettuce? Accent his salad with a bit of fresh spinach or mixed greens and plenty of other veggies and fruit.
- Love tuna sandwiches? Try salmon and skimp on the mayo.
- Toss some freshly chopped spinach to mashed potatoes and/or cook carrots with the potatoes to make a lovely orange mashed potato.
- Eat several “no-meat” meals during the week. Spaghetti without meatballs, stir-fry without meat, no-meat chili, etc.
- Hit the Internet and look for new ways to cook vegetables ... start slowly, but try new foods often. Recently, I was given a spaghetti squash and though I’ve had the squash before, I didn’t really care for it. But, that was then and this is now ... off to Vegetarian Times to find a recipe. Of course, the site didn’t let me down and I made a dish using a spaghetti squash and some roasted vegetables. There were some items in the recipe I didn’t want to use or didn’t have so this is my version. If you’d like the real recipe, here it is.
- 1 - 2-lb. spaghetti squash, halved, seeds removed
- 1 pt. cherry tomatoes, cut in ½
- 1/4 large red onion, cut into wedges or chopped (your call)
- 1 or 2 small zucchini, sliced or chopped (again, your call)
- 1 teaspoon garlic oil, grapeseed oil, or olive oil (again, your choice)
- ½ tsp. minced fresh thyme
- ½ teaspoon minced fresh rosemary
- 2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese, optional
Pierce the spaghetti squash several times and place in microwave - five minutes per pound. Once you can press the squash and you feel it give a little, it’s done. Allow to cool for a few minutes, then cut in half lengthwise; remove the seeds, and with a fork, pull from top to bottom creating spaghetti-like strands. Put in an 8 x 8 inch square pan and set aside.
Put cherry tomatoes, onion, and zucchini on prepared baking sheet. Drizzle oil over all and sprinkle with thyme and rosemary. Season with salt and pepper, if desired, and toss mixture to coat with oil and seasonings.
Place vegetable mix on top rack of the oven. Bake a ½ hour at 325 degrees stirring to avoid scorching. Toss roasted vegetables with spaghetti squash and put into a warmed bowl.
This is really good with some freshly grated Parmesan cheese sprinkled over all.
To make this a complete protein, add chickpeas or other bean of choice. The dish likely lends itself to many options, including tofu, fresh spinach, mushrooms, yellow squash, broccoli, etc. The options are endless!
Bottom line? Yes, I do sneak new or disliked foods into well-liked dishes I prepare for my family.
I had to be a bit more clever when it came to the switch from white rice to brown rice. It was a bit trickier, especially since white rice cooks so much faster than brown rice, but for the record, I put one-half cup of brown rice in a skillet (with a cover) and heated it (yes, without water), until I started to smell it, then I added three cups of water and a pinch of salt. About thirty minutes later, I added a cup of white rice and in fifteen minutes I had a brown rice/white rice mix ... I kept adjusting the brown/white ratio until my family accepted the brown rice by itself (OK, it took about a year, but it finally worked). Long cooking or steel-cut oatmeal was another time consuming swap. Eating the package type of oatmeal provides too much sugar and to make it quick cooking manufacturer’s rob the oatmeal of all redeeming qualities! A better option I’ve found is to put a cup of regular oatmeal (I haven’t tried this method with steel-cut oats yet) and put it into a 2-quart thermos. Add two cups of boiling water and a handful of raisins (dates, currents, dried cranberries, etc.) and put the on the top. Wrap the thermos in a large bath towel and place on the kitchen counter. In the morning you will have four servings of luscious oatmeal. Just add some local honey and a splash of soymilk (or whatever) and enjoy.
Now, go ahead ... get sneaky ... get creative ... take a chance. What’s the worse that can happen? OK, someone can say, “Yuk!” ... but it’s not like you haven’t heard THAT before!