An old friend recently asked me for suggestions about how to interest her meat and potatoes husband in healthy eating. Her suggestion got my wheels turning and obviously I have tons of ideas!
My experience with my own husband and others is that flavor trumps health food every time. Most people have an incorrect perception of what health food is and what it tastes like (usually something similar to cardboard). I have found that delicious health food speaks for itself — people want to eat it because it tastes good, not just because it is good for them.
When thinking about flavor I think the two most important categories are quality of ingredients and sauces. For flavorful ingredients, nothing beats super-fresh fruits and vegetables. There is just no comparison between canned peas and fresh peas shelled right before dinner. Many people think they don’t like vegetables just because they have never eaten really fresh vegetables prepared well. Choose the freshest ingredients you can from your local farmers market or grocery store (remember that food from a farmers market is likely at least a week fresher than anything available at the grocery store).
Making flavorful sauces is critical in jazzing up bland grains and vegetables. Since I rarely use recipes I tend to whip up different sauces based on what I have available and what flavor profile I’m looking for.
Here are some of my favorite sauce ingredients:
Base – Olive oil
Acid – Balsamic, red wine, and cider vinegar
Salt – Soy sauce (I prefer Bragg’s Liquid Amino’s since it’s lower in sodium and healthier for you)
Umeboshi Paste (Japanese pickled plum paste that has a very salty flavor)
Spice – Garlic
Herbs – Parsley, cilantro, basil, rosemary, thyme
Other – Miso paste
Goat cheese and feta cheese
Using different sauces ensures your food tastes unique and avoids flavor ruts. Experiment with ratios and ingredients to find combinations that you like and that compliment different dishes. For example, quinoa salad, wouldn’t be terribly delicious without the sauce, herbs, and cheese added for flavoring.
Reduce Animal Protein:
For many people meat is the central part of a “proper” meal, especially dinner. In these cases it’s unlikely that you can successfully switch to completely vegetarian eating without quite a fuss. Instead, I’d focus on reducing the percentage of any given meal that’s animal protein while also adding in many delicious non-meat sides. For example, instead of making chili with a 1/2 pound of ground beef, try using only 1 – 2 cups. You’ll still have the beef taste and the meal won’t be labeled as “vegetarian” but you’ll significantly increase the nutritional value of the dish (especially if you substitute beans and other veggies to make up for the reduction in meat).
Similarly, try to use flavorful meats so you get as much flavor as possible from smaller portions. I like using spicy sausage in this way. It adds a lot of flavor to stews, sautes, fajitas etc. for a relatively small amount of actual meat. I also often use chicken stock as the bases for my vegetarian soups and stews to deepen the flavors.
Get Creative with Grains:
Many people get stuck in their grain repertoire and use the same grains over and over (i.e. white rice). Grains are incredibly healthful and quite benign in flavor — I find they reliably take on the flavor of whatever they are cooked with. Using new grains provides more variety in texture and nutrients, and is also a good way to help a picky eater get comfortable with trying new things in a low-risk environment.
Here are my favorite grains:
Quinoa (red and yellow)
All of these follow generally the same cooking pattern (soak if possible and simmer over low heat for approximately 30 minutes with double the amount of water as grain). They can also all be made with chicken or vegetable broth to enhance their flavor. I also usually add seaweed when cooking grains — it doesn’t add much flavor, but adds tremendous health benefits.
In my experience transitioning the way people eat takes time and is much more successful if you don’t force it on people and instead let them get comfortable with a new way of eating. Most importantly, please avoid being preachy! Everyone has a right to eat what appeals to them and all we can do is share information about healthy choices and teach people how to make flavorful and healthful meals. It’s all about options!
Usually eating healthier will make people feel healthier too. My husband now has a clear physical reaction to eating red meat since we don’t eat it often. This doesn’t stop him from having a fancy steak once in a while, but it does stop him from eating a mediocre burger. You may notice similar changes in yourself or your family as you adopt healthier eating patterns.
P.S. I really liked responding to a direct question from a reader. Please be in touch if you have any wellness questions or suggestions for posts.