Today a reader asks for tips on how to avoid eating the holiday candy that will make its way into their home via their children. My answer in the video, plus extra tips from friends. Special shout-out to Winter Redd of the podcast, Hungry Squared—check it out!
With a title like that, you must be curious as to what I’m recommending!
Today, I’m answering not one specific reader question, but a “theme question,” a problem that is described in many of the letters I receive.
Now, I’m not going to lie to you, I’ve basically already addressed this problem and given my answer. What’s different today? I’m doing it in video form!
Believe me when I tell you, trying to please everyone—in anything you do—is primarily going to make you miserable. Let go of the idea that there is any one dish, no matter how thoughtful, scrumptious, or unique, that can make every diner smile from ear-to-ear. Unless you own a restaurant and need to keep the bills paid by pleasing diners, embrace the idea that cooking for others is a kindness, a way of expressing care, and you can’t accommodate everyone’s dietary needs with any one dish.
I belong to a book club which meets monthly. All of us are asked to bring an appetizer or dessert to share each month. It seems that every lady in the group is on some kind of diet at each meeting. Aside from cut-up fruit, which I am tired of bringing, I am running out of ideas for dishes. Can you suggest some ideas for low-fat, low-sugar, low-salt, low-carb dishes to share?
No, I can’t.
Actually, no, I won’t is a better reply.
What kind of help am I, anyway?
Alright, I’ll suggest a few things, but only a few, and here’s why:
Someone at this club is always going to be on a specialty diet, you’ve made this clear. If you were accommodating a life-threatening allergy, or attempting to make sure a friend who never has any choices at these sorts of events has an option, that would be one thing.
Chasing the particular dietary needs of a group of regular dieters at a monthly event is another.
You can’t really win at this game, you know? Your best choice is really to:
- Make something you like, and won’t mind bringing home.
- Only make enough so that if it is barely touched, your fridge isn’t overwhelmed.
- Enjoy eating what you made.
- Talk about the book and don’t worry about your dish.
It’s a book club, not a nutrition club. Make healthy food that looks yummy to you when you want to do so; make ooey-gooey, delicious desserts that look tasty to you when you want to do that.
Off the top of my head, creating lettuce cups—sautéed veggies and/or lean meats with an asian-style sauce (soy, fish sauce, plum sauce, teriyaki, or even something bottled and sold at the store) placed inside crispy lettuce—could be a winner. Crunchy and lean, I imagine many people would consider those a treat, no matter their diet; that said, watch the sauces for sugar and salt content, and adjust accordingly.
I featured one of our favorite ultra-healthy recipes, Moroccan Harira Red Lentil Soup, as a recommendation for a book club on my very first website post. This isn’t as portable, but would be knock-out for you the month in which you are the hostess. I loved serving it for my book club, and it was always well-received.
There are many cookbooks and websites out there which focus on any one of the categories you mention (low-fat, low-sugar, low-salt, low-carb dishes.) There are even some which focus on all of those categories, at once—anyone who has gone on a modern cleanse has probably spent thirty days eating within all these restrictions, along with no-meat, no-dairy, no-gluten, no-alcohol, etc.
To that end, I’d love to encourage you to enter my current giveaway—one lucky winner will receive a mystery cookbook, hand-selected by me. Several of the titles I have available to send focus on very specialized diets, and include recipes that would certainly be appropriate for your health-conscious book club. Enter the giveaway here:
Learning new recipes, particularly ones which stretch your typical ingredient list or cooking techniques, is always a win. I would encourage you to take some time at your local bookstore and the internet to peruse some resources if you truly want to try lots of new and interesting recipes for your book club, but only if this is something fun for you, not in order to appease the tastes of others.
Good luck finding some fun new dishes to share. May your recipes be as juicy as the novels you are reading!
Dear Misery Loves Cookery,
My Grandfather is 91 now and having trouble maintaining his appetite and weight. His teeth give him trouble too. Soup, mashed potatoes and ice cream are not great foods for a man who loved salads, steaks, franks N’beans—any suggestions?
Thank you for your letter. Ninety-one years old! That’s fantastic.
Food can lose a lot of its appeal as we age, sadly, and having teeth that can’t cut through the crunchy, salty, spicy dishes we most enjoyed can add insult to injury.
Years ago, a friend of mine told me how, whenever she saw blue cheese dressing, she thought of her time volunteering in a nursing home. According to her, many of the residents put it on everything—even jello—because it was one of the only flavors that their weakened taste buds could really pick up. The nursing home could barely keep their blue cheese dressing stocked, it was consumed so fast.
I would seek out bold, umami, briney, pungent flavors for your grandfather, and see how he responds. Blue cheese is a start, as would be soft cheeses like brie or camembert. Go to a good cheese shop, and ask the expert for soft, strongly-flavored cheeses, and I’m sure they can give you a host of suggestions.
Mushrooms, cooked until soft with some soy sauce and herbs added, can give the taster the umami flavors they are missing when they can no longer chew a good steak. And speaking of steak, consider fattier (cheaper) cuts of meat, like chuck, which you can braise for hours until they are so tender, they hardly need chewing.
Pickled vegetables, olives, and anchovies can also be a win, either eaten alone or thrown into dishes. Many of these are also quite soft, but pack a big flavor punch. Save the pickle juice and use it to brine meats before cooking them—not only will it add a lot of salty, sour flavor, the brine will really help break down the meat, making it more chewable.
In the inevitable mashed potatoes and soup he will still have to eat, don’t be afraid to go heavy-handed with herbs and garlic. If hot sauce is his thing, keep it available; if it wasn’t his thing when he was younger, have him give it a try now, as it might be a new favorite.
And of course, consult with his specific dietary needs (for salt restriction, sugar restriction, etc.) before cooking. Think herbs and acids (like lemon juice) if sodium and sugar are not healthy for him.
I hope these suggestions help you and your grandfather to enjoy some delicious meals together. Let me know how they turn out!
I’m looking for heart healthy meal ideas that are family friendly and easy to make.
Thank you for your letter. I’m happy to help.
You are in luck today. Way back in the mid-nineties, when President Clinton was working to reform health care and cardiac catheterization with stents was just on the rise, I took my first post-college graduation job in Washington, DC as a cardiac researcher.
I know, it seems like the perfect gig for a French and political science major who is squeamish about blood, right?
I did almost barf watching the open-heart surgery video during training, but other than that, the job ended up being a great fit. The philosophy of the consulting firm where I was working was that they could teach industry (i.e., health care), as long as their hires could do the research and writing work.
I learned a lot of lessons about perseverance from that job, and got to talk to industry leaders in health care and cardiovascular medicine along the way. I was surprised to find that my favorite part of the job was actually studying the clinical procedures; as long as I didn’t have to see them—blood, ack!—they were fascinating.
My expertise developed in the area of cardiac rehabilitation and congestive heart failure (CHF) care, although I performed enough literature searches and wrote enough papers about everything from billing to diet to pre-op practices that I got a good breadth of knowledge on heart health, and an incredible respect for our amazing human cardiovascular system.
With rehab and CHF care, much attention is paid to the psychological demands of making behavior change, when ended up leading to me pursuing my master’s degree and diving deeper into behavioral change research. So, today, in answering your letter, I’m actually relying on twenty years worth of interest, research, and work. Lucky you!
Adopting any kind of behavior change, particularly one in diet, can be difficult. Reducing fat, salt, and sugar all at once can be daunting. As I recommended when helping a reader to find some tasty vegan breakfasts for health reasons, you’ve got to be patient and gentle with yourself as you experiment with ingredient substitutions and avoid old favorites.
Start with addition instead of subtraction. Begin to infuse your meals with more vegetables and whole grains, and choose heart-healthy fats (like olive oil) whenever possible. Make as much homemade food as you can, and rely less on processed/boxed foods to naturally reduce salt. Don’t worry as much about what you can’t eat, just bulk up your meals with plant-based foods and fibers.
It’s amazing what you can throw into chili, tacos, pizza sauce, etc., if you want to be creative. Don’t make a big deal about how you are making “healthy” food, just make the foods everyone loves with more of the good stuff thrown in.
If your kids like oatmeal in the morning, make a big pot of it on Sunday, and heat it up throughout the week. That’s a great heart healthy start for everyone. Hone in on the veggies you and your family like best, and make them regularly, pairing them with new or less-liked vegetables.
Shifting your palate is the key here. If you can eat more of the foods that are healthy and fill up on those, you have less need for unhealthy choices, and you begin to shift the taste desires of you and your family over time.
As for specific recipes, there is no need for me to reinvent the wheel. A quick trip to the American Heart Association’s Simple Cooking and Recipes page has tons of terrific options, all of which meet the AHA’s standards for heart health. The slow cooker section seems particularly family-friendly, both because of the flavors chosen and the ease of preparation for the cook. I doubt anyone in your family would feel cheated eating these BBQ Pulled Pork Sliders with Homemade Potato Chips, for example. That might be on my dinner rotation this week!
Good luck making some fun new heart-healthy meals, and remember: eating right is only one critical part of maintaining a healthy cardiovascular system. Regular exercise, not smoking, and keeping your stress level down/reducing stress are critical components to keeping your heart strong. With that in mind, don’t stress out when updating your family meal plan: make small steps, be patient, and know that every effort you make to move in a healthy direction is a good one.