Making meals that truly serve you
by Dahlia Shaaban
Most people are trying their best to create healthy nutritional habits while balancing crazy work and family schedules. On top of that, we’re trying to be responsible consumers and support companies that provide more local, ethically-sourced options. If you’re confused about what’s healthy, struggle with food issues, or feel overwhelmed by the idea of cooking all week at home, know that there are simple ways to create practical, healthy food habits and have a steady rhythm around good food all week long.
IT STARTS WITH A STORY
There is so much more to healthy eating than what you eat. It’s also the stories and sensory experience of nourishment and healthy living. So much of why people have challenges around food is because we have become disengaged with the entire process of sourcing and preparing our food, and enjoying it in the company of loved ones. One of the most transformative ways we can get back to healthier living is to connect with that energetic and sensory experience around food, and to consider the entire story: Where did your food come from? What kind of ancestral recipes and traditions were used in preparing your food? Is the cook someone you know, who loves you? Or has your meal been prepared by underpaid, overworked staff in a restaurant kitchen or processing facility? When you know where your food comes from and who made it, you know the story and can feel truly nourished. So – how do you start from grabbing take-out or processed foods and eating on the run, and get to a place where you are making food with love in your kitchen and sitting down to a healthy meal?
TO BEGIN: BUY LOCAL
I can’t say enough about the power of buying locally and knowing the stories behind the food that comes to your table. Much of what makes food nourishing is the belief that what we’re taking in is nourishing; you’re more likely to have that belief if you know your food, and you’re more likely to know your food if you’re eating local. To start, visit a farmers market, an agricultural co-op or CSA, or a farm. There’s great value in being surrounded by crops or seeing fresh produce where it is grown, with the people who grow it, and just feeling that energetic experience. Sure, you can read about how kale has X number of vitamins, why you should eat it, and all the functions it promotes in your body, but standing in a field of greens is an experience that resonates very deeply and helps you feel the emotional connection of how dark, leafy greens really nourish you.
Another benefit of buying local is that it eliminates a lot of the confusion around what is truly “healthy” food. Expensive certification requirements make it difficult for small- and medium-sized producers to label foods “organic,” but they’re often growing and sourcing food in ways that are even stricter than the USDA guidelines. Instead of asking if a strawberry is certified organic, ask about how our crazy winter affected this season’s crops, or how the growing season is looking. If you talk to farmers about their process, listen to their experience, and hear about the energy and care they’ve put into their produce, you’ll get a larger picture and more complete story of the food you’re bringing to your table.
PREPARING FOR A HEALTHY WEEK
Once you have your ingredients, how can you make good food happen all week long without spending all your time in the kitchen? You just create simple systems around meal planning, most of which is centered around just preparing things once, in advance. (I’m famously disorganized, so if I can do it, anyone can!) It’s not about making dinner from scratch start to finish every night, or achieving what everyone’s posting on Pinterest. Take the pressure off and do what restaurants do: they prep certain foods and have a work system of how components come together so they can make a variety of delicious meals on cue. If you take a little time to create those components, fresh food becomes a rotating cast of characters in your fridge that, with a little inspiration, can come together in nourishing, satisfying meals.
When you come home from the market, take a few moments to put all the food away before you run off to another errand (this is a good time to invite the kids to help!). Then, prep as much as you can. For instance, if you bought dried chickpeas and know you want them during the week, you can put them in a bowl with filtered water, cover, and pop them in the fridge to soak. You can then turn on the oven and roast your cauliflower, sweet potatoes, and squash, all in the same batch. And while those are cooking, you can make quinoa and rice on the stove, enough to freeze a couple batches. You can do a lot of work over the course of just 90 minutes or a couple hours. And it doesn’t have to be a chore – you can make this family time, with the little kids washing veggies and older kids helping you chop. Play music, share stories, make it a fun Sunday tradition!
THE COMMUNAL CONNECTION
While you make a weekly ritual of prepping fresh food, make a nightly ritual of enjoying it together. The experience of breaking bread with others is one of the missing links in the story of our health. Whole, unrefined, unprocessed foods are good for us, yes. But so much of what nourishes is not just what we are eating, but the experience that we create around food: Knowing where our food came from, who made it, and the excitement and love we experience in enjoying food in the company of those we care for. Research continues to show that the nutrients of foods we eat in the company of loved ones are more bioavailable and easily absorbed during digestion. This makes sense, as we are at ease and content, and our digestive system is also at ease and can function more effectively. And as our ancestors knew, sound digestion is vital for optimal health. The more we know the story of our food, make meals at home, and enjoy food together, the more positive experiences we will have and the healthier we will be as individuals, as families, and as communities.
Dahlia Shaaban is a Washington, DC-based Nutrition Coach who empowers people to create healthy emotional relationships with food, and provides systems to consistently create nourishing, soul-satisfying meals, even with the craziest of schedules. She regularly offers nutrition & lifestyle
workshops at health centers and corporations throughout the DC metro area, and organizes local
farm-to-table retreats. Her hound dog Lukah is her sidekick in all of her culinary adventures. For more
info check out dahliashaaban.com.