Guest Post: Getting Back in the Kitchen by Sharon Palmer, The Plant Powered Dietitian | Veggiecation© a Culinary-Nutrition Education Program About Vegetables
Wednesday, 06 November 2013 18:16

Guest Post: Getting Back in the Kitchen by Sharon Palmer, The Plant Powered Dietitian

A lifetime of healthy habits that focus on whole plant foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds can be formed in the kitchen. In fact, most traditional, cultural diets—whether from Peru or Asia—are based on plants and emphasize nutritious, home cooked meals.  Even in our own country, our diet once gravitated more towards plant-based meals prepared in the home.  My mother, who grew up in Arkansas, for example, enjoyed a wholesome plant-based diet; a typical meal was black-eyed peas, foraged greens, and cornbread.   


But now we have strayed away from our healthy plant-based diets to the “Western Diet,” an eating pattern characterized by large amounts of animal foods, processed ingredients, and convenience products.

Even despite our growing fascination with recipe books, celebrity chefs, and cooking shows, we’re staying out of the kitchen more than ever. We can thank our ever-demanding and busy schedules for more frequent visits to the drive-thru window. According to a 2010 Harris Interactive poll of 2,503 adults, 14% said they don’t enjoy cooking and 7% said they don’t cook at all; only 41% said they prepare meals at home five or more times per week.

Chances are, if you forfeit a home-cooked meal for a fast-food burger, sandwich, or even salad – it will show in your health over the long term. It’s not surprising considering that eating fast food meals is associated with eating more calories, fat, saturated fat, sugary soft drinks and fewer fruits and vegetables.  In fact, making a habit of eating out is linked with higher body fat and higher body weight.

There’s no doubt this is affecting the health of our younger generations. It’s hard to forget the episode on Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution when a class of elementary school students could not identify a variety of fruits and vegetables for Jaime.

While the art of cooking is slowly making a comeback, a common misconception lingers. Parents now recognize the importance of family meal time but many still anticipate the meal preparation process to be time-consuming, laborious, and complicated. As a registered dietitian urging families to get back in the kitchen, I promise that preparing wholesome meals at home can be easier than you may anticipate. With the amazing online resources and cookbooks now available – families now have access to a wide variety of delicious, quick, and cost-effective recipes available at their fingertips.

Try one of my 4 strategies to make your way back into the kitchen and get cooking with your kids:

  1. Let your little helpers help you. Getting your kids involved in the kitchen is the best way to teach them healthy eating habits. Including them in meal preparation is not only fun, it’s a great way to introduce them to new foods and flavors. And don’t forget to take pictures! These are the moments you’ll treasure long after the meal is done.
  2. Transform your family favorite store-bought products.Do your kids love pizza? Create your own homemade version! Pile on the tomato sauce, veggies, and cheese atop a whole wheat crust. How about tacos? Kids love “create your own” meals. Fill your table with your favorite toppings, including cheese, tomatoes, avocado, lettuce, beans, onions, and tortillas, and let them create their own masterpiece!
  3. Take a lesson from your kids. Plenty of kid-friendly recipes are as simple as could be! Think: whole grain pitas filled with cucumbers and hummus, spaghetti and tomato sauce, and even whole grain pancakes(what child doesn’t love having breakfast for dinner?). 
  4. Enjoy a family night out…in! Some cultures know how to do nutritious meals right! But who says you need to travel far to enjoy ethnic cuisine? Visit a local ethnic restaurant, such as Mexican, Indian, Thai, Mediterranean, and Vietnamese to find inspiration for healthy, wholesome meals at home – such as my recipe for Mediterranean Polenta below, which my whole family gave the “thumbs up!”


The Oldways Vegetarian Food Diet Pyramid.

This new pyramid reflects the vast variety of delicious, healthy foods, such as vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, whole grains, legumes, herbs and spices, that fit into a healthy eating pattern.


About Sharon Palmer:

Sharon Palmer, The Plant-Powered Dietitian™ is a writer and author of The Plant-Powered Diet. Over 850 of her articles have been published in national publications, including Prevention, Better Homes and Gardens and Today’s Dietitian. She is also the editor of the award-winning publication Environmental Nutrition and writes for her blog, The Plant-Powered Blog. Her specific expertise is in plant-based nutrition, including Mediterranean, vegetarian and vegan diets. She serves as the consulting dietitian for the Oldways Vegetarian Network, is a Regional Co-Director for the Association of Food Journalists, and is an editor for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetic’s website, Sharon was most recently asked by the James Beard Foundation to judge the 2014 Journalism Awards. Her second book, Plant-Powered For Life: Eat Your Way to Lasting Health with 52 Simple Steps and 125 Delicious Recipes, will be in stores spring of 2014.




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