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Eating better, a little bit at the time

By Staff
COOKING ADVICE n Anne Chaulk, pictured in her kitchen, says that sticking to a healthy diet isn't has hard as it sounds. Chaulk provides various cooking and menu planning tips in her article. Photo by Steve Swogetinsky/The Meridian Star
Editor's note: Anne Chaulk, our cook of the week, offers the following tips for a healthier diet.
By Anne Chaulk/Special to The Star
Dec. 12, 2001
Having been married to a restaurateur for many years, you might wonder how I got to be "Cook of the Week" and not my husband, Duncan Chalk, who used to own "Duncan's" and "D.T. Grinders."
It's not because I'm some great cook, but because I have a message to share. Winter is a dangerous time. We tend to get lazy, stop exercising and delve into a little too much comfort food. I want to share some simple things you can do to eat a little healthier and feel good about yourself.
Doing better
There are three basic rules to practice:
Eat better. (Notice I didn't say, "right" as if it's something you have to do all the time.
Exercise. (Here's my plug for the Masters Swimming program through the Meridian Swim Association. "Masters" means you must be older than 18. It does not mean you have to be an accomplished swimmer. It's fun, relaxing, challenging and won't stress your body parts. Everyone is welcome.
Drink water.
That said, cooking at home and eating better is important to me, but it's not going to stop us from eating out or filling a cramped schedule with the occasional fast food. Just be aware of smarter choices you can make to improve your diet, at home or away. The key is limiting unhealthy foods and snacks, not necessarily eliminating them.
It's not hard
Cooking healthy meals is not hard or time consuming. It doesn't require big changes or lots of knowledge about carbohydrates and proteins. It doesn't even require a love of cooking. All it requires is that you think about what you are choosing to put in your body. It's that simple. If I can do it, anyone can.
I grew up in a military household and my mother really didn't like to cook, but cook she did. Her rule for a balanced meal was "color." It makes sense. Different food groups have different colors; vary the colors and you've covered your bases. We ate every night at 6:30 sharp. Because of my father's little quirks, we literally had canned baked beans and salad with every evening meal. Even on the rare occasions we ordered out, he would say to my mother, "You put on the beans and make the salad, and I'll go pick up the food." It was unbelievable. So, I made a lot of salads growing up and cut up onions for the beans.
Other than that, I never cooked until college. I won a turkey for Thanksgiving and spent more money on the phone to my mother trying to figure out how to cook it than if I had just gone out and bought a full Thanksgiving meal. But it was a start.
Now I cook all the time, but it's nothing fancy. Duncan and I both enjoy cooking for our friends. Our house is always open to drop-in guests. He says I'm not a real cook because I still measure water for the amount of rice I want and I tend to follow heaven forbid recipes. I like to try new things and tend to think if someone has taken the time to write out a list of ingredients, the least I can do is try it that way first.
Anybody who cooks almost every day for their family will get into a rut, so try to think up things to change the routine. For instance, I declared October soup month at my house. My son got very tired of it, but it was a fun theme. A pumpkin rotted because I never got around to the pumpkin soup, but what the heck. At least it gave me a focus instead of wondering, "What will I do for dinner?"
Being aware
My particular focus is on making regular, everyday recipes just a little healthier. Having had breast cancer, I probably pay more attention to what we ingest than most people. I've read a lot of nutrition information and worked with some good nutritionists while going through chemotherapy. (That's where most of these recipes come from, but they would be appalled at what I allow myself to eat on occasion.)
I'm very aware of the hormones in the foods we eat; especially chicken, although we eat a lot of it. But, I tend to live in
the real world about food and know we aren't going to find a lot of organic food choices in Meridian. It's also not realistic to make my family vegetarians, so I work with what's available.
For starters, Duncan and I begin every day with a fruit smoothie. I just put whatever fresh fruit I have in the blender, add a little orange juice or apple cider and blend it. It's kind of chunky sometimes, but it's a great way to get fresh fruit in your diet and take your vitamins, too.
Then, we wait 30 minutes before we eat or drink anything else. This is great for the digestive system.
Another "healthy" thing we do is use less salt and more spices for flavoring. Duncan is adamant about certain things. For instance, he's fond of saying pepper is a spice, not a seasoning and is to be added during cooking, not afterwards. He teaches the whole time he's in the kitchen, but we love to cook together and for friends.
Do we eat red meat? Yes, but not a lot. I substitute ground turkey for ground beef in almost everything except a real grilled hamburger; then all rules are off (except wheat buns). We have a general "Sugar Busters" ban against white flour, sugar and white potatoes, but we don't really diet around our house.
It's just that "abnormal cells love sugar," according to nutritionists and I try to avoid it or the making of it within our bodies whenever possible. Starches like those tend to turn to sugar in the body. I substitute whole-wheat pasta and flour in every recipe and use only brown rice and whole wheat bread.
We also try not to eat much cheese or processed meats. We always have nuts or homemade trail mix on hand for a snack. Almonds are especially good for you. We eat buckwheat pancakes and buckwheat spinach cakes, too. (That last one was an accident. I grabbed the wrong flour bin.)
With these simple changes your family won't taste much difference or miss the potato chips and cookies. Your body will know the difference, though. It's amazing how your children will follow your lead. My son, Duncan, eats a very healthy diet, doesn't really enjoy candy and is a good cook in his own right, and he's only 10-years-old. He makes whole-wheat blueberry muffins and can blacken fish with the best of them. He makes a great omelet, too.
My daughter never cooked until college either, but she cooks healthy foods, a rarity in today's young-adult world.
Drink lots of water. I discovered if you will make yourself drink the required 64 ounces for one week, you will awaken your (probably long-suppressed) thirst mechanism and actually want to drink more. It's amazing. It's absolutely the best thing you can do for your body. Start today.
There is one more important message I want to get across avoid margarine at all costs. It's one ion away from plastic and is absolutely the worst thing you can do to your body. I won't go into what it does to your intestines. Trust me on this one. Use butter and forgive yourself.
If you exercise, make small changes in the foods you cook and limit sugar and fast food, you will be doing yourself and your family if you have one a huge favor.
You really are what you eat. So eat a little healthier. It's really easy to do.