Saturday, March 5, 2016

Food Guides

The recipe for this delicious salad is here.

One of the great joys of retirement has been that I have the luxury of time -- and energy -- to prepare a healthy and tasty meal. When I was working, I would consider mealtime to be just another box to tick before everyone could get to the real purpose of the evening: R&R.

Now that the pressure of time has been removed (I can begin meal preparation at 4:00 instead of 6:00), and most days I have the energy to be creative in the kitchen, making dinner has become a completely different experience.

It has changed how we shop for groceries as well. We've almost completely stopped buying any ultra-processed foods like frozen lasagnes, tortieres, canned beans, Kraft Dinner, etc. (though we still have perogies in the freezer). On the other hand, I keep a steady stock of some ingredients that used to be special purchases and that make it much easier to make a dish seem fancy: mangoes, avocados, fresh anise, fresh cilantro, lots and lots of fresh fruit.

Canada's Food Guide, by Health Canada, a rainbow of fresh veggies,
healthy grains, and a smattering of dairy and protein.

So when I saw a CBC article about a movement to change Canada's Food Guide, I was intrigued. It explained that a recent senate report had suggested tactics like taxing sugar as a means to curb Canada's growing obesity rates. But the article also interviewed a Canadian researcher from Montreal who recommends that we look closely at Brazil's current food guide.

Rather than grouping foods according to the predominant nutritional component (vegetable, meat, dairy, etc.), the guidelines look at how processed the foods are.

From the Brazilian Dietary Guidelines, page 50-51

That screen capture above is the closest the guide comes to a pithy, easily marketed graphic. And that is what may make it a hard sell, but what also makes it so radical. The guide looks not just at what we eat but how we eat it. It's a food guide that acknowledges the reality of industrialized food.

But what struck me about the CBC article (and prompted me to write this post) were the comments on the article. All sorts of complaints and resistance:

  • Real food doesn't taste as good as processed food
  • Real food is too expensive
  • No one knows how to cook
  • I don't have time
Interesting, eh? Especially that first one. The reason the highly processed foods taste so appealing to us is that they are loaded with salt, sugar, and fat. And other ingredients that may preserve foods but don't necessarily preserve us. And the amazing aromas of fresh herbs and spices really intensifies the pleasure of eating at home.

I'm not convinced that processed foods are less expensive than unprocessed or minimally processed foods. Although the produce portion of our grocery shopping has gone up, we've reduced our processed portion, and our bills have remained roughly the same. 

As for knowing how to cook -- the Internet is chockablock with recipes and instructions. And many of the healthiest peasant-type foods are also the easiest to prepare.

But the biggest and most realistic complaint is time or its corollary, energy. A frozen lasagne may take as much time to cook as a home-made lasagne, but it is considerably less effort. And when you have children who are ravenously hungry and also need to be in bed by 8 p.m., and yet you don't get home from work until 5:30 p.m., well, something's gotta give. And the ultra-processed foods are extremely convenient. 

Our More Time Cooks recipe card set. The cards promised (and delivered) simple weekday menus from fridge-to-table
in 30 minutes or less. The weekend menus were a little fancier, but still easy and (mostly) inexpensive.
It included six weeks of menus and (get this!) shopping lists
so you could make sure you had everything you needed in the pantry and fridge. 

Some commenters suggested that a shorter workday would solve that problem. I know that families have been struggling with this for decades and have found some creative solutions. Our family followed a six-week menu based on More Time Cooks for many years (and those recipes still form the backbone of our regular menu; you can read more about it in this blog post). Many cities now have prepared-from-fresh meals you can assemble and take home. Crockpots are a godsend to many working parents, and I know some who will spend a weekend preparing six weeks' worth of crockpot meals in one weekend.

As a final comment, I will note that the pressures of money, time, and energy are multiplied exponentially in single-parent, low-income homes. I don't have any magic answers for those parents, but I do tip my hat to them for every effort they make to provide a healthy meal for their families. And those are exactly the homes where the family meal can likely reap the greatest benefits. 

We all acknowledge that something's got to change. I think Brazil's approach moves in the right direction. We just need to work out how those principles fit in with our modern lifestyle.


  1. I liked that "More Time Cooks" meal planner set. The downside for me was I always ended up with far too many vegetables composting in my fridge! That should have told me we weren't eating enough veggies!

    Another thing that helped me when I was working was Supperworks. There are several locations in Southern Ontario now. You can prepare several recipes in 60 minutes or so...they clean and chop and dice for you, you just assemble the ingredients. They clean up after you. You go home with some meals to cook up, or put in the freezer. It's all fresh, healthy foods. It is pricey, but not as expensive as going to a restaurant. And it's much better than highly processed foods.

    That salad looks yummy!!
    Pat :)

    1. The quantities of veggies in the MTC shopping list was insane. We only used about half. But eventually, I figured out how much to buy. The one veg that we still tend to tossing too much of into the compost are salad greens. Salad always feels like so much work! (Ironically, my kids all think I love salads!)

      Another friend mentioned Supperworks. I did a similar thing in the States a few times, but it was not convenient (hah!) to our house.

    2. P.S. I think I'm going to serve that salad tonight with some steamed tilapia.

  2. I have found that once you stop the processed foods - your taste buds adjust. You begin to like the natural taste of food, because nothing beats fresh. And as you day, adding fresh herbs and spices is all the flavour you will need once you try it. The very best part about being a stay at home mom, is that I have the time to cook healthy meals. That doesn't mean the odd box of KD doesn't come into the house, but we try to limit. But even KD got a face lift -- we don't buy that bright orange radiation looking stuff anymore.
    I think people also need to learn the correct ratio of protein, to carb, to fat, to veggie for each meal. For example; you don't need a carb at every meal. Yet, we are so used to that meat, potato, and vegetable construct. Away with it! ha

    1. Very true -- our tastes adjust. I don't know if I could ever serve a dinner without a (designated) carb. Such a hard habit to change!


What did you think? Any comments?

Related Posts

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...