The pandemic made me realize: I needed to take the reigns on what my family eats
Written by: Chelsie DeSouza
As the world quickly began to shutdown and many of us were catapulted into quarantine, I quickly had to adjust to this new reality. Being confined to our home, 24/7 came with immense perspective, anxiety and an inordinate amount of time. I became a short order cook and snack procurer, for my three year old daughter. So the question came to mind…Live to Eat or Eat to Live - after much thought and close examination my decision was to choose the latter.
The choice was fueled primarily by the little life I care for (Aria, my daughter) as well as the state of our country. As we saw in the early days of COVID we faced food shortages as the food chain supplies became a challenge in many parts of the region, which opened my eyes to numerous things. The most prominent, that we weren’t eating as healthy as I wanted us to and that I needed to change my views on meal times as a whole.
Although the world seemed to be on a downward spiral, I wouldn’t allow myself to go down with it. I made a conscious decision to empower myself, ground myself in gratitude and make changes to our lives. We have our health and we have food security, which alone makes us unbelievably fortunate. It was time to slow down and reassess our nutritional intake, our waste and our relationship with food. Diet has such a huge impact on our lives and with all the uncertainty that was one thing I could take control of. Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner. Daunting. So stressful that I was barely eating at all and my daughter was snacking all day, come dinner time I was famished and she wasn’t hungry. Knowing that I had to make this a MUST DO. How was the question – the solution was transitional baby steps.
I started to revamp our days and get on a food schedule and cut out snacks as much as possible; or at least making our snacks healthier. The two tactics that worked for me that completely changed her nutritional intake were getting creative and giving her options. On the days when she would wake up and ask for cookies or ice cream, I would say “We can't have those until after breakfast. you can have oatmeal, pancakes or eggs and immediately she would pick one! Giving her options I know she likes allowed me to get creative with sneaking in great ingredients to these already healthy options. I couldn’t force her to eat the things I wanted her to and when I accepted that, I realized I could get the foods I wanted into what she already loved. These are the simple steps I take to enhance Aria’s diet:
- Pasta is a big part of our diet given my husband is Italian, so I have begun to use Soba Noodles and whole wheat pasta.
- Adding grated vegetables to their infamous grilled cheeses. You can add minced veggies to anything to give it a boost; tomato sauce, Mac and cheese, even meatballs.
- Adding mashed blueberries to pancake batter and sliced bananas to oatmeal or yogurt.
- Going from high sugar concentrate juices to organic beverages. Making my own cold teas and lemonades which allows me to sweeten minimally and muddle fruits into them. Aria typically only drinks water, but when she does ask for juice I wanted to make sure I was giving her drinks with good ingredients.
- I reflected on my own childhood and remembered how health conscious my mother is. I called her and she told me to start with morning smoothies; as she did with my brother and I. I could jam pack healthy ingredients to a ‘morning milkshake’. From bananas, spinach and flaxseeds to yogurt and agave instead of sugar.
I remind myself the goal is a lifestyle change, which means gradual additions and replacements as we become used to the taste changes. Another huge help was making a plan! Refrigerator and cupboard assessment: what can I give up tomorrow without missing, what is almost done that I will not bring back into the house and what will I replace those items with. When I went to the grocery store I was no longer shopping randomly, picking things I would hope to make, but instead getting the ingredients for comprehensive meals. I now buy less snacks to hold us over until I scrambled to figure out what we were having for dinner, because I already have an idea of what to make, this in turn cuts down on waste. I know we’ve all been there. Buying a bag of spring garden salad, saying we will get around to using it, and then opening the fridge and seeing that it’s gone bad. Now I buy things I know we will eat, not things I hope we will eat, but probably won’t. I had to be more realistic in my quest to stock the pantry with healthy foods. Aria went from asking for chips, cookies and candy, to asking for a banana, grapes, oranges, cheese or yogurt. She still asks for cookies and ice cream, but far less often. Since we’ve made healthy snacks consistent and always available, she’s added it to her repertoire of favorites. Don’t get me wrong, Aria will NEVER turn down a Pringle and on special mornings she sleeps in I’ll have Federal donuts delivered for breakfast. Everything in moderation, and always keeping a balance.
“Your diet is not only what you eat. It is what you listen to, what you read, the people you hang around. Be mindful of what you put into your body. Emotionally, spiritually and physically.” Taking more care in what we put into our bodies started with food, especially when the news was riddled with sad realities and the headlines seemed inescapable. It not only changed my mood, but gave us all more energy. Small changes to our diets didn’t take much time, it wasn’t as hard as I built it up in my mind to be and the rewards were beyond worth it. I learned that I didn’t need to be so hard on myself and we were doing a better job nutritionally than I thought. Aria was now reaching for fruit, instead of Oreos, she was excited to cook with me, which expanded her openness to try different things. Food should never be a source of guilt, food is joy and togetherness. We cook together, we eat together and we enjoy being healthier together.