A health diagnosis can change eating habits for the whole family. Getting a chronic condition under control often means changing familiar routines and adopting more limited, sometimes more expensive diets. However, smart planning can control the cost of healthy eating, and everyone can share in the benefits.
Many health issues require a course change in the kitchen. Fried or sugary recipes can make it difficult for people with diabetes to control blood sugar levels. Fatty or deep-fried foods contribute to heart disease, and too much salt can raise blood pressure. Weight or digestive issues can be hard to control if recipes use too much oil, butter, or cream.
Find Smart Substitutes
Long-term health issues are easier to manage with less sugar, salt or fat from processed foods and more creativity in meal planning and preparation. A more nutritious diet will balance smaller main-dish portions with more vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. Find serving size suggestions at myplate.gov. Smaller cuts of meat and more in-season veggies will lower grocery costs, especially when meals are planned beforehand to avoid splurges and takeout fare. A healthier menu will help stabilize known health conditions, and if taken early enough they might reverse the course of an unhealthy lifestyle.
Old family recipes are worth keeping once cooks update them for a healthier lifestyle—for instance, replacing whole milk with skim milk or using vegetable oil instead of butter or lard. Sunday or holiday specialties often are more appealing hot from the broiler or barbecue without a gloppy glaze. Indirect heat, with coals pushed to the side, can keep brisket, chicken, or fish from getting overdone, but allow for more time and check the progress with a meat thermometer.
For a light Sweet Potato Casserole, remove the skin from 1 pound of cooked of sweet potatoes and mash by hand or in a food processor. Mix in 3 egg whites, ½ cup sugar, 1 can nonfat evaporated milk, 1 tablespoon each of vanilla extract and cinnamon and ½ teaspoon each of nutmeg and ginger. Mix until smooth and pour into an 8-inch baking dish. Bake 40 minutes at 400 degrees.
Cooking from scratch brings you back to your roots. Start with fewer and less-processed ingredients. One flourless and diabetes-friendly Peanut-Butter Cookie recipe uses 1 egg and 1 cup each of peanut butter and sugar. Mix them well with your hands and roll into 1-inch balls; place them 2 inches apart on a greased cookie sheet. Flatten each ball slightly with a lightly greased drinking glass dipped in sugar. A light impression from a cookie cutter or the flat end of a fork adds a traditional touch. Bake 9 minutes in a 375-degree oven.
Festive Foods for a Healthy Diet
For big family gatherings, it is good to put plenty on the table. Make sure there’s a variety from which people with restricted diets can pick and choose, as well as healthy choices that everyone can enjoy. Non-starchy vegetables such as leafy greens, beets, Brussels sprouts, and carrots will help people with diabetes, heart disease and other conditions stay on their diets, as well as vegetarian cousins or anyone saving room for dessert.
Learn beforehand if guests have dietary restrictions. Food allergies can include cooking basics such as milk, eggs, nuts, fish, shellfish, wheat, or soy. Ask if there are specific foods that agree or disagree with someone with a food allergy. For instance, it can be hard to stay gluten-free because flour makes its way into all sorts of packaged goods, from deli meats to flavored potato chips. If relatives are bringing dishes, take time to chat about the dishes and how they’re prepared.
At the table, choose a splurge or two but keep portions small. Take your time and stop for conversation. Enjoy the gift of health.