Living A Simple Life- Part 5 (Simplicity in Nutrition)
Thank you to everyone who has been joining me each Thursday for my Simple Living series! I encourage you to go back and read the various “installments” of our journey, if you haven’t already. Feel free to let me know how your heart is responding or if you have any questions or suggestions.
An important aspect of our journey to Simple Living has been our perception and attitude toward food, and how God molded us through our pursuit of nutrition. (We all need to eat, right?) I decided to leave the pre-med program I was majoring in at college, as the term ended right before our wedding. I knew that nutrition played a vital role in health, and yet the subject was rarely, if ever, touched upon during my studies. We’ve all heard about “eating a balanced diet,” the old “Four Food Groups,” and the “Food Pyramid,” over the years of elementary school health classes. But the nutritional education ended there. I knew there had to be more than just these vague references.
In college, we were surrounded by students cooking their “pseudo-foods” of boxed mac & cheese, ramen noodles, Velveeta, and cake mixes, washed down with Coke. (The “typical” American diet, full of MSG, BHT (check your cereal box!), high fructose corn syrup, and other chemicals.) These were mostly nursing students, and yet most were unaware- even skeptical- of food’s true effects upon our bodies. I suspected that something was amiss with these meals, but didn’t know where to start. So, I sent in an application to a college’s Registered Dietitian program. (I now know even that program would not have provided the information I sought.) We dreamed of living a “simple life” of healthy meals made “from scratch,” but it seemed so unattainable. My roommates teasingly called me “Betty Crocker” as I mixed up meals in the kitchen, but often even I resorted to Rice-A-Roni.
After a series of mishaps (odd “unfortunate” instances that can only be attributed to God’s sovereign hand, in hindsight), I did not end up transferring to the Dietetics/Nutritionist program. As I spoke of in Part 1, God guided me home as a stay-at-home wife, and I began to study cookbooks from the small local library.
A friend had given me $25 as a wedding gift, and I used it to purchase the Whole Foods Market Cookbook. I learned to soak and cook dry beans, and a pot of black beans became ever-present in the kitchen of our 1890’s-era apartment home. When we had the rare blessing of eating chicken, I would make broth (although unbeknownst to most of its benefits!). However, we did not yet know about the incredible merits of whole grains/flours, and certainly didn’t know about the benefits of soaking grains. We continued to cook with (white) all-purpose flour, except for a small amount of oat flour for waffles! I started baking breads and cakes “from scratch.”
When we first got married, we started out with a small income from Calvin’s on-call job. We would often find our pantry/refrigerator empty, and no idea how we would have meals for the next week. We often fell into the “cheap food trap”- the 25-cent boxes of pasta mix, etc, and didn’t know how to create frugal meals full of nutritional value. We rarely had fresh produce, and relied on canned fruit and vegetables through the winter; oblivious to the nutritional deficit in canned foods versus fresh, seasonal produce.
Once spring arrived, though, we used our wedding gift money to purchase a few gardening tools. We spent hours digging up a centuries-old garden patch, and to our delight, our plants grew! We suddenly had fresh peas (it’s too bad we didn’t know about this, though). I started going to local berry fields, and picked fresh strawberries and blueberries to freeze. A friend introduced us to the local Farmer’s Market, where we bought huge heads of lettuce for 75-cents!
We also discovered a natural foods store (they sponsored the weather report on the local Christian radio station!), and decided to join their membership with $5 per month. They provided free issues of natural food/health-type magazines, which introduced me to the world of naturopathic medicine, and the health benefits of foods! I even learned fun tips, such as adding edible flowers to our food! I began sprinkling in our homegrown nasturtiums into our summer pasta salads. My scientific skepticism (ingrained from my pre-med years), began to meld into an appreciation for God’s provision for health through natural sources (not solely drug companies!).
Food-based capsules of a Garlic & Cayenne blend healed me of a pervasive (seemingly antibiotic-resistant) strep infection, and I now welcomed Calvin’s handful of natural healing knowledge, taught to him from his parents.
As our income increased, we started buying more “healthy”- but still packaged- products. We went on a cleansing “fertility” diet. I learned how to cook tofu, and gradually acquired a taste for yams and kale. We started eating sprouted grain yeast-free breads, and eliminated meat and dairy products for several months. Our refrigerator was suddenly filled with delicious, fresh produce, and our health seemed to be improving.
The stress of moving into a new home, and increasing job obligations encroached upon our nutrition fervor, and our “healthy diet” began to fall by the wayside. Often, I was late getting home- to an empty house- and didn’t feel like cooking. I would fall asleep with a bowl of buttered pasta or slices of cheese and a handful of dried fruit. I justified it with the old “well, it qualifies as a fruit…” line.
Once in awhile we would attempt a greater effort for healthy meals, and would open up cans of beans for a soup or casserole, alongside a spinach salad. I did do some “once-a-month” freezer cooking, and would make batches of veggie lasagna, meatloaf, and tofu meatballs. Super Wal-Mart moved into town, and suddenly groceries became cheaper. But, that also “allowed” for those extra “fun” purchases like sugary cereal and salty pretzels. (We did insist on buying organic foods & formula for our baby daughter, though.) I happened upon a garage sale copy of Adelle Davis’ book Let’s Have Healthy Children, several months before Gen was born, and loved it. Reading the book really encouraged me to persist in attempting to raise up a child with the simple benefits of healthy foods, and to teach her how to prepare foods wisely.
It wasn’t until after we moved this summer that we realized the additives that had been in most of the Wal-Mart food. (BHT is so prevalent, especially in the many foods we assume to be healthy: cereals, canned beans, frozen turkey.)
As we purposefully sought after living a simple life, nutrition kept popping up in our discussions. We started buying local, seasonal foods; mostly organic. Whole wheat flour became the norm, and we buy it in ever-increasing amounts, while phasing out all-purpose flour. Our white sugar consumption plummeted, as I vowed to find healthy alternatives. We researched with the amazing resources available through our new county-wide library systems, and read books such as Nourishing Traditions, Wild Fermentation, Simply In Season, and Sue Gregg’s 15-Minute Meal Planner. We learned about the benefits of soaking grains, and the necessity of eating whole, natural foods in season. We’ve also eliminated soy from our diet (read about it here).
A few months ago, I discovered the concept of meal planning, which has made an amazing difference! We no longer have the empty fridge/pantry problem (unexpectedly, anyway). I’m not just tossing “what looks good” into the shopping cart. Plus, since I’m not shopping at 10 pm after work, I can take the time to read labels.
I have finally started taking a daily multi-vitamin supplement over the past couple months. (Doctors have been recommending them to me for years, but I didn’t follow through.) One doctor actually did tell me that the vitamins were probably unnecessary (even during a pregnancy at that time!), if I ate a “balanced diet” (not that she could tell me what that meant!).
For the past month, I have been basing my weekly meal plans on the Brewer Diet, with these guidelines. (No, I don’t have anything to announce; it was just the best meal plan I could find.) I have a little checklist inside a clear page protector, and I mark off my daily intake with a white-board marker. At the end of the week, I can evaluate it, wipe it off, and start over.
It keeps me accountable to my goal to gain/maintain a healthy weight, as well as ensuring that we actually do have a “balanced diet” of green, orange, and yellow fruits and vegetables, plus grains, proteins, and dairy. I’m the type of person that tends to fall into the trap of not eating if I get too busy, tired, etc. But when the chart is staring me in the face, it forces me to fix up something to eat (and usually, I end up having more energy after that anyway- imagine that!) If you look at my weekly meal plans for the past several weeks, you can see the impact of these guidelines.
Calvin has sporadically reminisced about the raw milk they drank during his childhood, and lamented the difficulty in finding it now. We just recently found out about a local source for raw milk, and picked up our first two gallons yesterday. I made our first batch of butter, from the cream we skimmed off the top. We spread it on our homemade bread at lunchtime, and it was a delicious simple pleasure!
I sprouted sunflower seeds for the first time. (Now that I’ve finally taken the time to learn how!) We enjoyed them on our lunchtime salad, and I will be blending some into a porridge for Gen.
We have found that eating natural foods, is actually a more taste-filled pleasure, than consuming chemical-laden, artificially-flavored alternatives. It’s not the “tastes-like-cardboard” event, that many people perceive.
We are continually learning ways to use God’s provision for our physical needs, and discovering what resources are available to us. Read more about our grocery/meal plan transition here. Already, we have seen God’s blessings as we seek to honor our Creator our eating habits. For each meal we’ve made this week, I have had enough leftovers to freeze for additional meals!
That’s a much more simple way to live, than subsisting off a boxed dinner! Plus, we are supporting sustainable local farmers, and not large corporations who are trying to impress Wall Street, or push anti-family agendas. We thank God for His continual guidance and blessings as we seek to glorify Him!
1 comment to Living A Simple Life- Part 5 (Simplicity in Nutrition)
Thank you so much for your blog! I found it by accident today and it is really inspiring me. I am a stay at home mom and I'm longing to be a good steward of the life God has given me. I've been praying that God would send people to teach me, and here is your blog for a start!
I was raised to trust the medical system and all of the "normal things". That began changing starting with my pregnancy. We chose a natural birth for all of it's benefits and other areas of life are gradually changing too.
After my daughter was born, I became very sick. My body would not heal and in fact began growing sicker day by day. The medicine that normally healed people quickly, didn't do much good. I was on it for months, when most people heal with one treatment. After going to several different doctors, all of them being baffled, the last one telling me that all I could do was pray, God sent me to a naturopath (I would not have gone there had He not allowed me to be hopeless in the things I had always trusted). She gave me herbs, a diet that even the doctors had all recommended and these are the things that eventually healed me. This post sounds so familiar :), we are not as far along in the nutritional journey. We started out the same way, now we are in a co-op, we drink raw milk, no canned, processed, fake anything. I'm just learning though. I didn't know how to cook or do any home maker type things a year ago, and God is teaching me through friends and women like you. Thank you for sharing all of this!