When Northfield’s Jill Manchester asked for a nutrition makeover, her reason stood out not for being special or different. It simply described the situation so many of us find ourselves in.
“As a working mom, my time is my most valuable asset,” she wrote. “Looking back, when my three kids were young, I traded off nutrition for convenience. Now, as my kids have grown…I want to introduce better nutrition to our family. I need a couple go-to, good-for-you meals all three of my kids will enjoy.”
Make It Better paired Manchester, a busy Kraft executive, with Lynn Bednar, owner of Walsh Natural Health in Evanston for a quick nutrition bootcamp. Here’s what we all can learn:
Don’t be afraid of the learning curve. Like any new skill we try to master, committing to a more nutritious lifestyle takes work. “It’s a process, says Bednar, “and you do have to become a label reader. But you can start by picking one or two things to work on. That would be the way to start letting it in. It will start to come naturally after a while.”
A great way to start is with meals on the run—and with three kids (Jack, 17; Jake, 15 and Jacqueline, 12) on three different sports and school schedules, Manchester needs easy-to-make meal suggestions. Bednar suggests keeping healthy staples such as brown rice, whole grain pasta, grilled chicken and a variety of sauces on hand for easy-to-make dinners, like stir fry.
“It’s having those staples and just changing the flavorings that makes it really easy,” says Bednar.
Smoothies are your new best friend. “I think smoothies are the absolute best,” says Bednar. “I just love them for their total nutrition.” She’s big on including greens in smoothies, and told Manchester there are ways to make even the healthiest smoothies flavorful—and that it is OK to make a chocolate smoothie for breakfast.
“Kale goes well with berries, watercress (great for detoxifying) and watermelon, coconut oil with cacao for a chocolate shake … all great suggestions.”
And if you need a little crunch at breakfast, head for the trail mix and avoid the “white carbs” found in many cereals. “A lot of cereals are so fast-burning, she says. “One hour and you’re hungry again.”
Planning ahead makes nutrition easier. Manchester notes this was an important lesson. “It really resonates with me.” Bednar suggests taking some time on the weekend to cook brown rice (it takes longer then white rice), grill up chicken or steak, and cook pasta so that family members can grab and go during the week.
It really is about quality. “I think that’s a big ‘Ah-ha’ for me,” says Manchester. Foods we typically think of as not particularly healthy don’t have to be that way.
“Go ahead and get hot dogs,” says Bednar. “Just look for the ones that don’t have nitrates. Going to Costco? Get the grass-fed beef. Ordering pizza is fine once in a while, but try to serve a veggie with it, like a fresh salad.”
Simple ingredients, planning and a dose of common sense can make a switch to a more nutritious lifestyle doable. “I like these ideas,” Manchester says. “They’re actionable and easy.”
5 Ingredients to Avoid
When trying to embrace a more nutritious lifestyle, it’s sometimes easier to know what to avoid. Walsh Natural Health owner Lynn Bednar offers up these suggestions:
1. Hydrogenated oils—Fats are an essential part of our diet, so look to nuts, avocados and olive oil instead.
2. High-fructose corn syrup—The more you read labels, the more you’ll find HFCS. Try to avoid it as much as possible. The best sweetener? Raw sugar. Or, as a substitute, try Stevia.
3. MSG—It’s an additive that has been linked to a number of health problems.
4. Genetically modified (GMO) products—According to Bednar, animal studies indicate products that include genetically modified corn, soy and canola are bad for overall health.
5. Items with complex ingredients. “If the label you are reading has less than five ingredients, that’s great.”
Meet the Expert:
Walsh Natural Health
2116 Central St., Evanston
Quick Tip: Coconut oil is one of the best fats. “It’s amazing for stir fries and adding to smoothies.”
Philosophy: “My goal is to help people realize that health is simple: Our health is as good as what we put into our bodies, the quality of the environment around us, and the extent to which we follow our passions.”