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Photo of a woman and her grandmother with a turkeyHealthy eating
Eat like Grandma
It's time to simplify our eating habits
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By Coralee Hill
May/June 2019

Food can have many different meanings.

Depending on the person or situation, it can be nourishing, delicious, prescriptive, cultural, an obsession, difficult to access, or a combination of all these things.

As a dietitian with 25 years of experience, I have encountered many aspects and meanings of food and approaches to eating. I also have seen the messaging around food and nutrition become complicated, confusing and even contradictory.

That said, eating and feeding yourself or your family does not have to be that complex. What if we got back to basics and ate in ways that are similar to how your grandma (or great-grandma) did?

I'm not advocating for cooking in lard and eating only from a canning jar. Grandma's food choices were more seasonal, limited and, at times, even scarce. There is also something to be said for modern-day conveniences such as ready-to-use chopped lettuce or store-bought bread, and advances in science and medicine. I am advocating for people to eat nourishing, wholesome food and meals that are prepared, eaten and enjoyed more often at home in the company of others around a family table. It's time to simplify eating.

Photo of assorted vegetables

These food fundamentals that my grandma taught me still align with current evidence and practice. In fact, some have emerged in the new Canada's Food Guide "eat well" messages:

Stick with what you know. Our bodies are made to eat food, not food-like substances. Grandma used recipes and techniques that her ancestors taught her. She did not stock her cupboards with foods that have long, unrecognizable ingredient lists. She also did not need some new media headline, nutritional trend, food marketing or celebrity to tell her what to eat or not to eat. More and more evidence is showing that it is not necessary to eliminate certain foods or conform to a single dietary pattern to achieve a healthy diet.

Prepare foods with thought and care. Grandma needed to budget and plan meals. All parts of plants and animals were used at some point, often canned or frozen for later use. Today, many fruits and vegetables don't even make it onto store shelves because they're not perfectly appealing. In 2017, the National Zero Waste Council conducted research on household food waste in Canada and found 63 per cent of the food Canadians throw away could have been eaten.

Serve and eat just enough. Portions were smaller and she ate servings that were personally satisfying. Grandma may have wanted others to "eat, eat," but she didn't count calories. Instead she tuned into the eating experience and her own body's intelligence about how much to eat. Today, this concept is called mindful eating and is supported in the new Food Guide. Mindful eating has been shown to improve meal satisfaction, decrease binge eating, decrease non-hunger eating, promote sustained weight management, and improve blood sugar control.

Eat local and seasonal. Grandma grew it, raised it, used the corner store, or knew the farmer down the road. She probably didn't realize she was strengthening the local economy and supporting the environment. Her diet may have been less varied due to availability - not from extreme eating or concerns about hormones or "best-before" dates.

Understand food skills are important life skills. Grandma didn't rely on restaurants, "on the go" eating or meal delivery but rather was a role model who took opportunities to teach and share food skills - including eating within a food budget. In the International Journal of Consumer Studies, 2018, local dietitian and researcher Joyce Slater determined there are critical food literacy competencies (food knowledge, values and skills) required by youth as they make the transition to independent adulthood. Many youth today are lacking these competencies required to plan, manage, select, prepare and eat foods to meet their needs.

If your eating patterns have become complex and you would rather rediscover eating based on a simpler style like Grandma's, speak with a registered dietitian. Dietitians are a phone call away Dial-a-Dietitian, toll free 1-877-830-2892 or 204-788-8248 in Winnipeg. Registered dietitians are passionate about the potential of food to enhance lives and improve health.

Coralee Hill is a registered dietitian with the Provincial Health Contact Centre's Dial-a-Dietitian program located at Misericordia Health Centre. This column was originally published in the Winnipeg Free Press on Friday, April 12, 2019.