The significance of wholesome meals
“What most people don’t realize is that food isn’t just calories, it’s information. It contains messages that communicate with every cell in the body.” – Dr. Mark Hyman
At school I was always that boy with the brown paper bag, wholegrain bread with an oat crust, a piece of fruit, a granola bar and maybe applesauce (as a treat). I hated my lunch. They were boring, and I was jealous of other kids who bought hot lunches from the waitress in the school cafeteria or had packed lunches full of cookies, fruit on their feet, and white bread sandwiches.
Sugary snacks and packaged foods are expensive and hot lunches were out of the question.
Eating healthy doesn’t have to break your wallet
Growing up we didn’t have a lot of money, so my mom would buy expired products, religiously cut coupons, and always hunt for the best discounts, even if it was dented cans and broken noodles.
In reality, we were very fortunate to have three meals a day that were whole foods, even when the products were mushy, our canned beans dented, and our eggs had expired. The growing percentage of children in America who go to bed hungry is getting bigger and bigger each year. Not only are these children malnourished, but they are also at risk of developing cognitive and behavioral problems later on.
Living with food allergies
Dairy products have been my enemy for as long as I can remember. I spent countless nights in the emergency room with ruptured eardrums from severe otitis media when I ate something with dairy products. I stopped counting how many ear surgeries I had before I got into fifth grade. These ear infections eventually worsened into anaphylactic reactions when I consumed something containing dairy products. I ate cashew cream and soy ice cream before they even became a trend. I didn’t mind having tofutti ice cream or pizza without cheese with my mother and brother because it was normal for me.
However, I became incredibly concerned about my allergy when I was with other children my age. Going to a pizza night, birthday party, basketball team dinner, race track trip, or anything that served food became my worst nightmare. I ordered a vegetarian pizza with no cheese and salads with no salad dressing. I said “no thanks” to birthday cake, and I knew I would always be that weird allergic kid who would eventually turn into that weird allergic adult who didn’t eat dairy … or red meat.
Almost 30 years later, I can finally explain my food allergy and I eat pizza without cheese to the full. Of course, I still have rare moments when people don’t fully understand my allergy or food choices, which brings with it some challenges, but for the most part I’m completely satisfied.
Cooking food at home
My mom was never a fan of processed foods. She never gave us frozen TV meals. The first time I went through a driveway was only in 4th grade, and I remember it causing one of the biggest parental explosions I can remember.
Dinner was cooked from scratch every night (with plenty of leftovers) and we sat around the table as a family and talked. My mother was a single mother of two with a demanding career, so time wasn’t on her side. Instead, she prepared meals, used the crockpot to the full, “improved” last night’s leftovers, and somehow brought whole, home-cooked meals into her budget and time.
In rare cases we indulged in “fast food”, which was exclusively chicken dishes for the whole family from El Pollo Loco, and even more rarely did we go to a restaurant with seating. Dinner, junk food, and sweets were allowed, but only occasionally. Soda was never allowed in the house, and my mom always baked our birthday cakes from scratch. She has made it her business not only to offer her children the best possible food, but also to internalize the importance of food for us not only because of its nutritional value, but also because of the value of bringing strangers and loved ones together.
I share this part of my childhood because it not only gives an idea of how I deal with my mind and body today, but also how our eating habits can shape the rest of our lives. Growing up with a mother who valued whole foods and diets enabled me to have a healthy relationship with food as an adult. How we raise our children around food can have a greater impact on their future than many of us realize.
It’s about moderation and balance
Today, I regularly remind my mom that feeding my brain and body high-nutrient whole foods was one of the best lifelong lessons she has ever taught us. She taught us not only to nourish our bodies, but to love our bodies.
To this day, I cook most of my meals at home, craving fresh vegetables and fruits every day, only eat in restaurants or order takeaway to meet up with friends and family, indulge my obsession with chicken (no cheese) burrito, am A big fan of whole, balanced foods and shows off snacks, dark chocolate and gummy worms from time to time. My body feels good, my brain feels good, and my soul feels good.
Pay attention to what you eat, be creative with what you eat, enjoy what you eat, eat whole foods and always be aware that you are not only feeding your body but also your brain.
Brain Facts: Two important hormones that shape our appetite and hunger signals are leptin and ghrelin. Leptin is secreted in fat cells and reduces hunger. Ghrelin is eliminated in the stomach and increases hunger. Both hormones communicate with our hypothalamus (communication center in the brain).