Listen Up: A New Year’s Challenge
Lindsey here. Despite all the responsibilities, I find the peace of being an adult some days is being alright with not having All The Answers. Nutrition research evolves constantly; scientific reports pop into the headlines about what not to eat this week, confusing the public. The role of Manna’s Nutrition Educator implies a vast knowledge base that intimidates even me. Being relatively new to my career, I can sometimes slip into a panic, convincing myself that perfect strangers will see “nutrition” in my job title and, on the spot, start quizzing me on GMOs, insoluble fiber or sources of Vitamin A (sweet potato, carrots, beef, kale, collards).
In recent conversations with families who receive food through our Smart Sacks program, one mother said she doesn’t know what to do with dried beans, another shared her frustration with cooking brown rice on a hurried weeknight. Before I could offer suggestions, the other parents spoke up:
- “I make a brown rice salad with corn, celery, green pepper, sweet pepper, and carrot. The dressing is lemon and mayo, and it is good three days in the fridge. Sometimes I add chicken.”
- “I make a sauce of tomato, sweet red pepper, onion, and fish. I parboil the brown rice, then finish cooking rice in the sauce so the rice is red and my kids don’t see that the rice is brown.”
With the gradual acceptance of not needing to have all the answers comes the opportunity to listen. Rather than spending the hour telling parents about the healthy dishes in which I use similar ingredients—and assuming my imaginary children adore my every culinary concoction—I took notes. Lots of notes.
One mother, from Nigeria, shared that the only beans she knows are black eyed peas. She often incorporates them into a porridge with yams and corn. Another parent, from Paraguay, says that beans are expensive in South America, and that she, too, is unaccustomed to cooking beans on a regular basis. A third parent, from Mexico voices her favorite Manna item: pink beans, which her family loves in a salad with scallion, tomato, cilantro, and canned salmon. The parents in attendance were eager to go home and try this one.
It’s a new year now, and from glancing at the grocery store magazines or health websites, it appears this is the month to reinvent the wheel: cook new foods, whip up creative lunches and dinner for your family.
My afternoon with these creative moms sparked a simpler idea.
Ask you friends and neighbors what they’re cooking this week. Isolation can be the biggest risk factor to one’s health, so get out and mingle. Cook with a friend, cook for a friend, pass along a new recipe, or have your kids select a new ingredient to cook at home. Isn’t it a relief that we don’t have to do everything by ourselves? The people around us have delicious wisdom and experience to share if we would just take the time to ask and listen.