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The Healthy Foods and Cooking Issue

Mar 17, 2014

Feature Article: 9 Tips for Healthier Eating

Once a month, Shannon* (age 27) enjoys a “cooking club” with a friend. Together with their support workers, the two women plan and cook a nutritious supper. After enjoying their meal, they play boardgames, hang out and chat. “It’s a great way for them to learn about nutrition, cooking and socializing,” says Shannon’s mother, Jan Wylie*.

Since Shannon lives in a basement apartment in her parents’ home, she has the use of a separate kitchen. With support worker coaching, she’s learned how to make cold breakfasts and lunches on her own.

“Nutritious food and exercise are so important,” says Wylie. “But I’m concerned about my daughter using the stove or oven when she’s alone.” One of Shannon’s goals is learning to make simple hot meals like grilled cheese by herself. Other times, she prepares a whole dinner (with worker assistance) and serves it upstairs to her parents. They’re thrilled to have a night off from cooking.

Like Shannon, many self-advocates need coaching on how to choose and prepare healthy foods. We asked Shelley Murphy, a Registered Dietitian from the Guelph Community Health Centre for advice. Read on for her best tips:

  • Make one change:

Breakfast skippers, listen up! One of the best ways to improve your diet is to eat breakfast. Try for 3 balanced meals spaced 4 to 6 hours apart. And avoid night snacking.

  • Use short-cuts when needed

Difficulties with fine motor skills and following directions can make cooking challenging. Try buying pre-cut vegetables and fruit and prepared salad greens.

  • Learn cooking skills online

Check out Youtube for videos on everything from how to chop a bell pepper to how to bake a zucchini cake. Cooking shows on TV are also great for learning and for inspiration.

  • Cook with a group

Join a Collective Kitchen. If extra support is needed, bring along a support worker or friend. Members gather in a large kitchen (often in a church or community centre) to cook healthy meals together in bulk. Everyone takes home packaged healthy meals for the fridge or freezer.

  • Take a class

Many communities have free or low-cost healthy cooking classes. For example, see the “Wandering Chef” program offered at the Guelph Community Health Centre. http://www.guelphchc.ca/healthy-living/food-health/wandering-chefs. Also check out your local Recreation and Parks and Continuing Education cooking courses.

  • Use visuals to teach about healthy food choices

To help someone learn to eat a balanced meal, buy a divided portion plate (see http://www.theportionplate.com/NEWAdultPlate-Food.html for an example) that has sections indicated for protein, starch or grains and veggies. See the Canadian Diabetes Site (http://www.diabetesgps.ca/en/just-the-basics/healthy-eating) for printable posters on easy ways to choose healthy portions of foods.

  • Try to broaden food preferences

Is your son or daughter a picky eater? Set a goal of trying one new food a week. Dietitians suggest letting your adult child choose a new food from the grocery store or market. Gently encourage a one-bite try of something new. Remember that it can take up to 15 times of being exposed to a new food for a picky eater to try it.

  • Increase time and motivation in the kitchen

It can be hard to entice individuals into the kitchen and away from the tv, computer or music. Let them listen to their favourite music as they cook. Or try a reward system. If your son or daughter helps with a certain number of meals per week, they earn a special outing or activity. Also let them choose a specific cooking task such as using the lettuce spinner, chopping veggies or stirring ingredients.

  • Bring in the Pros!

Need some individualized professional advice on diet and nutrition? Call Eat Right Ontario (www.eatrightontario.ca) to speak to a dietitian and to have resources mailed out. (toll free 1-877-510-5102). Also contact your local public health unit and/or community health centre for information and programs in your area.

 

*Names have been changed.

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