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“An apple a day keeps the doctor away.”
Or does it?
One of the trickiest parts of real food meal planning for me is the temptation to keep eating the same things over and over. When highly processed foods are cut out of the diet, it limits the options of what’s available to eat. Add food allergies, sensitivities, or other restrictions, and the options become even more limited.
I’m a creature of habit. I used to eat a bowl of Cheerios with a banana for breakfast every day. For lunch I would have a peanut butter and jelly sandwich or a cheese sandwich. For snacks I would have a couple pieces of fruit, a Nutri Grain bar, or some yogurt. For dinner, I would mix it up with something different every night. I did this routine for years and years. Eventually I would get tired of Cheerios and then move on to oat squares. I’d eat them every day for the next few years until I got sick of them. It was a very easy approach to food because I didn’t have to think about anything except what was for dinner.
My diet is very different now. I was diagnosed about three years ago with dairy and gluten sensitivities. My doctor also suggested a low-oxalate diet for me last spring after I had a kidney stone. Foods high in oxalates include almonds, peanuts, cashews, pecans, spinach, beets, rhubarb, swiss chard, and chocolate. (I ignore that last one.) The list is much longer than this, but I get indignant whenever I think about it. Really, I can’t eat spinach or beets? And with dairy out of the picture, I have often leaned on nuts to get some protein in the afternoon. Take out peanuts, almonds, cashews, and pecans, and there aren’t too many nuts left. I’d almost rather go through another kidney stone than have to drastically limit these foods from my diet.
Despite all these limitations, there’s one piece of advice I received from my doctor that I try to follow:
Don’t eat anything every day.
Rotating Your Diet
If we keep eating the same foods, she explained, we develop sensitivities to these foods. I used to eat lots of dairy and lots of gluten, and it got to be too much. I’m now trying to reintroduce gluten into my diet in the form of sourdough and other homemade whole wheat products. I haven’t had any problems so far, and I think this is due in part to the fact that I’m not eating gluten for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I’m going some days with no gluten at all.
We all know that we’re supposed to eat a “varied diet,” but what does that mean? I used to think that making something different for dinner every night gave me a varied diet. Some people pride themselves on eating a healthy breakfast of oatmeal and fruit every morning. I understand the convenience of this approach, but it’s not the best way to eat. It would be better to have oatmeal on Monday and Thursday, eggs on Tuesday, granola on Wednesday, and pancakes on Friday.
For me, the best way to avoid eating the same foods every day is to have a food plan for the whole week including breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks. Coming up with a plan like this can be time-consuming, and it’s not always easy to think of new ideas. But I’m working on it, and I especially want to implement it for my children. I believe they will be healthier and happier if they are eating a more varied diet. This means they can’t have a sandwich in their lunch every day even though that’s the easiest thing to prepare. Even if the filling is different from one day to the next, that’s a lot of bread to eat day after day.
Since we started our commitment to real food six months ago, nobody in my family has had any significant illnesses. My daughter has had a few stuffy noses, but that’s it. The other day she came home from school feeling worn out, and she had a little fever of 100.2. I thought our streak was over, but by dinnertime her temperature was down below 100 and she felt fine. This is a pretty dramatic change from the past, when it seemed like every bug that went around my children’s school would knock one of them out for a few days. I was so happy to see her immune system working quickly and effectively, and I truly believe it’s because she doesn’t have highly processed food in her diet anymore.
I personally haven’t been congested in years, ever since I stopped eating dairy and gluten and started rotating my diet. I used to get seasonal allergies in addition to cold after cold after every winter. This morning, some other moms at a PTA meeting were talking about how bad the ragweed is this year and how itchy and sneezy it’s making them. I didn’t even know the ragweed was here yet. Breathing clearly is a beautiful thing, and I try to appreciate it once in a while.
When I start to get discouraged with my long cooking to-do list and endless pile of dishes, I think about how healthy we all are now. It’s so worth it to me.