Healthier Eating in the Neighborhood

Feeding a big family nutritious and calorie-right foods can be a challenge. It’s hard to satisfy everyone’s preferences, afford what you need, and stick to the ideal “nutrient dense, low calorie” approach. The task for a small family or a single person requires no less care. Drifting off into low quality, junk-food-land is a constant danger that compounds the problem and has terrible long-term consequences. In a recent event hosted by Sustainable Southern Gables, our neighbor Justina Walls conducted a class on healthier eating. 

On a warm sunny morning, ironically the day right after our Southern Gables Neighborhood Night Out was rained out, a group of neighbors gathered at the outdoor classroom area of the Green Gables Elementary School campus adjacent to the Community Garden. In telling us about the class beforehand, two important topics were promised: the perennial question of what to do with all those zucchinis that overwhelm home gardens in the summer, and brownies. Healthy, delicious, chocolaty brownies.

Justina Walls and her husband Glenn McCarthy have long been advocates of the plant-based food movement, and we have admired their dedication to good health before.1 They have demonstrated the value of a sound nutritional plan in their own lives by an astonishing return to health from a serious illness. That experience strengthened their resolve to help stem the tide of unhealthful eating habits that pervades our way of life. Justina speaks with the authority of not only a formal education in health and nutrition but also a remarkable recovery from serious illness, gaining health and strength from the right diet.

With the promise of brownies as a lead-in, Justina started with the premise that the key to a more healthful, more nutritious diet is inexpensive; it is all around us; and it is so easy, sensible, and ordinary that it is largely overlooked. More fruits and veggies! A healthy diet rests on a foundation of including more fruits and vegetables in our diets. The real question is, “How can you get your family (and yourself!) to eat more fruits & veggies and other nutrient dense and low calorie foods? How can you do this quickly, easily, and inexpensively?”

The class centered around ways to answer that question. Vegetables can be added to just about anything, and the techniques for doing so are surprisingly easy and effective. Justina has compiled a list of tips for encouraging the eating of vegetables that could get them into the diet of the pickiest two-year-old, not to mention problem eaters of any generation who are “set in their ways” in turning up their noses at “that veggie stuff.”

As Justina was describing the tips and ideas to make healthier eating easier and more convenient, Glenn was preparing a sample plate for each attendee. As the plates were being served, Justina provided a list of ten useful tips for encouraging the eating of vegetables, and gave examples of each one in turn. If you want a copy of the list, it is here. Highlights included how to make the taste of added vegetables undetectable, the benefits to health and the environment of making dietary changes, and the importance of color in making a meal more attractive. She made the point that “The first thing we eat with is our eyes.” Several specific veggie dishes were described, and she went through a brief description of several of the recipes including a veggie burger that can be made at home and is tastier and healthier than the commercially prepared ones. On the topic of gravies and sauces, she told us with a smile, “I love gravies. I believe the whole point of food is to hold gravies and sauces.” Then there was that brownie recipe, with the absolutely delicious specimen of a brownie served to us as proof that healthy eating can include decadently delicious treats.

In connection with the tips that Justina outlined, she described a few of the recipes in detail. You can find them here: the burger, the squash and zucchini (to solve that summer problem), and that amazing brownie. Justina will gladly share any of the other recipes on the tip sheet, or for that matter will offer personalized menu and serving suggestions to anyone who wishes to contact her.

The final tip on the list was not a recipe though, but a serving technique: keeping good foods ready for snacks. People will eat what’s easy, and bite-sized pieces are easy. Justina told us about a couple she knew, whose teens were constantly on the prowl for snacks. They all loved watermelon. Wanting to encourage something other than junk food, the parents put a watermelon front and center in the fridge. As Justina told us, “No one touched it. Next day, they cut the watermelon in half and left it in the front and center of the fridge. No one touched it. Next day, they cut it into fourths. Same thing. Then they cut it into easy-to-hold-in-your-hand pieces. The watermelon disappeared. Moral of the story – leave foods (even favorites) in a state that requires some work and no one eats it. Prepare food in a manner that is easy to grab for a snack and it will disappear!”

Making good food disappear is a good magic trick! To contact Justina about her healthier eating magic, email her at [email protected].

About the teacher: Justina Walls holds certificates in Plant Based Nutrition from eCornell University and Forks Over Knives Plant Based Cooking from The Rouxbe School of Cooking. She has taught healthy plant-based cooking and nutrition for over 30 years. She is a member of the Southern Gables Neighborhood Association as well as Sustainable Southern Gables. To see articles she has written for us about life in the neighborhood, click here

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  1. Meet Your Neighbors: Glenn McCarthy & Justina Walls May 7, 2021

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