Have you got the food skills?

Celebrations around the holiday season often feature food and family. Most of us enjoy getting together with relatives and close friends and eating traditional meals.

In my family we take turns hosting this important event. I enjoy the opportunity to make traditional foods, especially a few family recipes that have been passed down through several generations. However, I must admit to feeling some stress related to the turkey preparation. I typically only prepare turkey for holiday meals and sometimes lack confidence in my food skills on these infrequent occasions.
Overcooked Turkey I don’t want to serve up dry, burnt, tasteless turkey, or worse yet, food poisoning. I reluctantly admit, a call to my mother is not unheard of during these culinary-rich times of the year.

While picking out a turkey for Thanksgiving this year I was surprised by the variety of boxed, pre-stuffed and pre-cooked varieties available. Perhaps I shouldn’t have been. Many families these days rely on convenience foods to survive their busy schedules.
Convenience Food But, this increased dependence on highly processed and packaged foods is concerning from both an environmental and health standpoint.

Why you ask?
The packaging waste associated with convenience foods is tremendous. From a sustainability standpoint these foods have often travelled far distances and do not support local farmers or the establishment of a local food system that can support communities for years to come.

From a nutritional standpoint one has to consider:

If you can’t pronounce it, or your grandmother wouldn’t know what it is, do you really want to eat it?

At times, I worry that a whole generation has lost the food skills necessary for meal preparation. Now, I’m not talking about making a full turkey dinner, rather the ability to prepare simple daily meals. These days, even a call to mom might not help, as many of us are second generation convenience food eaters.

Recently though, my worries of a future where everyone relies on boxed “food” are starting to ease.
Female at farmer's market Millennials are showing remarkable interest in growing and preparing food and rescuing food skills and local food systems. Inspiring food activities are happening throughout Dufferin County, Wellington County and Guelph. More and more people are getting together and having food conversations in their communities and taking action.

In Dufferin County, some schools are sending elementary students home with a knapsack full of local ingredients and newly acquired skills to prepare a healthy family meal. On behalf of Public Health, I want to congratulate the schools, farmers and parents participating in the Headwaters Food & Farming Alliance’s Local Food Club and the associated Farm to School education workshops that are happening in this area. Additionally, I wanted to draw attention to the creative and determined efforts of high school chefs like Chris Jess and Nicole DeBeyer from Centre Wellington District High School, who envision a different food future for their students, and are helping to drive positive change around food literacy.

The trend towards foods prepared from scratch and use of local ingredients is one worth jumping on. If you are ready to start spending more time planning and preparing meals I would like to share a recipe for success: always keep in mind that all home cooked meals do not have to be wonderful creations. If you or your family don’t like a meal, you get the opportunity to try something new next meal.

Family cooking together What is even more important than making perfect meals, is encouraging your kids to get involved. Consider it part of preparing your kids for life on their own. Teach them, or learn together how to:

  • Plan low cost meals
  • Problem solve in the kitchen
  • Work with items you have on hand
  • Experiment with substituting in healthy ingredients

For more information and recipe ideas see EatRightOntario.ca or FamilyKitchen.ca. This year give your family a special gift that can last a lifetime. The gift of being able to prepare healthy, tasty and affordable meals.

Happy Holidays and cheers to a new year of healthy eating ahead!

Doreen Henderson
Public Health Nutritionist