Monday, December 28, 2009

My Secret to Good Health - Memories of Me Monday

TODAY'S MEMORY JOGGER:  "What is your secret or recipe for good health?"

When I was in the 6th grade I joined a diet club to lose weight (I've always had the vaguely held idea that if you stayed slim you stayed healthy). Actually, my two best friends, Judy Rich and Jill Brunson and I created the club ourselves.  We were the only members.  We planned to meet once a week at Jill's house.  During our first meeting we weighed ourselves and wrote the date and our weights in a little notebook.  I had a tiny calorie-counting book that I'd bought at the dimestore that we carefully studied, picking out the foods with the least calories and planning to only eat those foods.  But when you're an active 11-year old girl it's a little hard to just eat lettuce and radishes, especially when you don't even like radishes!

The club didn't last long.  We went on to create other clubs, the three of us, including a plant club where we all purchased tiny seedlings and measured their growth each week, a writing club (we were all working on novels), and a music club, where we kept track of the songs we heard on the radio each day, and how many times we heard them (a practice Judy and I continued for several years even after this club went the way of the others).

Truth be told, however, my "secret" to good health was my parents.  The food we ate was predominantly freshly prepared and homemade.  Spaghetti sauce was made from scratch, as was mac 'n cheese (no blue box full of preservatives), beef stew, fried chicken, sloppy joes, enchilada casserole, meat loaf, and creamed tuna on toast.  Sometimes we kids got hamburgers while my mom and dad each enjoyed a steak.  My mom was too thrifty to cook steak for us; it was too expensive, and we were surely too young to appreciate it.  Now and then when my mom was too busy to cook we ate Campbell's Pork 'n Beans and boiled hot dogs, a meal we called "weiners and beaners,"  or Campbell's tomato soup & grilled cheese sandwiches.

As for vegetables, we kids mainly got served canned peas, canned peas & carrots, canned green beans (my most despised veggie), or canned corn; once in a while we got creamed corn.  Potatoes were baked in the oven and had a hard, sometimes crispy skin (which we kids wouldn't eat); sometimes they were mashed or boiled.  My parents ate cauliflower, broccoli, spinach, and lima beans, but my mom seldom bothered trying to serve them to us - I expect she figured why waste good food and money when we were sure to refuse to eat them?  I don't think I ever saw a brussel's sprout, fresh spinach (instead of frozen), kale, mustard greens, any kind of squash, or even knew that peas grew inside a pod until I was an adult.

Salads were iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers and radishes, with Thousand Island dressing.  Grocery stores hadn't yet begun offering the vast variety of leafy greens you see now.  Arugula?  We'd have thought that was some kind of exotic, foreign dish!

My mom did go through some phases with our family meals.  There was the time period when she was grinding all her own wheat in the basement of our home in Minnesota.  I think that only lasted a few years, but she baked bread my entire childhood (at the time I had no idea how lucky I was).  Then there was the "Spam phase."  We got spam-burgers, spam and eggs, spam casseroles, and spam loaf.  I liked it best fried 'til crispy with eggs (to this day I get the occasional craving for Spam 'n eggs).  Another time she experimented with a soy meat substitute that I remember as being the consistency of mealy ground meat.  It wasn't bad tasting, but it was hard to get my siblings and I to even try anything new, let alone accept it as part of our "normal" family meal routine.  As soon as we knew it wasn't really beef, we rebelled against it.

My dad cooked, too, but he was mainly a breakfast kind of guy.  He was the one who made Spam 'n eggs most often, usually on weekends.  He also like to fry up slices of bologna.  He was our designated pancake-maker, and he was the one who most often wrestled with our heavy waffle iron, forcing it to give up perfectly crisped waffles.  He fried eggs and scrambled eggs and, when he didn't feel like cooking, got out the Cheerios and Corn Flakes and poured us each a bowl with sliced bananas and whole milk.

My mom packed our lunches for school, too, not to mention my Dad's lunch that he took to work every weekday for over 50 years. Our sandwiches were nearly always on my mom's homemade bread (which we didn't appreciate then, but sure do now); tuna w/mayo and a bit of lettuce, or peanut butter and jelly or, less often, bologna.  There was always a piece of fruit, an apple, orange, or banana, and two homemade cookies, usually chocolate chip.  I remember having a lunchbox off and on during my school years, with a thermos of milk, but I remember a lot more years of just using a brown paper bag and buying a carton of milk in the cafeteria.  In Minnesota, in the 60's, I can remember that milk costing just one penny!

We may not have had fancy meals, but we had well-balanced meals. Mom kept up with the current info on what constituted a well-balanced diet, and she made sure we were fed appropriately.  Apart from the usual childhood illnesses (measles, mumps, and chicken pox), and the occasional bout of 'flu, I was hardly ever sick.

Thanks to my "secret" to good health.  Thanks, Mom and Dad!

FOR NEXT WEEK: "Talk about, describe, the oddest or most unique person in your family tree."  Uh oh!

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