by Sarah Dwyer
Many of my friends’ best food memories come from their grandmothers’ kitchen tables. Renee’s Italian nonna made the best tomato sauces in her new Toronto home. Will’s obaasan from Japan served him miso soup for breakfast. My Irish grandma seemed to cook cabbage by the ton. These cultural food traditions not only make for unforgettable family meals, many have remarkable health benefits, too.
That’s why Oldways, the nutrition nonprofit that I work for, has dedicated more than twenty years to promoting healthy, traditional diets from around the world. We believe that the dinner table can be a place for families to eat well, to eat with pleasure, and to eat culturally and traditionally—habits that add up to a wonderful way to live, full of enjoyment and well-being.
The traditions that we promote come from populations that have enjoyed widespread vitality and health, and freedom from many of today’s chronic diseases—a goal of all families. The flavorful eating patterns of these inspiring populations can be found in Oldways’ traditional diet pyramids: the Mediterranean, Asian, Latin American, Vegetarian, and—our newest and perhaps greenest model—the African Heritage Diet Pyramid.
These traditional diets share a plant-based eating pattern, and incorporating them into your family dinners will bring vegetables and fruits, nuts and seeds, whole grains and pastas, beans and peas, healthy oils, and earthy tubers like sweet potatoes to your table. These culinary traditions burst with exciting tastes and aromas, and they are affordable to buy and easy and fun to make today.
If you’re inspired by the old ways of eating, you can use all of the pyramids to shape your meals. To help you in preparing, Oldways offers recipes, grocery lists and guides to “setting up your healthy heritage kitchen” on its website.
As April is Greens & Gardens Month, here are a few easy ways to celebrate greens within each tradition:
Mediterranean – add chard to pasta or hummus sandwiches
Latin American – sauté spinach and kale with onions for taco-filling
Asian – roast bok choy leaves with garlic for a dramatic side dish
African Heritage – make collard or mustard greens, cooked in lemon &
garlic, the bed of any meal
Oldways invites you and your family to enjoy the foods and flavors of traditions, of your own cultures or others. We can all start to reclaim health by reclaiming heritage, one dinner at a time.
Sarah Dwyer is Program Manager at Oldways (www.oldwayspt.org), a nonprofit food and nutrition education organization, with a mission to guide people to good health through heritage, using practical and positive programs grounded in science and tradition. Oldways is the parent organization for The Whole Grains Council and The Mediterranean Foods Alliance, and is well-known for creating the Whole Grain Stamp and the Mediterranean Diet Pyramid.