As the winners of a Meal Makeover contest sponsored by The Star, the family was taking part in the first of six classes on nutrition and healthy food preparation, hoping to make it easier to fit into their busy lives.
Lynetta Owens, who entered the contest to help make her family healthier, teaches in the College of Education at Jacksonville State University and helps care for her elderly parents, Leroy and Bettie Bell. The first class took place at the Bell residence, so that Lynetta could squeeze the class and a visit to her parents in between work and church.
Her husband, Nathaniel Owens, an Anniston attorney, was there to change the way he looks at eating.
“I want to learn to eat to live instead of living to eat,” he said. He does a lot of the cooking for his family, but with high blood pressure and diabetes, he’s looking for tips on how to improve his health.
Growing up in a society where food “was the measure of whether you had anything,” Nathaniel said, some of his habits are long-formed and hard to break. But the desire to be there for his grandchildren and to return to playing tennis with his 17-year-old daughter, Natalie, are major motivations for him to improve his health.
Natalie, the baby of the family, is a senior at Jacksonville High School. She said that she hopes the classes will help her lose weight in the short run, but also prepare her to cook easy, healthy meals for herself when she goes off to college next year, hopefully to a culinary school.
She and her family found the first lesson delicious — an orange-banana smoothie made by instructor Sheree Russell of the Calhoun County Extension Service.
“Making something like this is filling; it’s refreshing. … It can even be a dessert,” Russell said of the 200-calorie snack, which provides fruit and dairy rather than the empty calories of a candy bar or soda. Sherbets, the base of this smoothie, are fat-free and lower in sugar, calories and sodium, Russell said.
“Those are the things you want to look at: your sodium intake, your sugar intake, your calories and your fat calories,” she told the family.
As part of the initial lesson, Russell explained to the Owens family the right way to “choose your plate” based on new recommendations by the United States Department of Agriculture. The new guidelines call for a plate that is half fruits and veggies, rounded out with dairy, grains (at least half of which should be whole) and varied protein sources.
Using a game, she illustrated the importance of choosing needs over wants.
Russell, an agent assistant with the Extension Service’s Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program, practically has a portable classroom set up in a small cooler tote and plastic file.
Intent on reaching as many Calhoun County residents as possible, she will meet potential students almost anywhere that is convenient for them, including their homes, her office, the health department and schools.
She prefers to work with groups to maximize her reach, but she also works one-on-one with residents interested in learning ways to keep their families healthy. “Any way I can reach a person, I’ll do it,” she said.
What Russell often sees is that people tend to think their health is in order until a problem arises and heightens their awareness. Her goal is to reach those individuals in order to help them take preventative diet and nutrition measures so that many of these problems don’t arise.
Sitting at her mother’s kitchen table, Lynetta said this is a key part of her mission. Pill organizers on the table and boxes of insulin syringes stacked by the wall served as a reminder of a family history of diabetes and high blood pressure. Lynetta said she can see what’s coming, and wants to make sure her family adopts healthy habits to ward off these problems.
“There’s always something else to learn, always something else to change,” she said, “and we’re thankful, too, that we’re in the land of the living to be able to do it.”
2 ripe bananas
1 cup orange juice
1 cup cold skim milk
1 quart orange sherbet, divided
Mash bananas and blend until smooth with egg beater, electric mixer or blender. Add orange juice and beat or blend again. Add milk and 2 cups of sherbet. Beat or blend again. Pour 5 ounces of mixture into eight glasses. Top each drink with a scoop of orange sherbet. Keep leftovers in refrigerator no longer than one day.
Meal Makeover Contest
We’ll follow our contest winners through six weeks of healthy cooking classes taught by the Calhoun County Extension Service. For more info on the “Centsible Nutrition” class, contact the extension service at 256-237-1621.
Tips for healthier living
Sheree Russell of the Calhoun County Extension Service shared these tips:
• A plate that is only one color is less likely to be healthy. Variety is key.
• Make half your plate fruits and vegetables
• Make half your grains whole grains. Substitute whole wheat pasta or tortilla shells in recipes.
• Eat 5 ½ ounces of protein every day. When it comes to meat, said Russell, “If it’s bigger than your fist, it’s too big for you.”
• Learn portion control: When eating a snack such as potato chips, put them into a container so they are measurable. Eating from the bag is more likely to result in accidental overeating.
• Get at least 60 minutes of physical activity (going above your resting heart rate) each day.
• Cut empty calories and sodium by drinking water instead of sodas and other sugary beverages.
• Cut sodium by rinsing off canned foods before cooking with them.
• Don’t clean your plate. Eat until you’re satisfied, and put the rest aside.
• Think ahead, plan meals and, when possible, shop for food by yourself. Shopping with others, especially children, can result in unintended and less healthy purchases.
For more information, visit ChooseMyPlate.gov.