Our initial plan was to put together a cookbook with simple, healthy recipes that could be adapted in various ways, plus tips on planning, shopping, and preparation. We hoped to gather recipes from the disabled community and senior community and then, compile and distribute them. So, we sent out a request for recipes through our various networks and received quite a few responses, some of which are included within this cookbook.
Many of the recipes we received raised some challenging questions, such as:
- What kinds of foods do many people in our communities eat and why?
- How do people with physical and sensory limitations prepare food?
- What does “healthy food” mean to the various segments of the disability community?
- How are problems addressed, such as low income, lack of transportation to shops, and not enough help in the kitchen?
Though not true for everyone, the sad answer that came across clearly was that what gets eaten is convenience food: packaged food, take-out and fast food, junk food, and TV dinners. A large number of the recipes contributed sounded as though they were from a cookbook we may remember in our mothers’ kitchens, published in the 1970s, called I Hate to Cook Book by Peg Bracken. This book included directions like: “Open a can of this, stir in a package of that, and call it dinner.” It was not very healthy and particularly terrible for people with chronic illness, weight concerns, or disabilities.
It quickly became clear that a “cookbook” of recipes and tips was not enough to meet the real needs. We did some more research, including focus groups, gathered an advisory group, and searched the web and libraries for others’ ideas. As a result, we’ve compiled a solid set of healthy but easy recipes, along with handouts and tips sheets, resources, and opinion pieces to offer a more holistic solution.
Our intent is to make the contents of the program optimally accessible and usable to our various disabled and senior populations. The format includes a few chapters on teaching and training beginners about nutrition and food preparation. This addresses a basic need for people trying to both teach and learn new healthy habits. If “giving advice” (like “stop smoking, lose weight, eat more produce, reduce salt and sugar,” etc.) were enough, we wouldn’t be facing the preventable health problems we all struggle with today.
Thus, this program also addresses concepts of effective teaching and learning and includes approaches to setting up support and reinforcement to make changes and learn and stick to new habits. These include support groups, peer groups, teaching and training events, using social media and apps, and so forth.
In this spirit, we offer an extensive array of short, easily distributable handouts and links, full of tons of information, ideas, Youtube films, web resources, organizations, and, of course, simple, tasty, healthy recipes.
A Word to Our Critics
Some of our nutritionally well-informed advisory group members have been disappointed with some aspects of our guide. They’ve asked things like:
- “Aren’t you going to tell them to avoid avoid genetically-modified organisms?”
- “You should explain the difference between all natural sea salt and common table salt that has been stripped of all the essential minerals besides sodium.”
- “Explain the difference between how cane sugar and high fructose corn syrup get metabolized.”
To these suggestions we must reply that these topics are important, but information about them is easily available from other sources. People who are able to be concerned about these kinds of issues are not our target population.
We are trying to reach seniors and disabled people who have not yet found their way to nutritional information, alternative health information, and new research. This guide is intended for beginners (and their allies) in the world of nutrition, health promotion, aging, and disability.
We have to start where our people are and build on their knowledge. Many are, for example, hesitantly trying frozen veggies instead of take-out French fries. We recognize this as a big step forward and offer our applause!
However, this again raises the question: “Just how helpful is advice?” Simply telling people what to eat (or what not eat) is not going to work well, especially for people who may be struggling with the array of difficulties that may include disability or age discrimination, cuts in benefits, inaccessible housing or transportation options, and/or chronic health conditions that may affect what they can eat.
For some people, starting to use frozen veggies is a significant step forward beyond the land of fast-food or junk food. For others, using fresh produce or learning about healthier cooking oils is the right next move. We must take people on from where they are now. We can best help ourselves and others move forward with an attitude of relaxed flexibility and a spirit of fun. We emphasize adding healthier foods, rather than depriving ourselves of favorite, convenient, or familiar foods. Scolding people for their poor choices usually backfires. They may feel shamed and decide to ignore the advice.
Whatever your needs, whether you are an individual wanting to make changes for yourself, a friend or family member, a member or leader of a group, or a service provider, don’t do it alone! Get help and support! This will make it more effective and more fun. Join us in helping ourselves to more enjoyable, healthier food and healthier lives!
Feel free to spread the word. Print our handouts and tip sheets. Send our website resources to friends. Insert our recipes and nutritional advice into newsletters. Do whatever it takes to build up your community and to build up yourself.
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