Insider’s Viewpoint: Savor the Flavor

How my time in Kenya helped me cherish the importance of cooking and mealtime spent with family.

March celebrates National Nutrition Month and according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics the theme is: Savor the Flavor of Eating Right. National nutrition month is a nutrition and information campaign created annually in March by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND). The campaign focuses attention on the importance of making informed food choices and developing sound eating and physical activity habits. This year’s theme “encourages everyone to take the time to enjoy food traditions and appreciate the pleasures, great flavors, and social experiences food can add to our lives. How, when, why and where we eat are just as important as what we eat. Develop a mindful eating pattern that includes nutritious and flavorful foods-that’s the best way to savor the flavor of eating right!”

I really enjoy this theme from AND. It allows me to reminisce about my time in Kenya with my husband’s family this past Holiday season. I feel there is a lot we can learn from other cultures and traditions when it comes to eating. My eating experience there was much different than my typical eating routine in the US.

In Kenya, each morning we would wake up and eat a very complete breakfast; this may seem normal to some, but I know a lot of us struggle with getting a complete breakfast meal in. Many of us grab coffee as we run out the door and if we are lucky, a muffin to go along with it. In Kenya, our balanced breakfast included: an egg omelet with peppers, onions, and tomatoes, a side of sautéed kale, whole wheat bread, two very small bananas and a cup of fresh tropical juice. At breakfast we ate for a full 30 minutes and the whole family was there and would wait for everyone to join the table before grace was said and we began enjoying the meal. There was absolutely no rush to scarf down our food to run out the door. You may be thinking “well yes you were on vacation, of course you have all the time in the world.” But this is how it is every day for every meal in Kenya, there is no rush, especially when it comes to meals and family time. An eating occasion is the perfect time to enhance the experience of the meal and converse with your family about your day and any other topics that you choose. The slow pace at which one eats a meal allows one to be more mindful of the flavors as well as how full you are becoming, thus less likely to overeat and as a result more satisfied after a meal in all aspects.

When it came to lunch it was the same concept, a very balanced meal loaded with lots of fresh produce. After lunch we would go out to the “shamba” (Kiswahili) or “garden” in English, and pick the fruits and vegetables we wanted for dinner. Some examples would include Sukuma Wiki, aka kale, carrots, potatoes, peas, cabbage, corn, tomatoes, peppers, avocados, mangos, watermelon, pineapple, and many bananas to name a few. This allowed for physical activity and time in the sun. When it came to the protein portion we would ask the house help to butcher a chicken right from the farm. The experience didn’t stop there; we would then wash and prepare the food items for dinner and then begin to cook. It would take up 3 hours or more to prepare a meal in Kenya, but this was not seen as an inconvenience as many people would view this to be in the U.S. It is a very social time for the women in the family to talk and connect. Honestly, cooking in Kenya was one of my favorite moments, not because I’m a dietitian and love food, but because of how the time was utilized being social and spending quality time with family. This experience allowed me to be more submerged in the cultural traditions of the food practices and meals in Kenya and to get the opportunity to bring these good practices back to my family in the US. I better understood the way they cherished their food from growing or raising it until harvest, the importance of cooking and the meal time spent with family in a very calm, non-hurried way, very unlike the U.S. It didn’t matter the time of day, how long it took to cook, or how long we sat at the table enjoying our meal and discussing our days, everything else can wait. Some nights after dinner we would dance to some cultural music in thanksgiving for the meal we just ate. Now that is the proper mindset and recipe for a successful, mindful, and complete meal experience that allows one to savor the flavor without rush and racing thoughts of the next activity to check off the list.

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