Diabetes doesn’t just affect the person who has it. Diabetes changes the lives of everyone in the family. Whoever does most of the cooking has to consider many things before cooking dinner every night.
My husband was diagnosed with diabetes at the beginning of our marriage, 15 years ago. I cannot tell you the number of diabetes education classes we attended. A diabetes education nurse once said, “Greg, this is all about you.” I came unglued. Really? This is about us, our family.
I didn’t want to cook different meals for each of us every day. In addition to my husband’s diabetes, my family has a history of heart issues, and I certainly don’t want to drop dead because of hardened arteries. As a result, I do not cook with salt, unless a recipe has to have it. By trial and error I learned when salt was necessary. By playing with different spices, vinegars and herbs, I’ve learned to make almost everything I cook taste great. Rarely have we sat down for dinner and hated what we were eating.
The diabetes education classes discussed reading and learning about labels, food products and food portions. Occasionally we’ll want potato chips or canned baked beans at the neighborhood cookout, but otherwise we buy very few items that have a label. Actually, in the end, it just seemed much easier to cook fresh than trying to decipher a label. I’d say between 90-95 percent of our meals are home made and honestly, with a little planning, do not take much more time than waiting for the oven to preheat and then cooking that frozen pizza.
Many of our friends and family think a “home cooked meal” is one made from a box or bag. While a bag of frozen veggies would be a good choice when fresh veggies are not in season, I always tell my friends to shop the perimeter of the grocery store.
Most grocery chains have the produce, meats, dairy and bakery toward the walls of the store, while the aisles contain dry, canned, frozen or processed foods. It is just as quick to cook fresh veggies as it is to pop in a packaged dinner. I’m a huge condiment fan. I love flavored oils and vinegars and salt-free spices. Those once bland veggies now have tons of flavor!
My husband used to be a huge meat eater. Over the years, it became harder to keep the pounds off. Now we eat a lot of chicken, and we love fish. Once in a blue moon, we’ll share an 8-ounce steak just to satisfy that craving.
We never were potato people, but both coming from large Italian families, we loved our pasta. When my husband discovered he was diabetic, it took years to learn which foods spiked his sugar levels. Pasta was one of them. We changed to a healthier brand of pasta (yes, store bought) and now he can even have a second small helping without worrying. Making one meal of pasta (from scratch) simply is not worth the cost so the (boxed) brand I buy is one of the exceptions.
Diabetics should be watching their total food intake. As the wife of a diabetic, I had to learn that he could have a certain number of carbs each day, and I had to learn how each food affected his sugar levels. Regular boxed pasta would spike his sugar levels hours after he ate. Regular rice, cooked in a rice cooker, would slightly elevate his sugars about two hours after he ate, but jasmine rice didn’t change anything. As far as carbs go, the fact is, the normal person requires about 130 grams of carbs per day for proper brain function. So the idea of carb free, that most folks think about when they hear diabetes, remember there are good and bad carbs, but you do need those good ones to function.
I also learned to balance the total number of calories for the day between three meals and two snacks and to balance the proteins with the fats, again, so sugar levels would not spike. It was a long and exhausting process and, initially, a lot of record keeping on my part.
We started our first garden in 2005 and absolutely love growing fresh veggies. Many times our meals are based on what fresh vegetables are ready to be picked. Our new favorite dish is cauliflower and yellow squash mashed “potatoes,” made with cooked cauliflower, seeded squash and finely diced raw onions prepared in a blender. It tastes pretty darn good and even can pass as lumpy potatoes. We do use a bit of unsalted butter and dill spice to give it that creamy and unique flavor.
Many times I use a spray oil product on veggies, season with tons of herbs and roast them on the grill. I serve the veggies over jasmine rice. One favorite is fresh tomatoes seeded, topped with grated Romano and fresh mozzarella cheese with chopped fresh basil. Put that on the grill until the tomato is soft, serve over rice and a salad on the side ~ yum!
You’d be amazed what can be done with fresh veggies and herbs. I love growing basil. At the end of the season, I chop the leaves, put them in ice cube trays, cover with water and freeze. Using those frozen cubes gets me through until the next year’s garden. I also dehydrate the end of the year crop of peppers (bells, jalapenos, etc.) and grind them in a coffee grinder, making homemade herbs which tastes great in soups, sauces and over veggies. We always have hundreds of cherry tomatoes off one plant and several times during the summer I’ll cut them in half, sprinkle with garlic powder, fresh herbs and dehydrate them. Now I have my homemade sun dried tomatoes which again are great in soups, over salads and chopped up when making any type of dip, including hummus. They are also a great, low calorie snack to pop in your mouth while cooking.
Herbs, spices, flavored oils, vinegars, fresh fruits, unsweetened coconut flakes – all of these can be used to make unique and flavorful meals everyone will enjoy. Consider cooking as an art – with practice you will develop that natural flair for flavor.
Something positive developed as a result of my husband’s diabetes, I discovered I love to cook creatively.