Food for Thought . . .
While some may think this has nothing to do with homeschooling, the foods we eat and feed our children has been on my mind for quite some time. It’s not only the foods we eat, but also the amount of healthy activities we have in our lives. What I mean is, as Muslims we should take care of our bodies and teach our children to do the same. It is rather difficult to do that without eating properly, eating the proper amounts, and knowing the importance of physical exercise.
A year or so ago I started to have a health problem and quickly realized my own mistakes – my parents where not what you would call the best example when it came to good health habits. However, it is never too late to learn! Alhumdulilah, just by changing my lifestyle I have been able to rid myself of any health problems.
Since that time I have made it my goal to find out as much as I can about the foods we eat and to find ways to improve our lifestyle choices. Most of all, I am trying to be a good example to my children. One thing is common with many homeschool parents – at least I would think so. We are often so busy we may forget (or chose to) to make time for ourselves. At least, this was true with me. We were so busy trying to get through the school year and all the other responsibilities I have that I didn’t think I could find time to take care of my own needs. It may sound great to be so selfless – however, in the long-run it will hurt you and your family. You need to take care of YOU.
First of all, we have greatly increased the amount of exercise we do. Fortunately, we do have a women’s gym locally and I try to break free of our schedule to go at least 3 times a week. Also, when Dad is able, we try to go walking while the girls ride their bikes around the neighborhood (about 1 1/2 miles). The kids really love to exercise and will often join me if I exercise at home. When the weather gets warmer, I am going to try to take the kids more regularly to a park nearby as well – they really need to run around a bit each day. When the weather is better – usually on weekends – we take the kids into the mountains and go hiking. The kids absolutely love this – not only do we get in some exercise (we usually hike for about 4-6 hours) – but we also get to be around nature and all it’s beauty. We usually pack snacks and find a nice place to rest on our trip to have a little picnic. It truly is treasured family time.
Next, we also have been trying to focus on the amount of food we eat. For dinners, we have been trying to have a light meal – soup and bread or just a salad. Think of it – usually our meals are heaviest at dinner time. However, you then go to bed. What in the world does your body need all that food for – just to sleep? We now try to have our “big meal” for lunch time. It’s not only eating a heavy meal at dinner. We also truly need to go back to following the Qur’an and sunnah with regard to food:
Allaah says (interpretation of the meaning): “and eat and drink
but waste not by extravagance, certainly He (Allaah) likes not Al‑Musrifoon
(those who waste by extravagance)” [al-A’raaf 7:31]
The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: The son of Adam does not fill any vessel worse than his stomach. It is sufficient for the son of Adam to eat a few mouthfuls, to keep him going. If he must do that (fill his stomach), then let him fill one third with food, one third with drink and one third with air.” Narrated by al-Tirmidhi (2380); classed as saheeh by al-Albaani in al-Silsilah al-Saheehah (2265).
Unfortunately, I think it is easy for many of us to overlook this important lesson. After starting to have health problems, I consciously tried to do this and the results were amazing. The way we live and our attitudes about food are deeply ingrained in us – depending on how we were taught as children. For example it is so hard for us to think we can do very much with little food in our stomachs. During Rammadan many people don’t do much physical activity because they can’t handle it with their stomachs empty. One day while fasting last year my husband wanted to go hiking. At first I thought I wouldn’t be able to make it – not because of an empty stomach, but because I couldn’t drink water. However, it was one of the harder hikes we had gone on and I made it! It was not difficult for me, masha’Allah. After that, I realized that we greatly underestimate our abilities. So, we should try to eat less – and we shouldn’t use that as an excuse to do less in our lives. We just don’t need the amount of food that we fill our stomachs with.
One thing that I reflect on is that people used to eat communally. This is one of the things I love about visiting Yemen – where they do that on a daily basis. At home, my husband loves to eat hot sauce on everything and my daughters and I definitely can’t handle spicy food. So, the girls and I eat together, but my husband does not. I truly miss everyone eating together! There is something wonderful about reaching for food on a plate together with family and friends. Also, I think (but could be wrong) that you just don’t eat as much as when you pile food on a plate all for yourself.
One habit I hate for a parent to have (yes, I am sure we all have done this at one time or another) is to encourage our family members to finish all the food on their plates. Now, I am not encouraging wasting your food – but why do you have to put so much on the plate to begin with? I guess I have a different point of view for one reason which is still vivid in my mind. Each holiday my grandmother would love to make sweet potato casserole (and, I might add – she was not a good cook). I really – really – really – do not like sweet potatoes (perhaps for this reason). Each year she would pile my plate high with her sweet potato casserole – fully knowing that I did not like it. She would then tell me I had to eat everything on my plate before I could leave the table. [Yes, my grandmother was not very nice – long story!] It took me forever, but I always ate it in the end – even if it took me all evening. I had no choice. For that reason, I have a hard time putting food on a plate for other people (which I realize it perhaps not very good etiquette when you think of how hospitable many Arabs are when they have guests) – but I really hate to force anything on anyone. I prepare the food, lay it out and ask everyone to serve themselves. This way, they don’t have to eat anything they don’t like and they don’t have to waste any food unnecessarily.
While this is now an ingrained habit when it comes to guests – it is a little less ingrained when it comes to the kids. However, I have been reflecting on that lately. My husband was telling the girls the other day to finish every last bite the other day and I finally wondered “why”. What difference does it make if they eat every last bite. Isn’t that what a fridge is for anyway – just put it in a container and have them eat it at another meal. I don’t want them to grow up thinking they always have to “clean their plates” even when they are already satisfied with less food. I mean, isn’t it a good time to teach them good eating habits now, while they are still learning and growing? How can you expect them to follow the sunnah if you keep enforcing the “clean your plate” law?
Here are a few other quotes to reflect on this issue:
Al-Haakim narrated that Abu Juhayfah (may Allaah be pleased with him) said: The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: “The more people eat their fill in this world, the more hungry they will be on the Day of Resurrection.”
Sufyaan al-Thawri (may Allaah have mercy on his) said: If you want your body to be healthy and to sleep less, then eat less.
Eating too much also makes the heart heedless.
It was said to Imam Ahmad (may Allaah have mercy on him): Does a man find any softness and humility in his heart when he is full? He said, I do not think so.
So, all of the above are a few changes we have made to our lifestyle – but there is one that we have been working on slowly but surely and I keep finding more information to adjust our lifestyle a little more. Our recent endeavor into eating healthy was started by a few books that I loaned from the library (excellent books that I really recommend you take out of the library). The books are several in a series entitled “Eat this, not that” by David Zinczenko. Talk about enlightening! Subhan’Allah! After reading these books – it is hard to see how people can be surprised that many Americans are obese. If they only knew what they were putting into their mouths! Alhumdulilah, we do not eat many many of those foods in the books – but there are things like condiments and other similar things we add to our foods during cooking that made me shocked. As a result, I have been working on a few things:
1. I have tried my best to cut out most (if not all) of the refined foods in our diet. I have been working on learning how to bake fresh whole-wheat breads and the family is enjoying my experiments. Just wish it didn’t take so long – but it truly is worth it, masha’Allah. When I finally get a recipe or two that are truly wonderful and meet my needs, I think I might set up one day a week to bake many loaves of bread and then freeze them for later use. Not only do I use whole-wheat flour in bread, but I have also used them in baking other things like muffins and scones (for example).
2. Not only have I started using whole wheat for baking, but I have also tried to cut out most of the butter and fats that are unnecessary in baking. I don’t mean unnecessary as in they are not needed – even in baking bread you need some. However, I guess I mean unnecessary in the huge amounts that many recipes call for. If a recipe calls for too much, I just won’t make it. And, if I can adjust the recipe by using other ingredients (applesauce, for example) then I will.
3. We already NEVER have sweets, juices or junk food in our house (if you want to know why – definitely look at the “Eat this, not that” books! This has been a rule in our house forever, alhumdulilah. If we have anything – it is usually every every once in a while and we only have enough for that one time and that’s it. If it’s not there, you are less likely to be tempted by it.
4. If we do have sweets in the house (on those rare occasions) – I prefer to make them home made so I know what is put into them. Also, I try to use all natural and healthy ingredients.
5. We always try to have fruit in the house. In Yemen, one of the wonderful habits of my husband’s family is that they make everyone eat a piece of fruit after EVERY MEAL. If there is desert, which is not that often, you have to eat fruit before you can have any. They always have baskets of fresh oranges, tangerines, apples, pears, etc. Alhumdulilah, I am fortunate because my kids love fruit!
6. We always have fresh vegetables in the house – in my opinion, organic is best. If we don’t – we have to go out and get some. Masha’Allah, in Yemen my husband’s father would go out each morning before work to buy the day’s vegetables. I love to cook – alhumdulilah – and one thing I learned early on was to always include vegetables in your cooking. My mom was not a good cook (sorry Mom). When she would make vegetables, she would boil them – dump out the water and then pour melted butter over them. That’s it – very bland. I was fortunate to become good friends with a Turkish family when I first became Muslim and they are experts at cooking healthy, masha’Allah. Their meals would be heavy on the vegetables and meat would be added for some flavor. I have found other recipes from other cultures (including Yemen) and have incorporated them into our daily meals. I feel guilty if we just eat meat and rice.
7. We rarely eat out. If we do, it is usually to eat fish – and definitely not fried. I guess that’s why my husband’s favorite place to visit is California. I used to hate seafood. I only ate it fried, if at all. However, I have learned to actually love fish, but only if it is not too fishy as some can be. At first, my kids hated seafood because they saw that I wouldn’t eat it. Now my children love to eat it and my oldest even loves to go eat sushi with her Dad (I won’t go that far, sorry!)
8. We also have starting using things that the Prophet recommended for eating healthy. So, each day we take black seeds, honey, etc. as part of our daily routine.
Alhumdilulah, these changes have been good ones, although not always easy. The point I wanted to make is that we really need to think about the foods we put into our mouths and into the mouths of our children. This isn’t only a time to feed their minds with good ideas – to sacrifice to homeschool them and teach them in a way that is good and upright. We also need to teach them to have healthy living habits – because it not only affects their minds and bodies, but it also affects their iman and their strength to do what is right. Allah knows best, but I think because I spend a lot of time with my children, it is easier for me to realize how important it is. Perhaps, with this reminder, you will see it is important to.
I’m curious – who else has been trying to live a healthier lifestyle? What changes have you made? What books/resources have influenced you in these changes? Are there any recipes, books or cookbooks you highly recommend? I’d love to hear from you!
When I first started thinking about healthier eating, I read some of the following books that were extremely insightful:
Learning About the Foods You Eat:
In Defense of Food: An Eaters Maifesto. by Michael Pollan
The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals. By Michael Pollan.
Chew On This: Everything You Don’t Want to Know About Fast Food by Charles Wilson
I don’t necessarily agree with all the ideas mentioned in these books, however I find all of them enlightening to the condition of the foods we eat. In order to be a responsible consumer and to adequately protect our health, we must be knowledgeable about the state of the foods available around us. For those of you who are overseas and think this won’t happen to you – this way of producing food is spreading all over the world. Doesn’t almost every country have some form of fast food now? It influences how food is produced – it’s just a matter of time. While I wish we could raise our own animals for food and have our own large garden in the backyard – at least for now it is not feasible. So, I do what I can to eat healthier. I hope someday, Insha’Allah, that we will be able to better control the foods that we grow and the foods that we eat – for the health of us all and the health of our planet.
A Few Cookbooks I recommend:
Classic vegetarian cooking from the Middle East and North Africa. by Habeeb Salloum.
Great natural breads made easy : simple ways to make healthful bread. by Bernice Hunt. (Awesome Book!)
Kneadlessly simple : fabulous, fuss-free, no-knead breads. By Nancy Baggett.
Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day: The Discovery That Revolutionizes Home Baking. By Jeff Hertzberg MD
Bread Alone: Bold Fresh Loaves from Your Own Hands. by Daniel Leader
These are just a few of the books I found useful and I am sure many more can be added to the list. Do you have any recommendations?
Sumayyah Umm SAA