What food lessons did you learn from your parents? One that really stuck with me came from my father: Food was meant to be enjoyed. In fact, years later, it propelled me to study nutrition and become a dietitian.
My father’s excitement over food was contagious. My brother and I were so caught up in it, it never occurred to us to ask for “children’s food.” Why would we when grown-up dishes—like okra stew and garlicky lemon chicken, both of which I still make today—were so delicious? My friends shared our enthusiasm, always angling for dinner invitations when they heard my father was cooking.
He simply understood food—and came by this love naturally, growing up in a small village in Syria where most food came from his backyard or from the nearby river.
For my father, quality trumped quantity. Sure he overate sometimes, but he never got too heavy. Most important to him was the sensuous element—the sheer joy of good food. As I remember it, we couldn’t pass by his garden without his plucking a leaf, rubbing it between his fingers, putting it under my nose and eagerly awaiting my reaction. “Ah, isn’t that beautiful?” he’d ask.
Yes it was beautiful, as are these other food lessons of my father’s that I want to share:
• “You can’t feast unless you fast.” What my father meant: Go into a meal feeling a little hungry.
Use great ingredients. When your salad is made with in-season, juicy tomatoes, your fish is fresh and the fruit that ends the meal is sweet and ripe, the meal is a lot more satisfying.
Be lavish with olive oil. He used olive oil to cook the best sunny-side-up eggs, for dipping bread (with a hefty dose of zaatar, a Middle Eastern spice mix), to sauté and marinade, and for his great broiled chicken sauce (equal parts olive oil and lemon juice, with a lot of crushed garlic.) As a result, meals weren’t exactly low-calorie, but they were so satisfying that you didn’t think about dessert afterwards.
Avoid artificially flavored food, and real food becomes much more satisfying. I don’t think he ever articulated this, but I never saw my father indulge in junk food, other than a soda on rare occasions. Fruit was his favorite dessert, plus the occasional baklava. Now nutrition scientists know that foods pumped up with artificial flavors, sugar and sodium not only make you crave those (usually high calorie) foods, but also make it difficult to appreciate more natural flavors.
What food lessons from your parents have you incorporated into your life?
Reprinted with permission from TheBestLife.com