Blame it on Joe. He’s Jackie’s husband, and he grew up on a dairy farm. “There were 13 kids; they would slaughter one of the cows, and that’s what they would eat.” Translation: It’s not a meal unless there’s meat on the plate. And even though Jackie loves to cook, her family’s taste buds are rather one-note: “I always get the thumbs down for seafood,” says Jackie, who dreams of finding a mild fish that everyone will like. Her chicken marsala was “too fancy dancy.” Over the years—and with two teenagers to feed—Jackie has succumbed to majority rule. “Meatloaf is jazzing it up,” she says good-humoredly. “If I do something out of the normal, all I hear is ‘Bleh!’” Jackie buys beef, chicken, and pork when it’s on sale, and she’s got a huge second freezer for storage. “The grown ups in the house could lose some weight,” she says. “But mostly, I’d like us all to eat healthier.”
It sounds as if the Parmeley family is getting an over-abundance of saturated fat and not enough heart-healthy fats. Red meat is one of the biggest sources of saturated fats in most American diets. (It also contains cholesterol—like fat, your body needs cholesterol to function properly, but too much can become as problem.) Though there’s no reason to give up on beef completely, the Parmeleys can lower their dependence on it and find ways to boost heart-healthy fats elsewhere.
- Shift the focus from dinner to other meals. Change dinner too drastically and the family will revolt. Snacks might be a good place to start looking for more opportunities to get heart healthy foods into everyone’s diet. Heart-healthy options include nuts, a few baked bagel chips with homemade guacamole, fruit with a tablespoon of nut butter. There are tricks for other meals, too. Stir ground flaxseeds or flaxseed oil into oatmeal. Skip bologna sandwiches and hot dogs at lunch, and eat wraps made with lean chicken or turkey breast slices.
- Try a variety of heart-healthy fish. Take advantage of the almost year-around grilling season in Arizona and reintroduce fish, which is high in good-for-you omega-3 fatty acids. Grilling may make fish more appealing to the family—it picks up smoky steak-like flavor and since it’s cooked outdoors it doesn’t announce its fragrant presence in the kitchen. If salmon is too “fishy,” milder options, such as tilapia, catfish, or arctic char may be easier sells. They aren’t as high in omega-3s, but a drizzle of olive oil over the top or a spoonful of pesto will up your intake of unsaturated fats. Keep trying until at least one seafood source finally passes the family taste test.
- Stretch meat further. Use it in stir-fries with lots of veggies and hearty brown rice to cut down just a bit on saturated fat. Our Beef-Broccoli Stir-Fry only uses one pound of steak for four servings. You can use a similar trick for stews, casseroles, and pot pies. Just change the ratio slightly at first, then keep cutting back on meat and adding more vegetables.
- Or replace it altogether. Replace a portion of the meat for taco filling, spaghetti, and chili with black beans, kidney beans, or chickpeas. Mark Bittman’s Almost Meatless Sloppy Joes uses only 6 ounces of ground sirloin. The rest of the mixture is made with canned red beans. (Bonus: Most beans are chock full of healthy unsaturated fats, too!)