In 2018 we wrote about our Mediterranean Diet, otherwise known around here as “How we eat, Most of the time.” The Mediterranean Diet just trumped, in 2019, what had previously held the number one spot for the prior eight years, and bumped it, the DASH Diet, down to the number two spot according to US News and World Report. Well isn’t that interesting…
The Difference: DASH Diet vs. Mediterranean Diet
DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) emphasizes eating whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, and limiting salt. The Mediterranean diet also emphasizes fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, with moderate alcohol intake. They both encourage lean proteins such as chicken or fish.
Pause. A long, full stop, Mom Pause: Am I allowed to take a very serious matter and insert some mom sarcasm/humor for a hot minute? If you are basically the same diet and effectively telling me I can trade out concern for wine intake with concern for salt intake, how on earth did you get to Number One? Obviously I’d rather enjoy a glass of wine and cut the salt. Don’t get me wrong, chunky sea salt lover of a good crisp chip that I am…that is not a choice I want to have to make. But if push comes to shove, you can have the salt. I am not a dietician nor a medical expert, but clearly these diet judges don’t have their Momming Priorities straight. I AM JUST Kidding. But only kinda sorta.
This kid. This beautiful, amazing, sentient, red-dyed-hair-tips-sporting, proud-pink-hoodie-in-support-of-our-friends-at-Ballet X-wearing, bookworm-of-a-brainiac, crazy-comic book-loving, deep thinking, teddy bear of an old soul, loyal AF (I’m his mom, I’m allowed to say that) and sometimes grape-catching kid has a chronic kidney disease.
And March, just happens to be National Kidney Month. Every month of the past nine years and all the months going forward is Kidney Month in our home, but we’ll take a month of call-out to share, why not, right? His disease is a leetle bit complicated, it can have its own whole post another day. But as it relates to diet:
I’m this kid’s mom and therefore a lifetime-in-training-student in feeding a family, with special requirements, with 10+ years’ experience. (And in this specific low-sodium case, I get that, and not even a bag of chips.) Other than off-label treatments with big drugs to keep his disease in check until some genius researcher finds a cure, there’s really only one other thing we as his family can do to physically ‘help’ him: we all live on a sodium-restricted diet.
If at any given moment, you want to play a trivia game, just ask us how much sodium is in a food. Any food. Any brand of food. We can probably give you an exact answer. Or at least we’ll be really close. Anyone who lives with AJ (and/or shares this disease set or a similar one) can probably play along with a chance of ‘winning.’ Sodium content just becomes common knowledge. And once you get the hang of it…it’s easy to manage. We promise. So if you happen to be a mom who also needs to feed a family, and has many jobs other than just feeding said family, and you’d like a little cheat sheet for easy ways to DASH Diet your whole family, (and feed them delicious food that they’ll actually want to eat), we have a few ideas to share.
The DASH Diet Grocery List
What we do eat? I’m a big believer in YES first, and NO, only when absolutely necessary. So starting with the yeses, here’s a cheat sheet, that’s basically just an organized shopping/pantry list of our Instacart weekly order. And then we’ll get to what to do with it all (spoiler: not much other than just eat it!)
Low-Sodium Diet Tip Number 1:
Sodium Management is Easy at Home
Take every pun intended in this next statement. Salt preferrer over sweets that I am, I don’t say this lightly, but I do say it with my whole heart, and you can take it with a grain of salt: cook at home, eat real whole foods, and just don’t over-salt what you cook. Cook whole foods, at home and salt gently. This is easy sodium management at its most basic core.
We’ve learned to live without much salt, in general. Tastebuds adjust. They do. I promise. It just takes a little while depending on your starting point. You can in fact live, eat, and love without, or at least, with less salt. You just need a little time to train your body to that. In the end, it’s worth it says she who I promise you has a very hard time breaking old habits. And…it’s not for everyone. Even people living on a sodium-restricted diet, need some sodium. Do you want to know how many times AJ’s now retired Nephrologist’s first bit of 2am advice for excruciatingly painful leg cramp side effects from long-term, high-dose steroid treatment would be — “give the kid some chips!” (I promise, for this, I always called him after I had already given the kid some water, a whole banana AND a few chips.) And some people…some people actually require more sodium than others to keep them healthy.
Sodium, in moderation, is not the enemy. And it isn’t hiding in whole foods. When you cook it yourself, you control how much is in every bite. There is a reasonable amount of sodium in some whole foods and none in others. You can add a bit of salt as you cook, and you’ll still be able to maintain a low-sodium diet. And you can leave a pinch pot of salt tabletop for adding a true pinch to a meal on a plate. Moderation is the key to so many things, right?
Low-Sodium Diet Tip Number 2:
High Sodium Hides in Unhealthy Foods!
Salt hides in places you don’t need it from anyway: frozen meals, prepackaged foods, pre-seasoned packaged foods, take-out too frequently, restaurant food too frequently, red meat, over-salting already salted meals once they hit the plate, ketchup, soy sauce, milk, flavored sugared yogurts, white bread. Those are the easiest first steps…cut all of that out, or take it in moderation if you need to. There’s plenty left to enjoy. We promise.
If you keep your pantry and fridge stocked with all of those healthy foods listed on the chart above, cook meals at home, and avoid take-out, frozen, and prepackaged food, the sodium effectively manages itself.
A few other things we always keep in the kitchen to help bring it all together: Lemons, Limes, Fresh Ginger, Olive Oil, Canola Oil, Honey, Onions, Garlic, and tons of Spices, and Celtic or Himalayan Sea Salt, Balsamic Vinegar, White Balsamic Vinegar, Red Wine Vinegar, and a pantry drawer full of all kinds of beans and legumes!
A Typical DASH Diet Weekly Menu For Us
Infrequent cruiser of social media that I am, friends sometimes text me memes that they think I really need to see. My favorite of those recently has been the photo of a great pair of kicks with the words, “When you are wearing your Nikes and you Just Can’t Do It!”
There are times when I love to cook. There are times when I love a new recipe and new foods, and experimenting in the kitchen. There are times when great tastes come from whatever is left over in the fridge and creatively reimagined. Those are not most days (except for the last one) simply because life with three kids and a few jobs, really is only 24 short hours in each day. And these days, we’ve got no time.
There have been crazy periods in my life. Ask Shana about the Monthly Planner filled with two years worth of “we will eat something new and different every day of the month.” That my friends, is not where we are these days. These days, I have a default. I am choosing other activities for the limited hours in each day over meal planning these days. And what’s below has become the default. It’s almost like a capsule wardrobe for your refrigerator and pantry. There are special meals, but mostly, when I just can’t spend the hours coming up with and creating something new and over-the-top special, this is what we do with the food shopping list above, to feed our family for a week. And when we have two of those weeks, or 20 of them in a row, we still shop the same foods, and just season and partner them in new and different ways.
This is how we arrange our own shopping list into meals that are balanced, keep everyone healthy and energized and where leftover dinner works its way into lunches for school the next day, usually. It’s easier to do leftovers for lunch than to prepare more meals, and it’s also a great way to be sure not to waste food.
Healthy DASH Diet Meal Prep Without Recipes
Roasting is your Friend
We sear protein seasoned with fresh or dried herbs, pepper, and with olive oil, maybe a little garlic or lemon, in a roasting pan, and then pop it in the oven. Easy, done, delicious. We chop veggies and toss them with olive oil and pepper, maybe a little garlic right on the roasting pan, and pop those in the oven. And we sometimes add a pinch of salt…one pinch for the whole pan.
Sear the meats/fish, lightly olive oiled and seasoned, stovetop in a roasting pan at high heat, and then pop them into the oven to finish. Oven to 450 degrees and five minutes for most fish. Oven to 375 degrees and 15-20 minutes for most chicken and pork. AJ is 10 years old. He does this all on his own. It’s that easy.
Roasted Veggies Are Delicious Too!
Vegetables get light olive oil so they crisp rather than mush, and pepper. Oven to 425 degrees, maybe 20-25 minutes? You’ll know when they are done for you…we like them with all the crisp bits, so we usually put the veggies in the oven first, then work on the protein.
Garlic & Spices Are DASH Diet Friendly, Too!
Chop the garlic and add to the veggies before you roast them, or to the olive oil before you sear protein. Mix it with lentils or other beans, and chopped veggies and onion. A little lemon also goes a long way on both veggies and protein; so does any old citrus fruit you have laying around that appears to be on it’s last leg and no one wants in their lunch box tomorrow.
You could roast all of above with just olive oil, pepper, and a tiny bit of salt. If you want something to taste like more than that, try mixing dried oregano and basil (our favorites on chicken.) We also love chicken with tons and tons of thyme, and lemon and garlic. Or sage. Chicken and sage are fantastic partners. Yum. Dried Herbs de Provence are amazing on pork. Cumin, paprika, and spicy red pepper are fantastic — our favorite on thinly sliced sweet potatoes. Just sprinkle some herbs to season, to taste. No recipe needed. Smell them first. If they smell good and smell like they go together, go for it. Your nose knows.
We also love to season our fruit, especially with honey and cinnamon. And our popcorn too!
Cinnamon is great in hot rolled oat cereal, on yogurt with honey and granola, and even just sprinkled on fruit and homemade popcorn! Cinnamon is magical like that.
More Tricks for Eating DASH Diet Easily:
- Let the kids cook, they enjoy eating more when they help. Let them chop, season, sear, put things in ovens, pop their own corn, make their own snack trays full of fun bowls of food…all of it!
- Prepared foods are loaded with sodium. If you cook at home, using fresh ingredients, those aren’t. So you can salt while you cook, or you can leave a pinch bowl of salt out and let everyone add a little salt to their meal. Sodium restricted, and DASH aren’t no sodium, they are just low sodium, and healthier for all of us for that matter. But a little salt? A little salt goes a longer way than you’d think.
- Follow recipes, and just skip or adjust the salt instruction while cooking, and salt after served. We cook from recipes plenty around here. We just skip the salt ingredient/instruction, follow the rest of it, and then we add a little salt when we eat, or maybe not.
- Dairy is sneaky regarding sodium…because it’s prepared and preserved. Pretty much anything that requires preservative is going to be high in sodium. So balance the good and the bad there, low fat, unsweetened, lower sodium yogurt is a good choice. Ice cream or cow’s milk in boxed cereal…not good choices.
- No ketchup. What’s this whole thing where kids put ketchup on everything? No. Not on a sodium-restricted diet they don’t. Just skip it.
- A little bit of low sodium soy sauce and you have yourself a stir fry. Go heavier on the oil and the garlic and seasonings. And just use it sparingly. Soy sauce, like ketchup is also crazy high sodium.
- A bag of chips actually doesn’t have that much sodium. Snack bars do. Snack mixes do. But a bag of plain old potato chips, not so high. The take-away: read labels, and eat fruit and nuts for snacks first.
- Is the 80/20 rule your favorite too? We eat one way in our house and another when we eat with friends, or at a restaurant. I don’t eat red meat. The kid’s dad loves red meat. So they don’t eat that here, they get that with him. Sugar is the lesser enemy at the movie theatre, unless you take your own popcorn. We eat one way in our home, consistently, and then we celebrate all the parties with friends when those arrive, and we eat with them outside of our house. Life is meant to be lived. Live it. In moderation.
- We outlined 5 days because we love leftovers. We remake them for lunches and at least one night per week, if not two, we have ‘choose whatever you want from leftovers in the fridge’ (aka, a fridge party). Buying a little extra and cooking a little more 5 nights is more efficient in time and money than planning out all 7 days worth of meals.
- If you make something that takes time, make a large batch and freeze it. We do this with muffins, french toast, waffles, soups and stews, and meat and fish balls. They then also help fill in for snacks and unplanned other hungry times, or short on time mornings and evenings.
Our Favorite DASH Diet Cookbooks:
Our Favorite DASH Diet Online Free Meal Plans:
Our trick is just mixing up the whole foods on our list a bit so we don’t get food bored. The cook books and links above have amazing ideas in them for some added inspiration. Sometimes we cheat more; we live in a city known for its restaurants; we all love fresh breads and an occasional treat from the local bakery and sometimes, cheeseburgers just taste really good and so does pizza; 6pm rolls around before mom has time to make a dinner plan and execute. Sometimes we cheat less, and even tighten the diet restrictions, because, sometimes, life calls for that too. But mostly, we stick to the Mediterranean and DASH diets and moderation.
If you have any tips and tricks, we’d love to learn them too, so please share them back!