Healthier than what?

Recently I stayed at a hotel that served a lovely buffet breakfast every morning.  Wonderful fresh fruit every day, plus a range of choices, from omelets to crepes to egg dishes, sausages and for the many visitors from Asia, an Asian-style buffet, featuring steamed fish, rice, pickled vegetables, greens and miso soup.  One morning, there was chia pudding and quinoa fruit salad.  The waiter was happy to inform me “This is our healthy breakfast.”

Oh, as opposed to that steamed swordfish, pickled cucumbers and rice on the other table?  Or the scrambled eggs and sweet potato hash?  Or the sliced pineapple with blackberries and yogurt?  Or the oatmeal?  I could go on.  What’s my point?  Why is mainstream food dismissed as unhealthy?  Why do we define healthy as food that few people eat, like chia pudding or quinoa salad?  Fine foods to be sure, but not mainstream.  The end result being that people end up thinking “healthy” means weird, not for them.

I realize it’s a subtle point, but I think it’s important.  When we define “healthy” food in such a narrow range, we end up making the majority of people think they can’t possibly live up to those standards, so why bother at all?  It’s a peculiar problem of Westernized countries, such as the U.S.  I doubt Japanese people would feel guilty about their miso soup and steamed fish breakfast when faced with a tray of chia pudding.  I was sort of annoyed/amused.  I certainly wasn’t going to start a discussion with the wait staff or even the kitchen manager about this.  Instead I added a chia pudding to my repertoire of steamed fish, fresh fruit, pickled cucumber and a lot of coffee.

By the way, the chia coconut pudding was fine.  It’s not overwhelmed by sugary sweetness.  And the flavor is neutral, so you can add fruit and/or nuts to personalize it.  These particular chia puddings already had blueberries and slivered almonds, a fine combination.  And even better, they were pre-portioned in small serving cups, maybe 1/3 cup size.  Just enough.  Other benefits: the chia has significant fiber, and is a good source of calcium, omega-3 fats and iron.

Why is chia pudding a ‘thing’ lately?  It doesn’t need to be cooked.  The chia seeds absorb liquid and swell, so the pudding mixture thickens up all by itself.  Here’s a recipe I’ve adapted that makes 2 small servings:

3 TB black chia seeds

3/4 cup unsweetened coconut milk

1 tsp vanilla

small pinch or shake of cinnamon (1/16th teaspoon)

2-3 tsp honey or pure maple syrup (OK you can use granulated sugar if you want)

Mix the seeds, milk, vanilla and honey/syrup in a bowl.  Portion into two cups, cover and put in refrigerator overnight.  Garnish with fresh fruit (berries work well) and a TB of chopped nuts, such as almonds or walnuts.

As for the quinoa fruit salad, it looked nice but I passed on that.  This one featured mango and pineapple.  Any combination of crispy/juicy fruits would work with quinoa such as apples, pears, berries, grapes, cherries or tropical fruits.  I wouldn’t use bananas or citrus.  I’d add some nuts like walnuts or pecans, and dress lightly with a neutral-flavored oil like canola, some lemon or lime juice and salt to taste.  If you want to get fancier, add lemon or orange zest.  It’s a nice breakfast food, a good choice for vegans.  Or use it as a side dish for a lighter dinner or lunch.  Healthy?  Yes, but not the ultimate in health.  Just another choice in the wide range of healthy choices.

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