Sonja’s Story: Addition, Subtraction (and Substitution)

I knew that it was not a good thing that my middle son’s favorite meal was chicken tenders and French fries. Although I had been yearning to feed my family better for years, the commercial pressure and peer pressure for fast food were more than I could fight. About six years ago I joined a CSA, or food co-op, for one summer and jumped right in. Unfortunately, it was too drastic a transition for my family. We had no problems using common produce like lettuce, tomatoes, and cucumbers. But my experiments with unfamiliar vegetables (collard greens, kohlrabi, parsnips, kale) drew vociferous complaints. Without any other inspiration or support, it was too difficult to battle four people’s resentment and complaints about dinner armed only with my own enthusiasm. So I let my membership in the CSA expire.

A few years later I still had not given up my desire to improve the family’s nutrition, but now my husband was having some issue. He had caught the health bug and was exercising every day and talking about eating healthier. By sheer chance, a friend mentioned her Suppers group and asked if I would be interested in trying it.

I went to a Monday lunch meeting and was inspired by people who care about nutrition, experiment with recipes, and taste the creations. Now I go home on Mondays fired up with motivation and armed with ideas, information, recipes, and techniques.

I love the Suppers concept of nutritional harm reduction. It lets me take small steps toward better health without guilt for not being perfect, and it gives me positive reinforcement for what I can manage to do. I like to think of the nutritional harm reduction as consisting of three parts: addition, subtraction, and substitution. For subtraction, so far I have removed three ingredients from our diet—trans fats, high fructose corn syrup, and artificial colors. Right now that is the line in the sand that I have drawn for my family. For addition, I am adding more fruits and vegetables to our diet, especially more raw vegetable dishes. My kids love a raw shredded-beet salad that I learned to make at Suppers. For the substitution part, I am trying to substitute some whole-wheat flour for white flour whenever I bake, and throwing in some ground flax seed and raw nuts. Instead of buying huge bakery muffins, I bake Casey’s almond flour muffins with the kids.

Suppers is a journey that I am thoroughly enjoying. All the people in our Suppers group are at different points in their journey, and I learn so much at each meeting from everyone else’s experiences and knowledge. It is cathartic to talk about my stumbles and hear other’s stories about their struggles. I am so motivated on Suppers Mondays that I go home and cook healthful meals for several days. By Thursday or Friday, however, take-out pizza or frozen dinners are back on the menu. My family’s taste for convenient fatty, sweet, and salty foods is not going to go away, but we are headed in a better direction. Instead of beating myself up while we’re eating pizza on Friday, I smile and enjoy it, knowing Monday is just around the corner.

Sonja’s Raw Beet Slaw


1 to 2 medium-sized raw beets per person, shredded
Sprinkling of white balsamic vinegar
Sprinkling of olive oil
Salt, if permitted
Optional: toasted walnuts and crumbled feta cheese


Remove tough, rooty bits and scrub the beets. Shred in a food processor. Place in a bowl and drizzle on just a bit of vinegar and oil, and salt if permitted. The salad is delicious unadorned, but it holds up with additions of toasted walnuts and/or crumbled feta cheese.

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