GMO: Why did you decide to become a nutritionist?
Karen: My senior year in high school, my mom made me visit a nutritionist because she wanted to eat better, and she also wanted me to eat better. From that first visit, I was inspired and changed my major in college to major in nutrition.
GMO: When and why did you decide to write a cookbook?
Karen: Four years ago, January 2007, I thought my meals were really delicious – well at least that’s what people told me. So, I decided to write a cookbook to feature my own creative recipes. Throughout the process of compiling all of my information, the book became greater than its original intent. I was teaching nutrition to the nursing students part-time as an adjunct professor at Chicago State University, and I realized my students had no clue where to start with nutrition and how to eat healthy. Most people desire to eat healthy, but just have no clue where to start. So, along with creating a cookbook, I decided to add education nutrition information in the book as well.
GMO: Why do you think healthy eating is an issue in the African American community?
Karen: Traditionally, Afro Americans were given the food that no one else wanted to eat. So, we worked with what we had in order to survive. We were given pig intestines, pig feet, neck bones, grits, and things like that. We, as a race, know how to take scraps that no one else wants, and make it taste divine. We turned it into SOUL FOOD and brought families together near and far for our delicious food. Yet, tradition is very difficult to break. There’s nothing wrong with soul food, every now and then, incorporated with exercise. Our ancestors worked hard, physically, every day and walked miles just to get to a physical labor job and walk back home after a hard day of work! However, now, to eat high-fat greasy foods every day is very unhealthy and in the long run, very expensive. In today’s society, we are not as physically active as our ancestors were … We, as a people, have been trained to buy cheap high-fat foods, because that’s how large families survived. It is expensive to eat healthy if you’re feeding a family of five or more.
GMO: How do we combat those negative trends that prevent us from developing good habits?
Karen: I believe the only way to combat bad habits is to be a role model for your youth. Also, we can take each community one by one via churches, community centers, radio stations, health fairs and get the word out about how to eat healthy. Writing a book is one start, but being present and making my voice be heard, near and far, is another more impactful approach. This is exactly what I plan to do.
GMO: Making quick healthy dinners and snacks are difficult for the single mothers. Do you have any suggestions for healthy snacks to enforce good eating habits for kids?
Karen: Yes, there’s a kids section in my cookbook with inexpensive and healthy recipes for quick snacks. Most of the kids’ recipes can be prepared by older children without their parents being present. First of all, training starts in the home. Parents should be role models, by eating a large portion of fruits and vegetables, and not buying all of the junk that leads to tooth decay, obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure. I am a single mother of two children, and I cook almost every day and make sure to carry healthy snacks with me and for my kids all the time! It really is not that difficult. Planning the night before can relieve some stress. Also, just having healthy, easy to grab snacks like fresh fruit, baby carrots, sunflower seeds, pretzels, 100 percent juice box drinks, water and granola bars can make any single mom’s busy schedule flow smoothly throughout the day. Probably, at the end of the month, mom will have a few extra dollars in her pocket because she’s not buying junk food every day and eating out every day – that gets expensive!
GMO: What are the biggest mistakes people make when they are trying to improve their diet?
Karen: Skipping meals and not eating healthy snacks in between meals.
GMO: What are your plans for the future?
Karen: I’ve already started working on book number two, which will have a whole new set of nutrition tips and educational terms to assist individuals and families live a healthy life. I also plan on creating a community center in our communities which will have continuing education classes, nutrition classes, fitness activities, a healthy WiFi café, daycare and much more so we can learn how to live a healthy lifestyle every day.