Look at it two ways: eating while you’re on your mission can be a dull, force-yourself kind of routine, or it can be a gastronomical adventure. If you’re really concerned about your health and well-being during the eighteen months or two years while you’re away from home, you’ll make it the latter.
What do we mean by gastronomical adventure? If you’re a hamburger-and-french-fries-smothered-in-catsup food freak, imagine having an opportunity (depending on where you’re called to serve) to eat empanadas, sauerbraten, tempura, pilaf, or bouillabaise. These are just a few of the exotic-sounding, delicious, typical foods found in some of the mission areas around the world. And even if you aren’t called to a mission far from home, you can learn to eat the regional specialties and probably save money at the same time—such foods as grits in the southern United States and Clam Chowder in New England.
Every missionary owes it to himself, as well as to those who are waiting to hear his important message, to stay as healthy and full of energy as possible. And eating good, nourishing food is the key to vitality and alertness.
Those who are used to skipping breakfast, grabbing a quick sandwich and soft drink for lunch, and shunning Mom’s fresh vegetables and salad in favor of spaghetti or tacos for dinner need to mend their ways when they get that mission call. In fact, it’s never too early to begin “training” for a mission, even if a mission call is still dimly in the future. Those who compete in athletics generally pay close attention to diet and other health habits when they go into training in order to stay in top physical condition; why not those who engage in missionary work?
Training for a mission can begin right now, with good eating habits and even learning how to cook a few simple, nutritious dishes. Every missionary, male and female, ought to know a few basics of cooking and how to plan budget-wise menus to provide a properly balanced diet.
Selecting foods correctly centers around choosing those foods that will supply the body with the nutrients it needs. Generally, most nutritionists recommend a food plan involving four basic groups: (1) dairy foods, (2) meats, (3) vegetables and fruits, and (4) breads and cereals. Including adequate amounts of each of these foods in the diet every day helps ensure that one gets the necessary vitamins and minerals for good health and energy.
No matter where you go in the world, it is possible to eat well and have an adequate diet if you include these basic foods in your diet every day:
1. Dairy foods. This group includes milk and foods made with milk, such as cheese, ice cream, soups, beverages, and desserts. Milk and its many products are our main sources of calcium and phosphorus; they also provide protein, riboflavin, and vitamins A and D.
The nutritional value of cereals and breads is improved when combined with the protein of dairy foods. Thus, a fairly nutritious meal can be obtained from cereal and milk, or bread and cheese, or macaroni and cheese. And there are few places in the world where milk and cheese aren’t found in abundance and at relatively low cost. One returned missionary from the Germany South Mission reports that she and her companion ate lots of cheese and drank lots of milk because of the high cost of meat.
Every diet should include two or more cups of milk daily, or the equivalent amount of milk products.
2. Meats. This group includes meats, fish, poultry, and eggs, as well as foods that supply nutrients similar to those found in meat, such as plant legumes (dry beans, dry peas, peanuts, nuts, and peanut butter). Foods of this group are stressed for their high protein content; eggs and meat, especially liver, are also important sources of iron, vitamin A, and the B vitamins.
Every adult should have two or more servings from this group every day to stay in top physical condition. One serving would include two eggs, or two to three ounces of lean, cooked meat (no bone or gristle), or one cup cooked dry beans, peas, or lentils, or four tablespoons peanut butter.
3. Vegetables and fruits. These foods are significant sources of minerals and vitamins, especially if they are eaten raw or cooked with a minimum amount of water until barely done. (Save the water in which they are cooked to make soups, gravies, and sauces.)
Four or more servings of vegetables and fruits should be eaten every day, including at least one serving of a good source of vitamin C, such as grapefruit, oranges, cantaloupe, strawberries, broccoli, and green peppers. Deep-green or deep-yellow vegetables should be included in the diet at least every other day to provide vitamin A; such foods might include apricots, persimmons, carrots, yellow squash.
4. Breads and cereals. Whether you’re eating tortillas, rice, whole-grain cereal, enriched bread, grits, macaroni, noodles, crackers, or spaghetti, you need four or more servings from this group daily. Breads and cereals are universally the “staff of life,” and you’ll find that they are inexpensive as well as important sources of such nutrients as thiamin (vitamin B1), riboflavin (B2), niacin, and iron; they are also good sources of carbohydrate energy and protein.
Now, how can we translate this information into a balanced missionary diet? Wise cooks (and that’s what a missionary must be) plan ahead and take advantage of local products that are in plentiful supply and in season. A typical day’s missionary menu might include the following:
Breakfast: Grapefruit juice, an orange, prunes, or other fresh fruit in season; cooked oatmeal cereal with sugar or honey and milk; whole wheat toast; milk. (Include an egg four or five times a week.)
Lunch: A cheese or peanut butter sandwich or a piece of bread with slices of cheese; carrot sticks, stalks of celery, or other raw vegetables; fresh fruit.
Dinner: One serving of meat, fish, or poultry; two vegetables or a cooked vegetable and a green salad; bread and butter; fruit gelatin with cookies; milk.
Variations and substitutions in this menu can be made, no matter where you live, to take into account differences in cultural eating habits. For example, rice can be substituted for the cereal or bread, chop suey for the vegetables, meat-filled empanadas (a hot pie eaten in South America) for bread and meat.
To help you with your cooking, particularly if you have had little experience before you enter the mission field, here are some suggestions from some returned missionaries:
1. No matter where you labor, it might be wise to invest in a small, inexpensive, paperback cookbook that includes basic information on food preparation. Many such volumes are available wherever paperback books are sold.
2. The time you spend in the mission field is not the time to be finicky about what you eat. The best buys in food are generally the foods grown or processed in your mission area. Take advantage of these bargains and plan your menus around them.
3. If you have adequate refrigeration available, use your preparation day for shopping and preparing foods in quantity, such as soups that can be heated up quickly during the week.
4. If you don’t know how to prepare certain foods that are plentiful and inexpensive in your area, ask local sisters in your branch. They will be flattered that you asked and generally happy to share their cooking secrets.
5. Shy away from too many starchy and sugar-laden foods. They can add pounds, cause complexion problems, and make you feel logy and listless. Instead, eat lots of the basic foods, particularly fruits and vegetables.
6. If your mission is still somewhere in the future, ask Mom or your older sister for a few basic cooking lessons right now. You may help stave off malnutrition—or at least inedible cooking failures—later on.
7. Remember that you are called to the Lord’s work, and it’s important that you be in excellent physical condition. Read section 89 of the Doctrine and Covenants occasionally wherein the Lord explains the promises to those who eat wholesome foods and who walk in obedience to his commandments; they shall “receive health in their navel and marrow to their bones;
“And shall find wisdom and great treasures of knowledge, even hidden treasures;
“And shall run and not be weary, and shall walk and not faint.” (D&C 89:18–20.)
Since food availability and preparation differ throughout the world, you will probably need a “crash course” in cooking specific foods when you actually arrive in your field of labor. But until then, here are a few easy-to-prepare, quick recipes based on foods that are generally plentiful in most areas. And with these under your belt, plus the exciting new taste treats you’ll experience, you’re on your way to a gastronomic adventure!
4 to 5 medium potatoes, boiled
6 slices bacon
3 or 4 green onions or a small dried onion, finely chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
Dice the potatoes. Dice the bacon and fry until crisp; pour off half the fat. Add potatoes and onions to fat left in frying pan and fry until lightly browned. Add bacon, eggs, and seasonings. Stir gently over low heat until eggs are lightly set. Makes 4 servings.
Make a soup stock by simmering in salted water meat bones (beef, mutton, lamb, veal, etc.) or bony pieces of poultry (chicken, turkey, duck, etc.). Cook one to three hours. If desired, add leftover vegetable broth, an onion, celery, parsley, or other herbs. Be sure to keep water level in the pot always above the meat.
When a good stock or broth is ready, strain out the meat and vegetables or herbs. Put strained stock back on the stove and bring to a rolling boil. Add diced potatoes, carrots, onions, celery, cabbage, tomatoes, turnips, summer squash, cauliflowerets, beans, corn, or any other vegetables you desire. Add also pieces of meat or poultry cut off the bones used to make the stock. Simmer over low heat for 45 minutes to an hour.
Note: If you don’t want to go to the trouble of making your own stock, you may use bouillon cubes or packaged dry soup mixes.
2 1/2 cups milk
1/2 cup uncooked rice, washed
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup sugar or honey
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg or cinnamon
1/2 cup seedless raisins, if desired
Scald (heat just to boiling point) milk in saucepan on top of double boiler. Add other ingredients slowly, stirring constantly. Cook in covered pot over a pan of simmering water (the bottom of a double boiler, if available), until rice has absorbed the milk—about 1 1/4 hours—stirring frequently. Serve warm with cream or milk. Makes 6 servings.