Please help me help my friend eat and grocery shop healthier, in Trinidad and Tobago or the Caribbean generally.
January 10, 2011 4:15 PM   Subscribe

Please help me help my friend eat and grocery shop healthier, in Trinidad and Tobago or the Caribbean generally.

Several weeks back I somehow or other volunteered myself to help my friend from Trinidad start eating healthier.

Firstly, and foremost, by drawing up a grocery list for her, detailing healthy food items one might readily buy and quantities thereof.

Secondly, by gathering and putting together some good general nutrition advice.

I've been trying off and on at this for a while and really only made progress with the second part. As for the list, pathetic progress really! My present strategy is putting together a week's menu and adding up the amounts. Now, here is where I'm having trouble.

a) availability of foods (What foods will you find or NOT find in Trinidad or Caribbean islands generally?)

b) I'm not a good cook (But she has two cookbooks, the American Better Homes & Gardens cookbook and the Trini Naparima Girls School Cookbook. Still, how on earth do I advise with my limited cooking skills? Maybe menu composing is the wrong idea. Maybe I should just figure out highly nutrtious staple items with which many meals can be made?)

b2) I'm definitely not a good Caribbean cook (being an American, good usage of her local fruits and vegetables is not something I have a proper understanding of. I know some of their NAMES but little else! Things like Caribbean pumpkin, bitter melon, chayotes, bodi, seim beans, yucca, dasheen, dasheen bush, shado beni, sorrel, barbadine, plantain, green papaya.)

c) She wishes to become mostly vegetarian. Eggs and milk are fine though. (my concern is that she will likely need certain vitamins or enriched soy products to avoid deficiencies, mainly in B12. Can these be found easily without importing? Nasty VAT and duty on suppliments.)

I really don't want to disappoint her. Any advice or resources would be so much help!
posted by MrFish to Food & Drink (5 answers total)

A better strategy than putting together a menu from scratch might be to have her send you a week's menu of what she's already eating, and have you adjust it to be healthier. That way you'll get an idea of what is available and what she likes, and tweaked recipes are going to be easier for her to cook than starting with completely unfamiliar ones.

To tweak her recipes, try replacing meat with vegetarian substitutes (not fake meat, but you can replace beef with mushrooms and/or beans in a lot of dishes, chicken with tofu, egg, or fish, if she is going to be pescaterian). Then you can usually cut sugar in a sweet recipe in half without it affecting the taste much. Replace plain flour with wholemeal, add grated veges to just about anything for fibre and vitamins. Replace whole milk products with skim, if she is concerned about fat content (although I don't think she should be). Replace butter with vegetable oils if she is worried about saturated fat. Bake or steam things she used to fry. Etc.
posted by lollusc at 4:27 PM on January 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

I recently read The Spice Necklace, a food memoir about traveling the Caribbean. It describes quite a bit about different cuisines of the region and has some recipes at the end of every chapter, although not necessarily healthy ones. It could give you some good context in an easy to read format.

Other names of some of the ingredients you mentioned: dasheen = taro, shado beni is similar to cilantro

Plaintains, dasheen, and yucca are all very starchy staples. Your friend might want to focus on eating things other than that.

Chayotes are good stir fryed with garlic - slice them and garlic, heat up oil, add garlic, then add chayote once fragrant. Cook until they're slightly limp, only a few minutes. They're mildly flavored, sort of like cucumber.

If she's willing to be pescaterian instead of vegetarian, I think it'll be easier. There's great seafood there.
posted by asphericalcow at 4:29 PM on January 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Some nosing around the Caribbean Yellow Pages via google turns up six "super markets" in Trinidad. Among these, Hilo Food Stores claims to be the largest chain in the country, and their website appears decent. Among other things, there's a link to suggested some recipes, which might get you started as to what one could reasonably expect to prepare menu-wise in that environment (although the first few are for cocktails - go figure...). Judging by the images that rotate through the website, it appears your friend has access to a basic supermarket with a fresh produce section and the usual suspects as far as canned goods, etc.

Echoing the suggestion above, maybe start by having her send her current recipes and check them against best-practices for healthy eating.
posted by 5Q7 at 6:09 PM on January 10, 2011

The grocery store link is good 5Q7, the sale papers do answer some of my availability questions to a degree. I also found NAMDEVCO's Market Watch just now, on that front.

Taking her current eating habits and going from there is a reasonable enough suggestion too, but I'm a bit loathe to bring it up and give her tasks to perform, after procrastinating for so long already. Might have to though!

I was hoping somehow for some kind of lists and charts of the most versatile, nutritious foods and how long they keep. I saw some Ask Mefi questions on pantry stocking but the answers weren't that satisfying and were American food oriented.
posted by MrFish at 7:49 PM on January 10, 2011

« Older Where can I hear the best DJs in the Bay Area?   |   How to console someone in a new relationship Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.