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I realized that the worst thing I could do to this family was to shame or judge them, prescribe them more medication, or tell them to eat less and exercise more (a subtle way of blaming them). Instead, I wanted to teach them to cook real food from scratch and show them they could eat well on a tight budget and feel satisfied. When I looked through their fridge that first day, I was surprised to see a bunch of fresh asparagus. The mother explained that she used to hate them.

“Once I had asparagus out of a can; it was nasty,” she said. “But then a friend told me to try one off the grill, and even though I didn’t want to, I tried it and it was good.” My theory about vegetables is this: If you hate them, then you most likely never had them prepared properly. They were canned, overcooked, boiled, deep-fried, or otherwise highly processed and tasteless mush. Just think of overcooked Brussels sprouts or tasteless canned peas.

The worst! So we got the whole family washing, peeling, chopping, cutting, touching, and cooking real food—whole foods like carrots, onions, sweet potatoes, cucumbers, tomatoes, salad greens, and even asparagus. I showed them how to peel the garlic, cut the onions, and snap the asparagus to get rid of the chewy ends.

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I taught them how to sauté the asparagus with garlic in olive oil, how to roast sweet potatoes with fennel and olive oil, and how to make turkey chili from scratch. We all cooked together. The family even made fresh salad dressing from olive oil, vinegar, mustard, salt, and pepper, instead of dousing their greens in the bottled dressings laden with high-fructose corn syrup, refined oils, and MSG that they once favored.

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