Türk Yemekleri Amerika'da: Turkish Food in America

Since returning to America from Turkey, I created a nutrition education program to teach Turkish students at Syracuse University about how they can eat healthy Turkish-style food in America. I organized an event on campus called Türk Yemekleri Amerika'da where I served some of my Turkish recipes and gave a 20 minute nutrition presentation to Turkish students. The nutrition education component was inspired by my research where I collected dietary records from Turkish students in both Istanbul and Syracuse to see what kinds of changes Turkish students make in their eating habits when they move to America. Below are pictures and a summary of the nutrition presentation!


Summary of Nutrition Program:

1. Use time-saving ingredients to cook at home.

Research has shown that cooking is a healthy habit in itself, and is associated with overall better health and weight. Use time-saving ingredients so you can cook more often.

  • Quick Pide: Use whole wheat pizza dough (at room temperature), chopped vegetables, and low-fat cheese to make your own pide- then throw it on a baking sheet with a little bit of non-stick spray. Bake at a high temperature until dough is cooked through. Make 2 and save one for lunch the next day!
  • Time saving ingredient list: canned beans (rinse before using to lower sodium), pre-made hummus, frozen falafels, fresh bread/pitas from the bakery area, frozen rice, pre-cooked lentils (sold at Trader Joe’s)

2. Make HALF your grains WHOLE.

Whole grains contain more fiber to keep your digestive tract healthy and keep you full for longer, PLUS they have more vitamins and minerals (iron, magnesium, B vitamins, selenium, & fiber) than white bread.

  • Make easy exchanges: brown rice or bulgur instead of white rice, whole wheat bread instead of white bread.
  • Check the label for 2 key things:
    • Fiber should be >10% your daily value per serving
    • 1st ingredient should be a whole grain (whole wheat, brown rice, bulgur, buckwheat, oatmeal)

3. Eat fruits and veggies in every meal.

High consumption of vegetables and fruits is associated with reduced risk of many chronic diseases. Start by just adding 1 additional serving per day, and make sure you have some variety in your week.

  • Look for seasonal, local fruits/veggies like kale, squash, and carrots - the farmer’s market is great for this because what is seasonal is what the farmers are selling.
  • 1 serving of fruits or vegetables is about the size of your fist, or ½ fist if cooked (like spinach).

4.  Add plant-based proteins.

Plant-based proteins are nutritionally adequate, regular consumption is associated with lower risk of chronic diseases and cancer, and eating a diet high in plant protein can lower your carbon footprint by 20% or more!

  • High sources of plant-based protein: lentils, beans, peas, soybeans, seeds, nuts, whole grains (esp. quinoa), vegetables (esp. spinach)
  • Turkish sources of plant-based protein: red lentil soup, pistachios, mercimek köftesi, walnuts, nohut yemeği, kuru fasulye, ıspanak yemeği, bulgur (low-fat Turkish yoğurt is also a great protein source, and though it is not plant-based, is a better choice than meat)

5. Invest in a Turkish pantry.

Spices don’t add calories or sodium- they add flavor, antioxidants, and vitamins! Having the basic ingredients for Turkish cooking will allow you to cook more easily.

  • Spices- red pepper flakes, dried mint, oregano, cloves, allspice, cinnamon, cumin, cardamom, sumac; Others- garlic, onions, tomato/red pepper paste, canned & dry legumes, olive oil, pine nuts, nigella seeds.
  • Join the free grocery store membership “clubs” so you can take advantage of sales- wait for items to go on sale before you stock up!

6. Always pack a healthy snack.

Being prepared with a healthy snack will prevent you from overeating later in the day. It is also a great time to add healthy food into your daily intake.

  • Turkish trail mix: dried figs, dried apricots, walnuts, pistachios, dark chocolate chips
  • Hummus dip: pack hummus in a reusable container with cut up vegetables to dip in it.

Note: Cutting your vegetables yourself saves money over store-cut ones. Cut them and store them in bags you can take with you out of your house.

7. Use your resources.

Syracuse has some great local food options. And if you are having any trouble with access to food, there is always someone who is willing to help if you just ask!

  • Living abroad can be hard, especially in a place like Syracuse where not having a car prevents you from accessing a lot of the grocery stores. Reach out to others when you need help getting somewhere...and if you have a car, post in the Turkish Student Association Facebook group before you go to the store to see if anyone needs a ride
  • Things to check out in Syracuse: Regional Farmer’s Market, Grindstone Farm Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), Syracuse Real Food Co-OP, Samir’s Imported Goods, Grocery stores like Trader Joe’s, Wegmans, and Tops