Tips to Eat Healthy and Safely During Peace Corps Service
For some, cooking means tossing a packet of ramen noodles into a pot of boiling water. Lunch is revisiting last night’s takeout. Quick and easy meals mean fast food. But are these healthy options? And what would you do if these options are no longer available? Did you go from your parent’s house to the dorms and then into Peace Corps? Do you know to eat healthy and safely during Peace Corps service?
RPCV Health Crusade collected some tips for PCVs to better prepare for service. And anyone who is moving out on their own or into unfamiliar surroundings overseas is also welcome to leverage our tips and tricks.
Learn How to Cook
If you are not comfortable making a meal without a recipe, take some cooking and nutrition classes before PST. Practice them until you no longer need a recipe. Learn how to make substitutions. In country, you may not have access to the same ingredients from your cooking class but having the basics down will go a long way. When you cook your own meals, you know how much fat, salt, and sugar is in that dish.
When do you add which ingredients to avoid some being over-cooked and some under-cooked? What are nutrient-dense foods? Which are the lean cuts of meat? What is a toothpick test? How do you blend flavors? Salt and ketchup can only get you so far.
When eating together with other PCVs, there is a common understanding that whoever cooks does not have to clean. So, if you don’t know how to cook, then expect to wash dishes.
Learn About Food Prep and Safety
Learn about safe food preparation and storage techniques. Nope, it is not a good idea to use the same cutting surface for preparing raw meat that you use for raw fruit. Salmonella is real. Which foods can be left out and which needs to be refrigerated?
Should you rinse the rice before you cook it? Did you know that putting a wet towel under the cutting board keeps it from sliding around? How do you seed a Pomegranate? What is the easiest way to filet a fish? Don’t wait to learn how to eat healthy and safely the hard way.
Develop Some Knife Skills
Knowing how to use a knife can cut your food preparation time considerably. What is the difference between chopping and dicing? What is the most effective way to grip a knife? Do you keep your fingers flat or clawed when cutting food? What does that even mean?
How do you cut carrots and onions when they keep rolling around? How can you transform leafy greens into thin even slices to use as garnishes? Can you cleanly scale the fish or do you like to watch the scales fly around the room? Why is a dull knife more dangerous than a sharp one?
Identify Foods Available In Country to Eat Healthy and Safely
Find out which foods and ingredients are available in your service country. Don’t rely on your friends at home to send you monthly shipments of Spaghettios. Research in advance to find out where you can get fresh foods. What are the local staples? Which foods can be eaten raw and which must be cooked?
If you crave spicy foods, find out what spices are available before arriving in country. Learn some recipes with foods in that country. And if you have a favorite seasoning that is not available in country, bring a small container of it with you. But keep the original sealed and labeled container. Don’t give TSA the chance to mistake that Oregano for “something else”.
Practice What You Learned When In Country
If you live alone during service, knowing how to cook can be a game changer. And if you live with a host family, helping prepare the meal shows that you are willing to contribute. Don’t expect to sit back and be served. Break some of the gender and cultural stereotypes.
And, inviting HCNs over for a meal can go a long way. Food is the center of many cultures. Sharing meals is a good way to break the ice. Mealtime is a great opportunity to learn about their culture while sharing yours.
Be sensitive to the food and eating habits of different cultures. At times, it can be difficult to balance food safety with cultural needs. How do you share safe preparation techniques without insulting your host family? What should you do if offered food that doesn’t go down well? How can a carnivore survive in a country where the main diet is fruit based?
Let’s Help PCVs Eat Healthy and Safely During Service
Many RPCVs developed different tips and tricks for navigating service. Some methods were successful but some were not. And what works in one country does not always work in another. How did RPCVs handle those sensitive cultural situations? How do you navigate a communal plate of food if you noticed that some people didn’t wash their hands first? What did you do if you are a vegan serving in a meat-dominant country? How did you get food if posted to a food desert?
RPCVs have endless stories. Let’s share what works and what didn’t. Can we help the next generation of PCVs (and RPCVs who travel to those countries) better prepare for service?
Share your tips and tricks to help PCVs stay healthy and better navigate service.