For most families, including mine, food is at the center of every holiday and celebration. More than a menu, my family’s holiday meals, with their familiar smells, sights and sounds, reflect our Italian heritage and the same recipes that have been passed from generation to generation – until 10 years ago. My Grandma Sarah, our family matriarch, was diagnosed with diabetes, challenging us to reimagine Christmas dinner.
There are two things you need to know about Grandma Sarah. One, is that she just recently celebrated her 101st birthday. (Happy birthday, Grandma!) And two, is that she’s fiercely independent. When she learned she had diabetes, she was determined to continue leading an active lifestyle she had always enjoyed. Without hesitation, she embraced her doctor’s advice and adjusted her daily diet. In fact, she can now tell you the glycemic index for almost any food! She adapted – now it was the family’s turn.
My family’s favorite part of our Christmas meal is lasagna layered in pasta, rich ricotta cheese and red tomato sauce. Determined to stay healthy while keeping our cherished traditions, Grandma enlisted me to help her adjust the menu. After a bit of trial and error, we found a new recipe that substituted zucchini for noodles and tofu for ricotta cheese. Growing up I could never have imagined Grandma Sarah eating tofu or lasagna without pasta, but she was ready to introduce a new tradition. Would the family be open to it, too?
Inspired by our matriarch and our love for her, our new lasagna - with its inviting smell of simmering tomatoes, spicy black pepper, and fresh garlic - has become another beloved family holiday tradition that she continues to enjoy with all of us around her. And while not everyone in my Italian family are comfortable calling it lasagna, they enjoy it nonetheless. Our first meal with tofu and zucchini taught me and the three generations around our table that you’re never too old to adapt. Thank you, Grandma, for continuing to show us the way!
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