Now in its second week, the Church Health Center's "Seasoning Lent" initiative is helping the faithful tweak unsavory food behaviors in the 40 days before Easter.
"What we put in our bodies affects our spirits," said Stacy Smith, the nonprofit agency's Christian Formation In Wellness supervisor. "It's very much a modern spin on your body as your temple."
During each of the seven weeks of Lent, followers of the initiative visit the website of the Church Health Center's online magazine, CH Reader, for Christian devotionals and daily recipes. Each week has a theme, such as focusing on good fats or sharing meals with family.
Week two, dubbed "The Whole Garden," offers a Garden of Eden-themed devotional and recipes like stuffed bell peppers on Wednesday, grilled portobello mushroom burgers on Thursday, and Thai coconut soup on Friday. These food choices are meant to reinforce the Garden of Eden metaphor by emphasizing God's bounty, Smith said.
Last week's kickoff pushed everything from homemade hummus to minestrone.
"It started because we have so many recipes at the [Church Health Center], and we wanted to get people to cook some of them as a spiritual practice," said Smith, who is also an ordained Presbyterian minister.
"It takes around 40 days to form a new habit," she said. "If you want to start cooking at home or start cooking more healthy foods, you could use the recipes and start working your way down the 40."
Most of the recipes are vegetarian either because of their nutritional value or as a nod to Catholics who traditionally give up meat during Lent.
Smith explained that "Seasoning Lent" is an outgrowth of previous initiatives. Last year's Lenten devotional at the Church Health Center promoted walking, but some participants found it difficult during cold days in winter or early spring. This year's focus shifted to comfort foods that might help melt waistlines .
"Anyone who wants to cut back on their sodium and improve how they feel could definitely benefit from doing a discipline like this," Smith said.
Late last year, Smith and others started meeting with nutrition staffers at Church Health Center Wellness, the nonprofit organization's exercise and cooking complex off Union Avenue, to get an idea of which recipes might fit with the primary themes of "Seasoning Lent."
The wellness center has developed a large number of healthy recipes for cooking classes held weekly in its six teaching kitchens, so the "Seasoning Lent" group's biggest challenge was whittling those recipes down to something manageable. All the ingredients for the recipes also were priced at Walmart to make sure recipes would be affordable for most people.
Carmen Weaver and her husband, Joey, have been onboard since last week's kickoff. The couple is blogging about their Lenten meals at http://sharpeningus.blogspot.com.
"'Seasoning Lent' really helped us out today," said Joey's entry from last Tuesday, which details a hectic day and displays a photo of shrimp etouffee. "Typically, Carmen and I would use a day like this as an excuse to go out to eat, but we were both really looking forward to preparing tonight's meal, so we stuck with it."
The initiative runs though Easter Sunday, which falls on April 24th. Recipes are available at http://chreader.org/.