Saturday, May 4, 2013

How The Dutch Treat Themselves to Good Health

This week is the Tulip Time Festival in our little town of Holland, MI. In honor of our dear Dutch neighbors, I thought it would be a good time to reprint this article first published on my (now deleted) Fat Little Secrets blog. These folks really know how to EAT! And it really is a treat.

I have an adorable little cookbook entitled The Art of Dutch Cooking: Or How the Dutch TreatIn the preface, the author wishes to make one thing clear, "With this little book I hope to introduce to you 'how the Dutch treat' in the best sense of this so often ill used expression."[1]

The Dutch do indeed know how to eat regardless of whether they treat you or not.  My little cookbook, written and compiled in 1961, gives a short history of Dutch food along with a sample menu:

8:00 a.m. Breakfast:
  • "Endless" cups of strong tea (with sugar and a little milk)
  • Children eat porridge (pap) with white or brown sugar
  • All different kinds of bread with cheese
  • A slice of cold meat
  • Boiled or fried eggs
  • Jam and plenty of butter

10:30 a.m. Coffee Break:
  • Coffee with sugar and hot milk
  • Cookies (koekjes) or various biscuits

12:30 p.m. Lunch (Hollandse Koffietafel):
  • Various kinds of bread
  • Sliced sausages
  • Cheese
  • "One little warm dish" (made from leftovers)
  • Fresh fruit
  • "Endless" cups of coffee

4:00 p.m. Tea Time:
  • Tea
  • Cakes and biscuits

6:00 p.m. Pick-me-up
  • apĂ©ritif or a shot of Dutch gin (Genever)

6:30 p.m. Dinner:
  • Soup (made with meat and vegetables)
  • Fish or meat
  • Potatoes with lots of gravy or sauce
  • Dessert (either pudding or a sweet made with stale bread, macaroni, or very thin pancakes called Flensjes)
  • Beer or water (wine only on special occasions)

The author adds there is a favorite "fast food" (uitsmijter) picked up on the go at any time day or night from restaurants and snack bars consisting of buttered white bread filled with boiled ham or roast beef and two fried eggs. Oh, and don't forget the dill pickle on the side. [2]

Boerenkool Stamppot (Kale Hash)
Recipe here
Picture taken by Tavallai
Now, you may be thinking the Dutch people must struggle with their weight, but that is rarely the case. For one thing, though there is a variety of rich foods in their diet, they are eaten at intervals throughout the day in small portions. Moderation is the key. Gluttony and drunkenness are avoided not only for religious reasons, but for health's sake as well.

It is also important to note they are notorious for their cleanliness and industry, also taught from an infant from their pious heritage. This is best demonstrated annually at our local Tulip Festival parade which begins with a sweeping of the streets by performers in traditional Dutch costumes. They take pride in clean homes and well trimmed yards, and gardening is often a competitive sport among the elderly.

Street sweepers in Holland, MI
Photo taken by Daniel Morrison
Yet, even in their leisure hours, our Dutch neighbors are not idle. The City of Holland is constantly building new bicycle routes, and many acres of woods and meadows are reserved for hiking. All hours of the day and night you will find folks of all ages out walking and jogging around the neighborhoods. 

Winter may be a time of hibernation for some, but the coldest, snowiest times of the year are only an excuse for the Dutch to get out and enjoy every winter sport imaginable: skiing, ice skating, snowboarding, ice hockey, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, sledding, snowball fights, and even building snowmen. 

If there happens to be a lull in the snowfall, there are many facilities open year round where one may continually be active, including a full-range aquatic facility, an indoor soccer arena, skating rinks, bowling alleys, and a myriad of gyms available with facilities and activities geared for every age, gender, and level of ability. 

You may notice many activities are enjoyed together as families and often include extended family. The Dutch are very family centered. They work together, play together, and worship together. In fact, their Reformed heritage plays an important role in their health and longevity. It is the teachings of their churches and reinforced in their homes which has helped to perpetuate the healthy virtues among them of temperance, cleanliness, industry, purity, even temper, and, most importantly, a clear conscience before God through faith in Jesus Christ.

I can't say for sure the folks in our area still eat this way, but one thing I do know. Wholesome eating in the form of fresh, natural foods, paired with year-round physical activity and a life of faith, keeps the Dutch in relatively good health, many of whom live well into their 80's and 90's. We would do well to treat ourselves to their Dutch way of life.

[1] C. Countess van Limburg Stirum, The Art of Dutch Cooking: Or How the Dutch Treat(Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1961), p. 9.

[2] Ibid., pp. 13-15.