COOK OF THE WEEK: Saltillo woman takes family on healthy eating journey

By Ginna Parsons/NEMS Daily Journal

Ten years ago, Roan Johnson’s family ate pretty much like others in Northeast Mississippi: frozen pizzas, casseroles made with cream soups and shredded cheese, Little Debbie snack cakes.
But gradually, the family has changed its food and exercise habits and today, they largely lead a plant-based lifestyle.
But it has been a journey.
“For years, I subscribed to Southern Living and Taste of Home magazines and I wore out my yellow Bell’s Best cookbook,” said Johnson, 43. “Our eating habits have just evolved over the years.”
The first step to a healthier lifestyle came about six years ago, when the family took up running at the suggestion of Johnson’s husband, Jimmy, a cardiologist.
“He thought if he was going to preach to his patients that they needed to get exercise every day, then we did, too,” she said.
The Johnsons have five children: Olivia, 17; Julie, 15; Clay, 13; Leah, 8; and Sam, 6. Johnson, an education major, home-schools them all.
The next step toward better health was cutting out processed foods, such as frozen pizzas, Bagel Bites and snack cakes. That was followed a couple of years later with buying organic fruits and vegetables as they became more readily available at the grocery store.
And then in April, Jimmy Johnson went to a medical conference where one of the speakers talked about eating a plant-based diet.
“He came home and said, ‘I want to try this. Some good research has been put into this. It’s geared toward preventing and reversing heart disease.’ So I cleaned out the pantry, gave stuff away, ordered some new cookbooks, found a couple of websites and started making new menus,” she said.
Today, the family eats no meat and no dairy in their home. They get their protein from spinach, plant-only protein powder, beans and nuts.
A typical meal might include pasta salad with veggies and a green salad, or black-eyed peas, green beans, roasted asparagus, mashed potatoes and roasted carrots.
“I don’t make a big deal about it,” Johnson said. “I just cook the food and put it on the table and we eat it. I don’t prepare any meat in this house, but occasionally we go to Chick-fil-A. If we go to a restaurant, I let them get what they want.”
Johnson estimates that just in fruit alone she buys eight bunches of bananas, two dozen apples, a bag of oranges, four pounds of strawberries and two to three pounds of grapes each week.
“But as a treat, I’ll buy Cap’n Crunch cereal,” she said. “We’re not completely on natural foods, but we’re a lot closer than we were 10 years ago.”
Do you know a good cook? Send your nominations to Ginna Parsons, Cook of the Week, P.O. Box 909, Tupelo, MS 38802. Or you can fax them to (662) 842-2233 or email them to

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