Cooking Up Conversation with Jeff Saturday
Many phrases come to mind when you talk about former Indianapolis Colts offensive lineman Jeff Saturday: Integrity, honesty, the voice of reason and down to Earth are just a few. Having watched him play only on television, I had no idea of his background, the ties to the community he shares with his wife, Karen, or the vast culinary knowledge he wears like a badge of honor.
One would not expect someone like Jeff Saturday to know his way around the kitchen, but his deep Southern roots and a lifetime of Sunday meals with family have left an impression on him. Jeff and Karen still live in Indianapolis, where they moved when he joined the Colts in 1999, which comes to no surprise to me. They are invested in this city they love.
They have chosen to reside and raise their three children – Jeffrey, 13; Savannah, 11; and Joshua, 7 – in central Indiana. Saturday retired as a Colt in 2013 and decided he needed to make some changes in both his diet and exercise routine.
"When I retired in February, I made a conscious choice that I was going to change how I ate. There was now no need to log the amount of calories that I was [eating] as an offensive lineman. They either get fit or fat when they are done playing. The choice was easy for me."
Jeff Saturday played 13 seasons with Peyton Manning as an Indianapolis Colt and exemplary player. When deciding how he would chart a course to lower fat and calorie intake, joint health played a major role. Jeff did his research and found that a diet rich in vegetables and whole proteins would suit him best. Lean meat, colorful veggies and eliminating dairy and empty carbohydrates have been his secret to success.
Finding that certain foods laden in sugar and carbohydrates made him feel bad and a cleaner diet made him feel good was the clearest sign that he was on the right track.
Another element to his fitness routine is staying active. Through daily walks, strength training and weights, Jeff has watched the pounds drop off – all from tweaking his diet and staying active. Setting an example for his kids that the healthy and active lifestyle would carry on after he left the field was a sticking point that Jeff felt was important.
This is a family affair for the Saturdays. As I can attest, it takes a lot to keep your kids' attention as they get older. Jeff and Karen are getting creative. The Saturdays often walk as a family, ride bikes and keep each other motivated to do more. Each of his kids has an activity that they excel at, whether it be dance, running or even rope climbing.
"Challenging our kids to stay active and healthy through a bit of family competition is great for everyone. Being competitive in the right way and being healthy can be fun."
Jeff admits to practicing so he can beat his kids at climbing ropes, pull-ups and the 50-yard dash. As a parent myself, I can see where this can be a fun and healthy way to engage your older kids in a bit of fun. I mean, what kid doesn't want to beat their parent at a physical challenge?
I asked Jeff about his Southern childhood and his upbringing in Atlanta. I imagined the slow-cooked pace of the South had left its mark on Jeff and his wife and I was right. Greens cooked with ham hock, black-eyed peas, okra and grits are many dishes he remembers fondly as a young person and has looked for since living up north.
When he was growing up, Sunday dinners were an event not to be missed. Lingering over the table, having conversations, slowing down to catch up on each other's lives were a weekly occurrence at his house.
"You knew to expect it," he recalls. "These meals took hours."
This tradition has continued with his own family and they most often gather at breakfast time. The power of a family meal and the need to "find a time of peace" have kept Jeff and Karen connected with their family. Starting the day off by praying together, reading the Bible and sharing what they see as their "challenge of the day" sets the tone for the day and they stay invested in one another's successes and failures, struggles and high points.
I ask Jeff if he liked to cook, having already spied a very substantial grill and outdoor kitchen on my way into his house. As I suspected, he loves to man the grill. Fish, pork, all manner of meats really, are prepared up to four times a week by Jeff himself. Being a hunter, Jeff says he has a healthy respect for life and the animals that sustain us. Duck, fish, venison, elk and other local game routinely can be found in the freezer, foraged by himself.
Jeff has traveled to Africa more than once to hunt large game on the savannas and prairies of that continent. Controlled hunts for Cape buffalo, eland, gemsbok, kudu and hartebeest resulted in not only a nicely mounted head to ship back but also a sizeable amount of meat for the surrounding African villagers.
Helping others and having a philanthropic heart are part of the lifestyle for the Saturday family. For several years Jeff and Karen have been a part of the People's Burn Foundation, since their youngest son, Joshua, suffered a severe burn on his hands from a fireplace screen. From there they founded Camp Saturday, a camp for children suffering from a variety of burns – a place where they can feel accepted and enjoy themselves.
"Dealing with a burn situation is hard. This is not a quick three-day hospital visit. Most likely there will be weeks and months of surgeries, therapies and missed time at work for the parents. We want to help in any way that we can."
Jeff and Karen are also active with the Susan G. Komen Foundation and have been emcees of the Survivors Parade several times. Being a part of the parade of survivors all in different stages of health, sharing something so significant, surrounded by their families, is a powerful moment, Saturday says.
"We can't cure cancer, you can't fix somebody, but what we can do is raise money, awareness and help make this one day in their lives a little bit better."
Making a commitment to giving back is not a hard choice for Jeff. These are real life experiences that will help mold his children and the adults that they will grow to be.
"I made my living off of community dollars. Hardworking people gave their money to watch me play, they showed up. It's the least I can do – to give back.