This month in the Eat Well, Spend Less series we are focusing on getting back to the basics of feeding your family.
Let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start.
Dinnertime is ever evolving in our house. This year we embarked on the path of swim club family, dragging the eldest to and from the pool a mere five nights a week for two-hour-long swim sessions. Combined with basketball, swim lessons for the younger crowd, catechism, homework for four, and time to wind down and read at night, dinner can seem like a necessary chore in the midst of more important matters.
Still, I remain convinced of the importance of teaching your children how to eat. We continue to be the family that ventures to the market and the grocery store together, that stands in the kitchen sharing the daily duties of getting hungry mouths fed, that sits around the same table night after night. I’m not going to lie. It is not easy, but I do believe that it is worth it.
Make It a Priority
The first piece of sound advice I can offer when thinking about how we eat as a family unit is that it works because it is a priority. You prioritize the things you deem most important. For our family it comes in the way we eat.
So much in life is connected to how we eat: the way we feel on a daily basis, our overall physical health, the way our mind processes information, our emotions, our ability to get a good night’s rest. The act of eating is not simply a chore that must be done to get through the day, but also an act that affects every other aspect of life. If I were feeding my swimmer poorly, she would compete poorly, be tired during practices, and sluggish during sprints. All of the running to and from sports practices is not doing a single thing in long-term physical and mental health if we’re fueling our bodies with trash. We’ve all heard of sugar highs and the crash that follows; garbage in, garbage out; you are what you eat; and yet when people are told the way they eat affects how they feel, they balk.
How you eat is important, so refrain from making excuses and start acting like it. Look for ways to build relationships and family integration in something that sustains you each day you are alive.
Intent: (noun) the state of mind with which an act is done; purpose, aim, ideal, meaning, plan, target.
I feed my family whole foods prepared and shared at home together in order to increase overall health and to develop healthy habits that can be carried with them for the full of their life.
My intention with the food education of my children is to develop healthy habits. Habits, especially bad ones, are hard to break. They stay with us for years, following us around, haunting us. Daily habits that revolve around eating are the same. You become accustomed to daily dessert after dinner, to regular and diet soda rather than water, to meals that prepare themselves.
The habits of drinking water rather than soda and daily coffee consumption were learned early in my life. (Thanks, Grandma, for the coffee at age 2. I love it still.) The process of cooking in order to eat and sitting down together as a family were things that were stressed upon in my upbringing. There is power in the routine.
Make a list of meals you could make each week and shop for them. Keep the ingredients on hand; stock your pantry; plan ahead. Small steps make a huge difference during the week when the walls seem to be closing in on you as the five o’clock hour nears.
Keep it Simple
Our meals are not always works of art. Often they are simple and straightforward, composed of basic foods made better with quality ingredients and loving hands. They are generally easy to prepare and get together in a hurry, and sometimes they are downright boring.
A few things that keep us going during the week are always thinking ahead. Stocks are made and started as dishes are cleaned and left to simmer as the nighttime routine rushes forth. Bread happens on the weekends, mixed as groceries are moved from bag to counter to cupboard. The long meals with thematic courses and wine and dessert are saved for guests and the occasional lazy weekend, when sections and state meets have passed and basketballs have ceased to dribble. They are savored, but they are not the standard.
Instead, soups and bread, simple salads, rice bakes, steamed vegetables, and stir fry find their way to the table. Unplanned pizza nights find pantry flavors like balsamic, sun-dried tomatoes, and eggs sitting atop no-rise dough thrown together amidst spelling sheets and algebraic equations.
Don’t Give Up
We all have those moments where we think things could be easier “if.” Life would be easier if I didn’t have to prepare, serve, and clean up dinner. I could easily write a check rather than pack lunch boxes and save myself 20 minutes each morning and countless hours a year shopping for those foods in the supermarket if I let go a little. In this instance, however, easier does not equal improved quality of life.
There are days when it just doesn’t happen, sure. Those days we find sandwiches from the local sandwich shop on our plate, bowls stuffed with rice and beans from the burrito factory in front of us. Then we start over for the next meal, continuously moving forward.
Feeding a family, like the act of parenting itself, doesn’t have to be perfection. After living my entire life as a perfectionist and still struggling with it daily, I can firmly say that true perfection does not exist. Perfectionism is the act of aiming for the unattainable. Instead, I implore you to look at the total package rather than the individual events. Aspire for an overarching goal rather than an all-or-nothing approach.
As always, you can check out what others are writing in the Eat Well, Spend Less series and how they are getting back to basics: