Friday, August 23, 2013
Back to School
The year was 1994. I was a young mom, driving around Suburbia in my shiny new Chrysler minivan, three kids in tow, Melissa Etheridge blasting on the radio. I had recently discovered New Age religion, folk music and butterfly gardening. At 30 years old, I had just re-committed to a vegetarian diet and spent my days reading Vegetarian Times and searching for this newfangled "organic" produce. Our particular town was not replete with sources for such things; my only options were to either drive 30 minutes to the Unicorn Village in North Miami (now Whole Foods) or beg my local grocer to custom order veggies for me. Most often, it was the latter. When I first approached my produce manager, he had no idea what the hell I was talking about. Organic? What? I turned on the charm, mine as well as my darling daughters', and convinced him to do some research. Before too long, I was filling my shopping cart with carrots, apples, lettuce..anything he could get for me. I daresay I wore out my welcome pretty quickly, the poor man likely rued the day he met me! It was worth it, though, to be able to feed my children pesticide-free, so important during those formative years.
My kids didn't eat perfectly all the time. My pediatrician wasn't comfortable with feeding them vegetarian and I wasn't secure enough in my decision to challenge him, so I supplemented their veggies & grains with "healthier" (or so we thought) "lean meat" such as chicken & fish. They ate the occasional chicken nugget happy meal, and once a week was Pizza Night. There was no soda in our house, that was a treat to be enjoyed when dining out. Instead they drank (organic) juice and, Lindsey's favorite: water. Dessert was available, snacks were encouraged, but more than likely it was fresh fruit instead of sweets at the end of meals.
Overall, I think my girls ate well and had an active, healthy, happy childhood. While I can't control their eating or lifestyle now that they're adults, I think their early experiences left a lasting mark. They are all fit, healthy, health-conscious young women with a passion for cooking, eating..and life! To say I'm a proud mother is an understatement.
Nearly 20 years later, and we've come a long way. I can find almost everything I need for a healthy, organic, vegan diet at my neighborhood supermarket, and what can't be acquired locally can be ordered online. So there's really no excuse for feeding our children (or ourselves!) crap food, yet I see it every day. From the check-out lane to the drive-through line, harried parents are spending hard-earned money on highly processed, fat-filled, sugar-laden, nutrient-deficient junk food. Packaged all pretty and promoted all to hell, these products are killing us, one bite at a time, and some folks seem oblivious to it. What you do to yourself, as a grown-up person, is up to you. But when I see moms shoveling this crap into innocent kids, it just makes my blood boil.
Listen, I get it. You're busy. Most families rely on two-incomes nowadays, and after working, shlepping, cleaning, etc. the last thing you want to do is stand over a hot stove. All of that chopping and preparing seems like too much work, doesn't it? So much easier to just swing by McD's on the way home from soccer practice, throw a couple of burgers at the kids in the back seat and be done with it, right? But, is it, honestly? Easier? Sure, it saves you a few minutes in the kitchen but at what cost? Aren't your kids worth the extra time it takes to prepare a healthy meal and, god forbid, sit around the table and eat it with them?
I admit it, I was fortunate enough to be a stay-at-home mom for most of my kids' childhood. I did work part time for our home-based business, and for a few years as a Teachers Aide at their elementary school. But for the most part, yeah, I had the time to plan/shop/prepare three meals a day for my family. It wasn't always easy, with three of them running around, two in diapers. I became proficient at stirring pasta while breastfeeding, not an easy feat! My then-husband was a firefighter so I was alone with them for 24 hours, every third day, no relief and very little support system. Still, I cooked. They ate. Every single day.
If you're a busy mom or dad, struggling with this issue, how to feed your kids healthfully while preserving your own sanity, I feel for you. I really do. I've already admitted my imperfections, so I'm not gonna profess to have all of the answers. There are professionals out there who know much more than I do and I'm sure a quick google search will reveal their wisdom. I can, however, give you a few tips that worked for me.
Number one: Plan, plan, plan. Take an hour or two on a Sunday afternoon, perhaps while the kids are napping or, better yet, sit outside in the backyard while they play. Grab some cookbooks, magazines, your laptop, whatever..peruse your favorite cooking sites & blogs. Pick at least 5 recipes, allowing for a couple of pizza or leftover nights. If you have a crock-pot, try to focus on meals that make use of it. Make a menu & a shopping list. If you can enlist the help of a spouse or family member, leave the kids at home and head to the grocery store. Buy everything you need for the week. Come home, unpack, and if at all possible, begin the prep work. Wash those veggies, chop them up, and store in your refrigerator. Put the recipes in a binder or folder where you can find them easily. Dust off the Crock-pot and have it sitting on your counter, ready to go. Once the kids are in bed tonight, if you have a bit of energy left, you can even go so far as to prepare one of those slow-cooker meals, dump the ingredients into the removable crock and put into your fridge. You're done. Pour yourself a glass of wine or a cup of tea, sit back and relax. Come Monday, when the usual morning chaos ensues, you'll be prepared. You'll wake up, put the crock into the pot, plug in, turn on, and go! When you walk through the door after work, errands, whatever, hungry kids clamoring for food & attention, you'll be greeted by the scent of a home cooked meal, wafting through your kitchen. Ahh..doesn't that sound nice?
Number two: get the kid involved. Time and patience permitting, bring them along while you shop sometimes. If old enough, give them part of the list and their own shopping cart, let them gather up some of the items. When you get home, have them help you unload and perhaps do a bit of prep work. Even little ones can wash veggies and place them in containers. When it's time to cook, let them measure/stir/whatever, and perhaps set the table. This makes them feel part of the whole process, gives them some necessary skills for the future, and allows them to take pride in their contributions toward the family meal. It makes the whole process more enjoyable, I think.
Last but not least, relax. I know, easier said than done when the pressure's on, everybody's hungry and all you want to do is collapse on the couch. But your attitude is everything. It sets the mood for the family and has a direct impact on whether or not dinner time is going to be a relaxing, peaceful experience or a stressful one. If you're calm, they will follow suit..eventually. And if all else fails, if the recipe flops or you forgot to defrost the tofu, so what? Laugh it off, order a pizza, eat it at the table with cloth napkins and real plates. Turn off the tv and have a conversation. In the end, when they are all grown and out of the house like mine are, that's what you're going to remember. The time spent, the laughs shared, the stories told. That's what matters, and those memories are worth so much more than the ones spent in the fast food drive through lane.