On Food

Laura at 11D has a post up about the challenges of having a healthy lifestyle, especially cooking a meal at home every night, when you’re in a family with 2 jobs, 2 or more kids in activities, etc.  My own semi-challenge of cooking randomly through Cooking Light’s Dinner Tonight cookbook, a cookbook full of healthy, but easy meals, has been interesting, and I’ve thought about whether I’d do this if I worked full time.  Here are some thoughts, both on my own cooking, and on Laura’s post.

First, because of the challenge, I plan a whole week’s worth of meals.  Generally I plan on 4-5, knowing that one night we’ll eat out or slap together sandwiches at home.  I include in my grocery list snacks and fruit for lunches and often deli meat for weekend lunches or quick dinners.

Second, because I don’t work, I can shop during the week.  Going to the grocery store on a Monday at 1 is miles better than going any weeknight just before dinner time (which was a common occurrence back when I was working).  If I returned to full-time work, I’d do the shopping on the weekend, likely earlier in the day, and probably make it a family event, taking one kid or the husband to help.  The kids are actually great in the grocery store.  They’re 10 & 14, so I let them loose with half the list and they go hunting and gathering while I’m in the deli line or picking over produce.  I can also go to the farmer’s market when it opens at 3 instead of rushing around to find parking or picking over leftovers at 6, just before it closes.  I could easily send one or both kids with some money and a list.  And they’ve done that before.

Third, I’m not starting my cooking at 5:30 or 6, the minute I step in the door.  When I worked, I would literally throw my stuff down somewhere, grab a glass of wine or beer and start pulling out ingredients and preheating the oven (if I had something planned, which I sometimes didn’t).  If a meal takes a little longer, I can start at 4:30 so that it’s done by 6.  Or whenever I need to.  Today, for example, I need to get some meat into a marinade around 3.  I could never do that if I worked.

So those are good things.  We can eat healthier in part because I have time to plan, shop and cook.  But fourth, my grocery bill is through the roof.  Before, I bought whatever was on sale.  Some months, I could keep my grocery bill for the month around $400-$500.  According to a book I’m reading right now, the USDA recommends $650/month for a family of four.  Currently, with my focus on grass-fed met, organic everything, and buying whatever ingredients I need, I’m spending double what I used to.  Go ahead, gasp.  I did.  Part of the difference is made up from not eating out.  We order pizza once a week or every two weeks, around $30 for all of us.  Mr. Geeky eats lunch out, but I eat at home, so all the money we used to spend on that is going into to groceries.  Can we afford this?  So far, yes, and Mr. Geeky and I agree that buying the food we’re buying is not only good for us, but hopefully good for local farmers, the earth, etc.  But, there are a lot of people, even people with similar incomes to ours, who would never spend what we do on groceries.  They may have higher mortgages or car payments or private school to pay for.

Laura, and many of her readers, raised the issue of picky eaters.  When I was growing up, we pretty much ate whatever was on the table.  And my mom had a rule that even at guest’s houses, we had to take three bites of something we had never tried or thought we didn’t like before declaring we weren’t going to eat it.  My sister was a very picky eater.  She wouldn’t even eat pizza.  She survived most of her childhood on vienna sausages and ketchup.  No extra meal prep for Mom and she was pretty happy.  Mom still tried to get her to eat something, but there was always vienna sausage to fall back on.

When Geeky Girl got to be about 6ish or 7 and Geeky Boy was 10/11, we instituted a rule that if you weren’t eating the prepared meal, you had to make your own, parent-approved dinner, usually a peanut butter sandwich.  You were required to try the meal first before barging off to make a sandwich.  While we’ve had a few situations where one or both kids have ended up making a sandwich, generally the work involved is enough to get them to try whatever’s on the table and most of the time, they like it enough to eat it.  What’s also helped with Geeky Girl, who is by far more picky than Geeky Boy, is that she helps me cook every night.  Geeky Boy has helped on occasion as well.  Once you know what’s in something, you tend to be more inclined to eat it.  We made a soup the other night that had broccoli, spinach and edamame.  It was the greenest thing you’ve ever seen.  If I’d just put that on the table, no way would Geeky Girl have eaten it.  But since she helped make it, she ate a whole bowl.

It’s taken a long while for me to develop any kind of routine about cooking and really getting my head around what it takes to make more than just a piece of meat with heated frozen veggies or pasta and jarred sauce.  I think I could shift the work if I were employed, but it is certainly nice to have the time to make these meals.  I agree with Laura, though, that someone needs to write the book about how to eat the way Pollan, et. al. suggest when both parents get home at 6.  Most cooking shows and books aimed at that audience doctor jarred and canned items, which may be better than fast food, but just barely.

8 Replies to “On Food”

  1. I love both your posts. I might be able to write that book if I had any time. 🙂 But seriously for me it came kind of gradually where I stopped using recipes exactly; I plan ahead but based on the food, not the books. Then I use the books to make the food.

  2. I know people who swear by Six-o-clock scramble (thescramble.com). I’ve never used it, but the few recipes I’ve seen from it involved a can of something or other. Not that I’m above eating food out of a can/jar, but we’re trying hard to limit this. (Though I’m all about pasta sauce from a jar.)

  3. Anjali–i’ve found some good organic spaghetti sauce in jars–course it’s usually twice as much as regular sauce. 🙂

  4. Jenn–that’s the way I normally cook too, so this cooking through a whole book–even not in order–is a little weird for me.

  5. I have forever and EVER found dinner planning/prep the hardest part of adult life. Of course it was easy to fob off when it was just me, and still pretty easy before kids, b/c spouse did more than half the cooking, and we did it together, and it really didn’t matter if we didn’t eat until 8pm. But now? We fall into food ruts, and then we claw our way out of them, and I feel like I spend hours cooking a meal that is done in twenty minutes (if that), and believe me, I don’t gasp at the implications about your grocery bill b/c ours is at least as high. Food is one of the highest items in our budget, because fresh fruit and veggies for five people are not cheap, nor are humanely raised meats, and …

    Well, don’t get me started. If I ever won a lottery, the first thing I’d do is hire a personal chef, so I never had to think about meals again.

  6. LOL, Jody! I’d love a chef, though I do really like cooking, so I’m torn. I’d rather have someone clean the toilets and showers. As the kids are getting older, prepping and cooking is getting a bit easier. At least I can be more flexible about time rather than before, when they had to be in bed at 7:00 and so dinner had to be at 5, so we could bathe and read and all that before bed. Now, if dinner’s after 7, as it often is, there’s still plenty of time just to relax. And no bedtime routine to rush through! Your costs may go up in the coming years, but your work will likely decrease a bit as you can recruit help, etc.

  7. Hi “Geeky Girl”. Love this blog post and I can totally relate. Let me know if you’d like a free one month trial to The Six O’Clock Scramble menu planning system. We offer it to bloggers who want to give it a try and post about their experience using it. Good luck with your daily dinnertime Scramble!

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