It started five months ago with the discovery of Dinner A Love Story and has culminated in rethinking how our family ate and how we didn't. I took inventory of the pantry (more on that later) and decided to get serious about making some changes. Our pantry was in decent shape but it could still use some tweaking. I went back and forth between fad and extreme diets and knew that if this was going to be a successful and meaningful change that wasn't the route. I chose the route of quality, moderation and reality.
Quality. Make sure that we eat the best quality food either organic or local and most things from scratch. The boys adapted easily to this. Out went the Quaker Oats granola bars they loved and in came the home made granola bars using whole, organic ingredients. As the main grocery shopper and the head chef, I have complete control over the quality of food in our home. I monitor the grocery list a bit more closely and pay just a bit more for organic apples and strawberries. Has our grocery bill increased? Yes, probably by about $25-45 depending on the weekly menu but I would say about 90% of what we have in the refrigerator and pantry is organic or local. We joined a CSA to provide our family with organic and local produce, meat and eggs. Our first delivery will be in 6 weeks and am excited about trying different veggies and learning to cook new meals with them.
Moderation. This is the most challenging for me because when something is delicious it is hard to stop eating. I worked on my mindset and focused more on being comfortable with having another bite but not another serving. The boys have not had much of an issue with this either. Our general family rule has always been healthy before junky so they know to have an apple, banana or glass of milk before they indulge in a cookie. And honestly, the rare time they do ask for a second cookie, we let them have one. I don't want them to feel deprived and they have gotten to the point that they know a third or fourth cookie, as tasty as it sounds, isn't the best choice for their growing bodies.
Reality. Life will sometimes make things more challenging and when that is the case, I don't sweat it. We have pizza night at our favorite local pizza restaurant when we've had a tiresome day and can't seem to get dinner on the table. I have Annie's organic granola bars stashed away in my car to feed my little boys when hunger strikes. I don't stress out over the candy in party bags or the birthday cupcakes served with juice. If we've done our smart eating most of the time then the 10% that we don't follow it is fine.
Where has this gotten us? I sit with the boys for dinner most nights. Our "selective" eater is slowly making headway on trying new things--he recently gobbled up some fish I made. Our weekly menus are varied enough so they aren't boring. This was never about weight loss or food deprivation but more of an acknowledgment that we have choices and freedom in how we eat and we are going to exercise them. More than that, I want my sons to grow up with a sense of real and wholesome food. I want them to know what rising bread smells like and have it become second nature to them to reach for a pan as easily as it is to call for chinese food to be delivered.
Once the guidelines were set I turned to Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything Cookbook. My weekly menu planning is made easier with the book. I open it up, pick out pasta, meat, poultry, fish and bean recipes and that's that. The grocery list and menu get written on our blackboard and we are ready for the week. I throw in a dessert to keep things fun, a couple of favorite family recipes and leave a bit of room for eating out.
I feel like I have finally cracked the code to feeding my family. I don't want to sound preachy. I know that every parent does their best to feed their children so this isn't a wagging finger about the dangers of McDonalds and Hamburger Helper. This is, simply, an outline of what helped us. I searched the internet for so long trying to resolve the dinner dilemma and always felt like I was behind. We weren't too far off in the food department but it was often cyclical and that was the big problem. I would go through cooking binges and then not be motivated to make anything more than some scrambled eggs or the same meals from week to week. Once I was able to think of our food priorities and come up with a simple system it worked.
Tell me, how do you get dinner on the table for your family?