A close friend of mine is preparing to get married sometime soon and she is concerned about all of the cooking.
She asked for my advice, thinking that I’d say, “Oh, it’s a piece of cake!”
But my smile faded and I said, “Honestly, food has been an uphill battle for me.”
It’s not easy to plan meals, prepare meals, and do it all over again (and again, and again, and again) when I just don’t have a natural interest in the art. I have friends who honestly think about recipes when they are driving down the street, or hanging the laundry; and who – wow – get lost in recipe land when they have time to surf the web. Not me. In fact, I never think about food unless I have to. (And unless I’m pregnant and need chocolate, of course.) Since the beginning of our marriage, I’ve invested my share of stress into trying to create healthy, delicious, and inexpensive foods (a near-impossible undertaking, I’m sure of it!). The entire journey has been sheer. hard. work.
Once we had children, food became even more complicated. You know how those little ones start out with no teeth (what to do? what to do?) and then, even once they start to sprout teeth, children can’t shred lettuce for a good seven years! And the snacks! Ugh. Snacks.If I have any gray hair, it’s because of snacks. (I’ve seen photos of children munching “Ants on a Log” happily, not gagging on the celery strings or turning their noses up at the raisins, but I’m convinced that these are posed pictures, taken to perpetuate a myth. This is the one healthy snack all of the healthy-snack-writers like to cheer us up with, “Don’t forget! There’s always Ants on a Log!” However, this has never worked in my home. Never.)
I’ve always planned the week’s meals on Sunday afternoon. That’s my weekly time to spread the newspaper out in front of me, study the circulars and the coupons, page through my recipe books, and hyperventilate. For years, my Day of Rest has had an eye-sore of two restless hours: meal planning.
Over time, I’ve had to accommodate my disabilities, search for solutions, and implement ideas that will make this never-ending job more pleasurable. I’ve learned a thing or two. No, I’m not I’m enthusiastically surfing the web for recipe ideas yet, but I’m content with my job in our home, and I’ve finagled some lifestyle changes that have added to my peace of mind and our over-all happiness.
So, this list is for my newly wed friend and any one else out there who is hungry for some help, concerning food.
1. Surrender to the reality that food requires time. Lots and lots of time.
This has been my biggest milestone.
For several years, I resented the fact that food preparation (the planning, the buying, the cooking, the cleaning) took so much time. Back in the day, I spent this time reading books, running, wandering in the woods, and thinking deep thoughts! But in order to establish some sort of peace with food, I have had to resign myself to the fact that, because food preparation is my job, I must make some mental space for thoughts of food. Then, I had to make some actual time for food preparation – especially if we aim to eat healthy and inexpensively. Lots of chopping; lots of mixing. Once I stopped wrestling with this (and skimping on it), I admitted that investing my mental and physical time on food was a beautiful and necessary change for the well-being of my family. This has brought me lots of peace where there was none.
2. Be as healthy as possible without being as healthy as possible.
For years, we were gluten-free and near-dairy-free. (Hard. Work. ‘Explains my bitterness, doesn’t it?) I’ve been more happy since I’ve calmed down a bit. We make healthy choices when we can, but I’ve decided to relax a bit.
For example, 3 months ago, I bought a loaf of white bread because we were having a slew of children over for lunch. My girls poked at the loaf with wide-eyes: what is this, Mommy? After making edible PB&J sandwiches for the first time in my motherhood, I’m convinced that a loaf of regular old bread is just what the doctor ordered every now and then. And so cheap! And so easy to chew!
Until very recently, I broke my back (and our budget) buying natural, organic, and recycled snacks. And then, one wonderful day, Ryan said, “Is this really worth it? You get so stressed out about snacks and they are so expensive. Our children are very healthy. There is no reason why we shouldn’t have a tub of cheese puffs sitting around every once in a while.” That week during my shopping trip, I entered the regular snack aisle for the first time in a loooong time. I panicked. I sweat. I honestly almost cried. I didn’t know how to pick up a box of regular crackers because I had spent so long believing that they were evil. Truly, I almost passed onto an Oreo Display Shelf. But I chose something, shoved it in my cart, and ran towards the check-out line before I could change my mind. As it turns out, this was a healthy change for me. Since then, we haven’t gone nuts with the junky snacks, but we have saved money and sanity.
3. Plan a weekly menu and stick to it. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Even after I had my dinner plans down-pat, I was still feeling the stress of food. As it turns out, breakfast and lunch were taking their toll on my nerves, too. So, I began adding them to my weekly meal plan. I don’t prepare anything fancy for either of those meals, but I love having a plan – and the ingredients on hand.
I place my meal plan on the refrigerator so that I can remember to thaw meat, cut veggies, or bake bread before 5:30, when Ryan calls and says he is on his way home. If I don’t have the meal in front of my face all day long, I honestly forget about it.
4. Work up to 4 weeks worth of meals.
I revamp this list seasonally and appreciate both the variety and the regularity of meals that I know. For years, I was trying something new every night. Not good for me. Now, I have embraced the beauty of “Mom’s good old standby’s.” Once I have a recipe that really works for 90% of the members of our family, I keep it. It becomes “Mom’s Meatloaf” or “Mom’s Cinnamon Rolls”. I can make the same thing week after week in the name of “Creating Memories for My Children To Return Home To Year after Year after Year.”
5. Find one or two sources of recipes that work for you, and become a faithful friend.
Lots of folks like the Pioneer Woman. I, personally, have found great success following Janelle at Comfy in the Kitchen. Her recipes are easy, inexpensive, and delicious. She offers enough healthy recipes that protect my guilt-o-meter. I trust her implicitly and am always pleased. (In fact, her grandmother’s spaghetti sauce has become my very own “Mom’s Spaghetti Sauce”; Thank you, Grandmother Comfy!)
* Now it’s your turn: What are your tips for making peace with the demands of feeding a family?