Food: I love it. I hate it. I need it.
Life right now is full; full of joy but also full of stress and anxiety and frustration. I have three young children and I am needed constantly. I get a panic attack just thinking of going to the store with a crabby teething baby and a preschooler who throws a fit if I tell him to do (or not do) just about anything he doesn’t ‘want to’.
While I care for our children and maintain our home, my husband works very hard to support us but I manage the bills and budget for the most part. This means I know exactly how much we can afford to spend on food and how much we really can’t.
Unfortunately for our budget and our ‘cash-only’ spending philosophy, my kids and my husband like food. They like it a lot and for some strange reason they think that because they are growing they have to eat more.
I agonize over meal planning first because this requires uninterrupted thinking time and second because I want to provide myself and my family with food that will nourish them and keep their bodies strong and well. But I don’t want to sacrifice taste or my own sanity in the process. Even after I gather enough courage to tackle the grocery shopping and menu planning, I cringe at the thought of trying to prepare a home-cooked meal with a screaming baby attached to my leg (or hip) and wild monkeys flying in and out of the kitchen. So we just don’t eat.
When we do eat, I usually make similar meals over and over and leftovers are my best friends in the meal planning and preparation endeavors. (My husband, on the other hand can’t quite get past the gag reflex and appreciate the economic and time-saving benefits of encore meal performances.) I’m pretty sure my family is onto my depression-era-like food rationing system and they’ll probably turn on me and try to eat me if I don’t make some changes soon. And as much as my baby likes to eat the crumbs off the floor, I know deep down that my family and I deserve better. Why does food have to be so complicated?
Food used to be so simple.
See wild animal. Kill wild animal. Eat wild animal.
Or even simpler: See plant. Eat plant.
Then people got tired of simple and wanted more choices. They not only wanted to eat but they wanted food to be exciting and fun.
So instead of just eating what was already there, people invented new food. They didn’t have to farm and hunt anymore and had more time so they became busy. Now, the newly invented food also had to be quick but still tasty. The food inventors competed to see who could make the coolest, quickest, and tastiest food. The one with the longest ingredient list won a year’s supply of taquitos and pizza bagels. Usually these ingredient lists consist of impressive scientific-sounding words like ‘partially-hydrogenated’, ‘high-fructose’, and ‘maltodextrin’. Every now and then they stick in a normal sounding word like ‘corn’, ‘soy’, or ‘wheat’ so ordinary people can recognize the product as a food item.
Soon people started to get bored with the invented food but they didn’t want to go back to the toil and drudgery days of the hunter gatherer. So the food inventors slapped some new stickers onto their products. Now, as long as it says ‘all natural’, ‘organic’, ‘0 grams trans-fat’, or ‘free-range’, you’ve got nothing to worry about. But since most people are used to the invented food and forgot why the ‘old’ food is good for them, the food inventors make sure to only use 1%-2% or less of the real stuff and avoid using the words ‘fat’ or ‘calories’ whenever possible.
There was a time in my life when I honestly didn’t care about any of that. I call that time bliss. It was an easy life. When I was hungry I opened the fridge and ate whatever was in it. Except for the moldy fruit juice. I drew the line at mold. I lived on Totinos pizza rolls, hot pockets, mini pizzas and pop-tarts. Occasionally I had a breakfast bar or an energy shake on my way to an early morning college class. I’m not sure I even knew what a salad was. Don’t worry though; I had my Raisin Bran and Dr. Pepper was just a fridge-door away when I needed a check-up.
Then I got married and got all excited about being a wife and making dinner for my husband. However, around the same time, bliss kicked ignorance out of my house and filled me in on processed food and its not-so-wonderful after-shocks. So I learned how to cook while learning how to eat.
Thanks to food snobs experts heroes like Krystal Gray, Nina Planck and Sally Fallon I’ve learned many things I sometimes I wish I never knew. I will never be able to look at another cereal box or convenience item again without checking for artificial preservatives like partially hydrogenated oils, BHT, etc, or unfermented soy or soy lecithin, high fructose corn syrup.
In a perfect world, I would only buy grass-fed beef or beef without hormones or antibiotics, free-range chicken without hormones or antibiotics, pastured/free range eggs, and deli meat without added hormones, antibiotics, or nitrates, high fructose corn syrup, or sugar. Every day we would eat fresh fruits and veggies and drink only fresh grass-fed cow’s milk and toxin-free water. Everything would be made with real butter from fresh grass-fed cow’s milk, coconut oil and virgin olive oil would be the only types of oil used in food I made or bought. Sugar consumption would be limited ( or better yet in an even more perfect world sugar would be like gold to the digestive system). Only white whole wheat or other organic grains/oats would be used and they would never be refined or bleached and would be soaked each time before use.
I know the best defense my kids and my husband and I have against illnesses is a strong immune system. An immune system that’s fed crap will eventually act crappy also. And I know that when I don’t eat right or forget to drink enough water, I get all crazy and can’t function and can’t be a good wife or mother anymore. This is especially true when I am pregnant and nursing (which has been the case most of my married life). In fact I hate to admit this but there was a point in my last pregnancy when I was so obsessed with eating only food that was healthy and ‘real’ that I wasn’t eating enough. Thankfully I realized how stupid that was and decided that junky processed food was better for me and the baby than no food at all.
My reality is that we don’t live in a perfect world. I believe all those things are great and I wish I could stick to that food mantra consistently. But no, the reality is that I can’t. Right now, I have a baby who is moodier than a woman suffering from PMS and two other children and a husband who need food, clean laundry, and a mom and wife who smiles and maybe even laughs from time to time.
I wish I didn’t know the truth of processed food and could stalk up on a bunch of convenient processed junk without any amount of guilt or worry about the impact such purchases would make on our monthly budgeting goals or immune systems. Then I could run down to the freezer each day, pick out a meal and pop it in the microwave and voila! I’d have to buy a cape and a hot pink leotard and call myself supermom! Why can’t they just make conveniently healthy food? Oh wait they do but if I spent our money on all organic freezer meals we’d have to sell our house and live in a van under a bridge by the river.
So I decided that I will continue to try my best and plan and prepare healthy and tasty meals as much as I realistically can. I know this time in my life will end and I’ll be able to plan and take the time to double recipes and make my own ‘convenient’ freezer meals. Until then, I push past the guilt and also keep a good supply of sanity-saving meals in the freezer for those times when I just. can’t. do. it. anymore! It will be a new game for me to see how long I can go without using the reserve. Knowing that a ready-made meal is just a freezer-door away will take a huge weight off my shoulders and my family will probably appreciate having food and a happy mom and wife around again.
As much as I hate to admit it, Rachel Balducci, mom of 5 boys and 1 girl and author of How Do You Tuck In a Superhero?: And Other Delightful Mysteries of Raising Boys (Spire Books) is right when she says, “Nothing says I love you like processed food.”