This is good advice, I promise.
And no, I’m not upset with my husband and taking it out on men everywhere.
It was my husband’s idea, in fact. (photo source)
As part of the Eat Well, Spend Less series, we’re talking about getting back to basics this month – the basics of eating well – eating real food – and not spending an arm and a leg doing it.
Since KS is already running the Back to Basics Baby Steps Mini-Challenge covering many of our basic, foundational habits, all of which save money while increasing your family’s nutrition or health, I thought I’d touch upon another “basic” necessity in the world of eating: relationships.
Most specifically, the relationship between husband and wife. The decisions about the way a family eats have to happen within that relationship in some way, and if real food strikes marital discord, bringing back the harmony is fundamental to all your work in the kitchen.
I don’t think I’m alone in being the woman who is the driving force of health and nutrition in the family, and I’m pretty sure my husband is not alone in his resistance.
It’s common that as the husband watches his favorite boxed foods dwindle and not get replaced, he becomes concerned. He may complain, question, sulk, or balk the system entirely and buy his own food.
Many husbands also watch the bottom line closely, a good habit, and when they see the food budget expanding, they want to know how to cut the fat. When they hear that the fat now costs $4/pound and you’re buying more of it than ever, along with added expense for raw milk, pastured eggs, and grassfed beef, many men may put their foot down.
It’s important to get the basics down in the kitchen and at the grocery store, so you know what to buy and how to prepare it, but equally important is knowing how to explain what you’re doing to your partner in life.
Transitions: A Husband Comes Around
By way of example, I present to you my husband, four and five years ago, when our journey began:
- computer programmer (Science/Math, as left-brained as they come)
- man of faith
- Crohn’s Disease patient, about 5 years after surgery to remove part of his intestine, no symptoms since
- lasagna lover extraordinaire (never any question what he’d order at Olive Garden)
- regular soda pop drinker
- avid cereal eater (two bowls for breakfast, skim milk, known to grab another bowl for a snack)
- roller hockey player (once a week)
- intermittent exerciser (see above, plus if his friends were around to lift weights, maybe once a month; hates running)
- doting father adjusting to parenting two children
And his thoughts on food and nutrition? Non-existent, other than “Mmmm, this banana bread is good,” or “I don’t like fish.”
Fast forward to the present, and here he is today:
- computer programmer (Science/Math, as left-brained as they come)
- man of faith
- Crohn’s Disease patient, about 5 10 years after surgery to remove part of his intestine, no symptoms since committed to avoiding medication as much as possible for infrequent symptoms
- gluten sensitive (eats a 95% gluten-free diet and knows why); goes all the way grain-free from time to time
- lasagna lover extraordinaire (never any question what he’d order at Olive Garden) but misses his favorites. Olive Garden? Probably chicken, salad, no breadstick
- regular soda pop drinker hasn’t touched a soda in nearly a year
- avid cereal eater (two bowls for breakfast, skim milk, known to grab another bowl for a snack) likely to make eggs for himself for breakfast if on his own; avid soaked oatmeal eater with whole raw milk, raisins and stevia
- roller hockey player (once a week)
- intermittent exerciser (see above, plus if his friends were around to lift weights, maybe once a month) works out 3-5x/week, P90X, Insanity, ran a half marathon last fall
- doting father adjusting to parenting two three children
- 20 pounds lighter
Thoughts on food and nutrition? He makes me proud when he spouts off some fact about gluten sensitivity and why so-and-so really needs to cut grains to see what happens, shows disgust with people eating junk, or believes that fat doesn’t make you fat. There are times I do a doubletake and say, “You know that? I didn’t think you were listening…”
He also eats fish, when I serve a little fish with his spice.
A year ago he went on a business trip during a grain-free time and hardly ate out at all – he cooked bacon and eggs in his room, cut fruit salad and bought yogurt, and he managed to stay grain-free the entire week. The man he was five years ago would not recognize that man (and would probably think he was off his rocker).
When I asked my husband what the strategy was for pulling him off the rocker with me, he said, “It was gradual. I think that was the trick – it’s like that story about the frog.”
Do you know the one?
How to Boil a Frog
If you put a frog in a pot of water that’s just the right temperature, he’ll likely sit happily for you.
If you turn on a burner under that pot and begin to heat the water slowly, the frog will remain in the pot.
The frog is fully capable of jumping out of the pot and making a slimy mess of your stove, but he does not.
The water gets hotter.
And still he sits.
He does not take note of the gradual change in the water temperature.
Eventually, the water gets hot enough that no being in its right mind would enter it, but since the frog was already in the pot, he stays.
He sits happily in the pot until he is boiled alive.
This story is often used to warn people of our toxic culture, how we can become so accustomed to small compromises that suddenly we look around and realize we have become accepting of many sins and immoralities because they seemed “normal” or “better than the next guy.”
In our case, I boiled my husband.
And instead of it being a bad thing, it was a pretty darn good marketing strategy for my nutritional plan for the family.
My husband will say pretty bluntly, “If you had tried to make all these changes all at once, it never would have worked. I would have fought them – and you. It would not have been good at all.”
In other words, I baby-stepped my own husband, Kitchen Stewardship style, into real food and natural living. I slowly boiled him alive…in the best possible way, because he’s now a well-nourished, well-informed eater of real food (who still loves a good hot dog when he can get one).
How You Too Can Boil a Husband
Taking it slowly is definitely the overarching theme of what your strategy needs to be, but there are other components that need to be part of the marketing package along with the timeline:
- Information Sharing
- Trust Building
- Retaining Normalcy
- Demonstrating Results
- Accepting Cheating
Some of this is excerpted from the 2010 post “How to Feed a Husband Real Food.” You may enjoy clicking through to see the rest and reading the comments from wives navigating the waters of real food transitions.
1. Share Information
My husband is a computer guy, an engineer who truly appreciates cold, hard facts. I try to be as up on the science behind the nutrition as I can, and I lay it out for him as plainly as possible. He doesn’t have to know everything I know about what we’re eating, but he wants to know enough to understand why our food budget is expanding slightly and some of his favorite treats are disappearing.
I explain to him how certain foods will keep us healthy and the rationale behind purchasing decisions, whether for the environment or our health. He knows enough to stay afloat about raw milk, gluten, and his own triglycerides. He visited our new milk farm with me and met the cows (much to his olfactory chagrin). But he understands why we trust our farmers now.
My advice for others? Know how your husband likes to think. Talk about food. In manageable bites. He deserves to know.
2. Build Trust
My husband knows beyond a shadow of a doubt that I have our family’s best interests in mind when I work in the kitchen. He sees how much I care, how hard I work, and he honors that in how he reacts to the food I serve. This is not something I can make a bulleted list about for you.
Building trust is simply part of our marriage, based on open communication, prayer together, and a foundation of faith and love. Just as we discuss our family size and our goals for the future, we can discuss our health concerns and desires openly. He hears me pray for our family’s health and for guidance on what to buy and what to eat. He knows I’m doing my very best, and that is of the utmost importance. If you don’t have a foundation of trust in your marriage, stop working on real food and start with your relationship with your husband with God as the guide.
3. Retain Normalcy
Bunless burgers and homemade French fries….Mmmmm…
This step is key to the gradual process. If everything I served was super healthy but didn’t really taste good, and if my husband felt like all of his favorite foods had been stripped away, the emotional upheaval of the sudden loss of tradition, memories, etc. would be too much. He would resent food, and it would come between us.
Here are some strategies:
- I serve tasty alternatives often that he doesn’t notice his habits have been broken. We eat soaked oatmeal a lot for breakfast, which he loves, so the memory of daily cereal was less painful in the mornings.
- I tentatively upgrade certain meals, hoping the end result will be as tasty as the original (or better, in a perfect world). We’ve had great success with Homemade Hamburger Helper, Pepper Steak, and chili, all from Better Than a Box. If I make a failure, I’m generally careful to wait at least a few days before trying something new!
- In the last five years, his tastes has truly shifted, and he now enjoys real food, sauteed vegetables, simple soups, etc. much more than he did previously. I don’t have to be nearly as careful to serve “the normal” anymore, because we have a new normal…and it’s delicious. Change is possible!
- Distract him from the weird stuff with normal stuff. I keep us stocked with frozen fruit to put in our yogurt, which is always available. We eat lots of soups that taste great, and I work Mexican meals in as often as possible because they’re his favorite. Homemade refried beans, guacamole and farm ground beef make for a great real food, husband-approved meal: tacos. I make sure we have hamburgers in the summer and homemade pizza every so often – used to be with soaked or sourdough whole wheat crust, now with various grain-free and gluten-free crusts, none of which we love, but I’ll keep looking.
- I make sure we still have good treats around, but they’re all upgraded nutrition. I’m constantly trying recipes for grain-free or gluten-free baked goods and goodies, and we’ve had some cookies and brownies recently, both grain-free and using low amounts of unrefined sweeteners, that were mouth-watering.
4. Show Results
This is the step that I’ve added since 2010. It took more than a year before I could really demonstrate to my husband that our changes were working. Every situation is going to be drastically different in this arena, because you have to start with whatever health situation you’re given. Here’s what we’ve seen over 4-5 years of slowly transitioning to real food:
- No weight gain: People worry that when they ditch the low fat lifestyle and drink whole milk, plenty of butter, cheese, and coconut oil, that they might gain weight. No one here has gained a pound, and in fact, we’ve seen the opposite.
- Weight loss: By cutting down on and cutting out grains, by exercising regularly, and with one big reduce-food-quantity-intake effort last spring, my husband is down over 20 pounds from his highest weight, and he looks and feels great.
- General health: We get frustrated sometimes when we get wicked colds or other infections, but truth be told, we do notice that we handle the sick season better than many families, and we credit real food.
- Crohn’s symptoms banished: This one was major for my husband. A few years ago, his Crohn’s flared up in the form of chronic diarrhea for two full months. A prescription anti-diarrheal couldn’t touch it, lab tests didn’t tell the doctors anything, and he was starting to discuss permanent medication to treat his Crohn’s.I heard Jordan Rubin, author of the Maker’s Diet and himself a survivor of near fatal Crohn’s, speak about diet, came home, and suggested we immediately cut all grains, legumes, and dairy and see what happened. Within two days his symptoms were 100% under control. Believe me, there’s nothing like results to convince a man that food makes a difference in one’s health. We had to make a radical change to show radical results, but with all the baby steps we had taken up until then, we were ready. (Here’s how we started the new diet, if you’re interested.)
- Twice: The next time Crohn’s started to rear its ugly head, it was the old familiar “rumbling” and “gurgling” in the gut after a meal. Painful, yes, but worse, it was ominous. The pain was nothing my husband couldn’t handle, but he recognized it. It was like seeing that a man with a gun was lurking in the bushes outside your house and being unable to lock the doors or close the windows. Imagine knowing that your children were sleeping peacefully in their beds and this intruder was about to gain entry to your home.That’s what it feels like for a busy father of three when Crohn’s goes from being a memory to suddenly being present every day.Helpless.
We started a new probiotic, and again within two days, the symptoms were gone. They have not returned, and my husband no longer is wondering every day how he will keep up with his children when his gut is wrenching after every meal.
- Triglycerides within normal range: Although we’ve had some up and down shifts, the best triglycerides of my husband’s life were taken when he had put the most work into his own health. He owned it, and he wanted it, so he stayed committed to it. Whatever you can do to get someone you love – no matter who that person is – to invest in their own health, do it. That makes more difference than anything else you can do.
5. Acceptable Cheating
If I flipped out every time my husband had pizza with friends, went out for lunch, or bought a Gatorade on the way home from hockey, we’d have problems. (I get a little worked up but try to tone it down, to be honest. I could do better with the “accepting” part of this step.)
Here’s one example of a yearly “big cheat” that has been a part of our food tradition for ten years:
Every August, I buy all the food for his ten-man camping trip out to the woods. Ten years ago, our only goal was cheap. I prided myself on finding the very best deal on all the white bread and cured meat you see in the photos above, shopping for about three weeks to make it happen.
Since then, I’ve added fresh vegetables and cut fruit to the rotation, but I have no say in the main courses. Did you see all that cured meat? In case you missed it:
The 6 boxes on the right are filled with bacon, if you’re wondering…
When I took those photos, I even titled them “how to boil a husband – camping trip junk food,” because I knew that allowing a once-a-year total gluten-and-cured-meat-fest is integral to keeping the real food dynasty afloat at the Kimball house.
I do make sure we eat a ton of fresh vegetables after he gets home, and instead of keeping the leftovers, I encourage him to give them away to his friends.
Remembering from Whence we Came
When we talk about other people trying to make nutritional changes – or who probably should be trying but aren’t – we both remember what it’s like to be back at square one.
“I get it,” he’ll say. “It’s a huge mental leap from eating whatever you want to cutting all gluten or dairy, or making your own food all the time or whatever. It’s really hard…I don’t think we could ever go from where we were to the way we eat now in one huge leap.”
I emphasize them for a reason, folks.
If all you can do for step one is have a serious talk with your husband about how tempting packaged treats are to you, and beg him to keep his junk food at work so that he is supporting you in sticking to your own goals, then that’s a great place to start.
Keep up the conversations about food, try to find some real results to demonstrate, and make sure you make meals that are pleasing to your husband’s palate at least half/some/most of the time. Use your intuition to gauge when you’re moving too fast or not including enough “familiar” in your day-to-day eating. (Beef tongue fajitas are a good example of something I just don’t tell him about anymore; it sets me back a few months on any progress!)
Stay the Course
When I asked my husband this morning if he had anything to add to the “How to Boil a Husband” tutorial, he said, “Persistence.”
I mentioned, “And tacos and brownies every so often?”
Surprised, he raised his eyebrows and said in wonder, “Oh yeah…I guess that does really help, doesn’t it?”
He didn’t even notice that it was all part of the plan.
Don’t give up on your spouses, good kitchen stewards. Even the most ardent cereal lover can come around.
Use a deliberate marketing strategy for the real food transition, show positive growth, and take good care of your “stockholders.” Your investment in building trust, sharing information and keeping the changes gradual will allow you to form a successful partnership with a common goal, and you’ll be reaping nutritional dividends before you know it.
Check out the rest of the many Eat Well, Spend Less series posts for inspiration, and watch Saturday for a roundup of how the other EWSL ladies are getting back to basics.