Monday Mission: Enjoy Your Food

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Enjoy Your Food

French Fries fried in tallow

Your mission, if you choose to accept, is to specifically focus on the deep enjoyment that food can bring this week.

That doesn’t mean you have to eat junk food and compromise eating well…because real food can be wholly enjoyable in the right company, with the right attitude, and with the right recipes or raw materials.

A fresh strawberry, for example. (Ours are finally in here in Michigan, and I keep wondering how the things from California that we can buy in stores can even share the same name as these juicy sweet morsels of summertime!)

A salad with feta cheese, chopped red onion and peppers, sunflower seeds, avocado, raw vegetables, and a garlicky homemade dressing on top. Score even more for local lettuce.

Homemade French fries, grassfed grilled burgers with lots of fixings, and fresh asparagus sauteed in bacon grease in a cast iron pan, especially made sweeter if you’re eating it as a request for a 5-year-old’s birthday dinner, accompanied by chocolate milk made with homemade syrup.

Do You Enjoy Your Food?

strawberry picking 2011a

After the last few weeks of food exploration and common sense questioning, like talking about what kind of strawberries to eat, whole grains vs. white flour, and “how much is too much?” when it comes to things like eggs, almonds, and coconuts, a friend asked me this question:

“Do you enjoy food?”

All the information and counter-information was wearing her down and making her feel like nothing was safe (or fun) to eat anymore.


It’s very much in my nature to overthink things – everything – but not everyone is cut out for the extent to which I continue to explore food.

And honestly, sometimes all that knowledge does make me hate food.

From the purchasing (decisions) to the planning to the hours I spend in the kitchen preparing and then cleaning up, there are definitely times I hate food and hate eating, and I really hate that I can’t just get out of it for a while. We can’t just stop eating.

Real food is a lot of work, from the sourcing of direct-from-farm products to the vegetable cutting, from the preserving of local bounty to the simple fact that making everything from scratch has to take longer than opening a package, no matter how efficient you are.

Most days it’s just a part of our lives. If I don’t stand back to assess the fact that the rest of my neighborhood is not spending an hour preparing dinner (or more), I don’t worry about it. It’s what we do.

Some days I’m quite simply proud of what we’re doing. I count my blessings that I can be a stay-at-home mom (or more accurately, a work-at-home mom) with time to create from-scratch cooking on a daily basis. I look at our balanced, hot lunches and think about the positive food habits my kids are forming. I watch other kids eat practically nothing while mine gobble up veggies and dip and all sorts of healthy fare, and I make a silent act of praise and thanksgiving.

And sometimes I look around in  horror at what families around me are letting their kids consume (McDonald’s and concession stand fare at baseball games, for example), and I’m so glad we’ve chosen the nutritional path that we have.

There is the occasional day where I’m just out of steam: I’m behind on everything and really don’t feel like spending one more minute in the kitchen. The Kitchen Stewardship household does resort to eating out from time to time, and last Friday was one of our rare spur-of-the-moment trips.

The Restaurant Factor

at Beltline Bar

Should you let someone else make your food and do your dishes for a night in the name of enjoyment?

If you’re totally stressed out about the time you’re spending in the kitchen or totally exhausted and know your joy would be increased if you went out to a restaurant, then by all means, go for it!

We decided to walk to a local restaurant we had never tried last Friday because the meal I told my husband I was going to throw together sounded like “grazing food” to him. During our decision-making process, my husband said, “But you have to make sure you enjoy it. If you’re stressed out about the food, then it won’t be worth it because we’ll both still come home cranky.”

Okay, I promise.

I can’t say I did very well. I hate reading kids’ menus: lots of gluten and fried foods, very few vegetables, and the ominous chocolate milk.

I was going to try an experiment by having the kids split something from the real adult menu and see how that went, if the portions made sense and if there was anything slightly more nutritious, but I was derailed when my 8-year-old read part of the kids’ menu out loud. That lifted the veil of secrecy I had been using by only sharing with the 5-year-old things I might rather her get, and she latched onto the hot dog.

Arg, worst specimen of fake food possible!!!!!!!


My mistake was in not setting ground rules before walking in:

  1. No reading the menu out loud.
  2. Mommy offers some choices; we discuss who gets what.
  3. Actual meat without breading is always preferable to deep fried foods.
  4. Everyone should try to eat a vegetable other than French fries.
  5. No drinks other than water.

I did manage to read the side dish menu and casually omitted the French fries. What a mean mom. They were both deliriously happy with their fruit cup, actually, and the restaurant ran out of hot dog buns (could I contain my joy????) and offered another side instead, so our littlest one got a fruit cup to himself.

We also learned that he eats enough that we need to start ordering him his own meal instead of sharing from our plates. He’s 22 months, and I think we did the “share plan” with the other until well after two years old, but this guy can EAT.

I didn’t have much fun ordering, because although I’m not opposed to white flour every so often and I really do enjoy a good French fry, this was a homestyle restaurant. I didn’t expect to enjoy the fries enough to bother with them, and everything, it seemed, was deep fried.

I ended up with a burger and carrot sticks as the side. Hubs ordered a steak as he was remaining gluten free.

I just wanted to walk out and not feel a heavy, ucky sensation in my gut like we sometimes deal with when eating fast food or restaurant food.

To our surprise, instead we all went home hungry!

Luckily I had homemade fudgsicles for the kids, so they weren’t too sad (recipe in Smart Sweets, and we’re giving away some of those popsicle molds next week!).

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I’m not sure whether it was less stressful or more stressful to go out than stay in, but I do know this: When I made the meal we traded for the restaurant food the following night, we all nearly died of bliss, it was so good.

I waggled my eyebrows at my husband, who had deemed it “grazing fare,” and said, You see what we gave up last night for the restaurant? THIS is what restaurant food should taste like!

He agreed, and everyone left the table both full and satisfied – and more importantly, happy.

The meal, if you’re dying of curiosity, was bacon, egg and cheese paninis made with some frozen GF flatbread I had on hand (from the Whole Life Nutrition Kitchen), leftover baked potatoes, sliced and fried in home-rendered lard and
butter, and fresh asparagus cooked in bacon grease. Divine. 

3 Tips for Enjoying Your Food

1. Find the right crowd.

tea party

I’ve been slowly but surely working my way through French Kids Eat Everything, and one of my favorite parts is learning about the French way of life. For the French, food is always social and always enjoyable. They take over an hour at the dinner table, on average, and special occasions often warrant 4-hour meals or longer.

And it’s not torture.

It’s the highlight of their year.

Meals are the centerpiece around which social life occurs, during which the best conversations and the best jokes are shared, and they go way beyond nourishment of the body alone.

A French person would practically never eat alone.

So to truly enjoy your food, find company with whom to enjoy it. If you have a family, work to prioritize family meals this week. If you don’t, prioritize inviting a few friends over for a meal.

2. Find the right recipes.

chickpea wraps

There are certain meals that my husband about which my husband will say, “We could have that every night and I wouldn’t complain.” I take that as a good sign that he enjoyed his meal, even if he does eat too fast.

3. slow down.

This is another lesson from the French: eat slowly. Not only will you feel more relaxed and enjoy both the flavors of the food and the quality of conversation more, but you’ll even digest better, as I learned in Divine Health from the Inside Out’s Heal Your Gut eCourse that I’ve been listening to while driving.

Stress and digestion don’t really happen at the same time, because your body will devote its energy into “fight or flight” mode when you’re stressed and ignore functions like digesting food, which isn’t an immediate life-or-death situation. Slowing down your eating, sitting down to eat at a table (and staying there without multitasking), and chewing your food thoroughly all improve digestion and ultimately enhance your eating experience inside and out.

I’m laughing too, don’t worry, busy parents of young children. It’s one thing to write, “Slow it down,” on the screen here, but it’s completely another to make sure dinner is on the table on time to avoid any rushing around and stress.

I admit, I’m horrible at serving a meal with poise, nutrition, and joy. By the time it’s dinnertime, I’m usually behind on my schedule, cranky about something not going right, and the toddler is likely clingy and won’t do anything other than bother me in the kitchen and whine or cry.

Slowing down might as well be a foreign country.

But it’s a good goal, and as long as I keep thinking about it and try to brainstorm some better strategies to avoid the awful dinnertime rush by being proactive instead of reactive, I’ll start making progress.

Savor It

When food is nothing but a formula for health and eating simply something you do to be nourished and that is all, I believe you’ve lost the social and gustatory pleasure of it, and that’s something you need to reclaim.

This week, make a conscious effort, at least once a day. Have a simple breakfast so you can eat slowly and enjoy the simplicity. Buy some fresh local fruit and eat it while grabbing a ray of sunshine. Invite a friend to join you for a meal and savor every bite – of both conversation and food.

Teach your kids the meaning of my 5-year-old’s new favorite word: savor. It makes the good stuff last longer. Winking smile

What’s your plan to enjoy your food this week? (Or how do you already successfully enjoy food?) Teach us!

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18 Bites of Conversation So Far

  1. says

    I keep thinking–when we spend 40, 50, 60 dollars on mediocre food, and the kids eat bread and french fries for dinner–we should just take that money and have an all-steak dinner. Easy to clean, everyone’s happy, and a great meal.
    I have yet to follow through with that plan.

    • says

      I have thought similar! Or why not grab quality lunchmeat at the health foods store that we wouldn’t normally splurge on, pre cut vegs, etc. – “convenience food” that is still real food, you get to eat at home, and there’s still no prep. With a busy toddler, this sounds even more inviting…
      :) Katie

  2. caroline says

    my family dinners (this is when I am visiting my folks) are very similiar to what the french do. It is unusal for dinner to tak less than an hour from the point we sit down to the point we are clearing the table and there are often 2 or 3 of us lingering for a few hours (as long as someone gets a fresh bottle of wine every once in awhile). I find I eat less and am not nearly as hungry after these meals than the ones I eat when I am home – regardless of whether it is McDonald’s or a high-end steak I tend to eat faster when I am alone, probably because there is no one to talk too.
    I grew up with a stay/work at home mom (she was a flute teacher a couple afternoons a week in additional to all her normal mom duties) who made just about everything from scratch. Even as young children we were eating dinner at 7 or 7:30 becasue she thought it was important for us to eat as a family so we waited until my father came home from work. We have candles on the table every night. In our house, dinner isn’t just food – it is an occasion and an opportunity to share ideas and grow closer as a family. When we ate out it wasn’t McDonald’s, Chili’s, or Olive Garden – it was four or five star restaurants where we were expected to behave properly, eat what was put in front of us (no hot dogs or grilled cheese available at those restaurants), and enjoy the experience.

    I compare that to some of my friends that have kids – drive thru and eating in the backseat is often dinner and even when they do eat at home it’s often some frozen meal. I realize that not everyone has the opportunity or the time to cook from scratch every single night (no not even Katie :), I think that is one are where a stay at home parent is a big advantage – I get home at 5:30 and am only feeding myself and fall back on prepared foods waaaay to often becasue I am tired and by the time I change clothes, walk the dog, feed the dog, and start preparing dinner even a 30 minute meal means I’m eating close to 8 PM.

    • caroline says

      Oops hit submit too soon. I think part of the problem in the US at least is that everone seems to be so overscheduled that no one has time for a sit down meal any more. Parent gets off work at 5, picks up kid from daycare at 6, but baseball starts at 7. Even if you planned a sandwhich dinner and everything is already made you still don’t have much time to sit down and actually eat.

      • says

        You are VERY right about the overscheduling. We try not to let our kids be in a zillion things and we still have days like that. We’ve been known to be in the stands at a Little League game with hot paninis, vegs and dip and fruit…all made from scratch and packed! The poor baseball player is the only one who has to eat fast at least. :) Katie

        PS – ‘Becca is so inspiring with her commitment to good food and food culture, and she’s right – you’ll find ways to make it work, and when you’re feeding more than one, it may be easier b/c your motivation will be higher. Cooking for people is a way to show love and care, whereas cooking for oneself can feel like just a chore.

    • says

      Just to reassure/inspire you if you do hope to have kids someday… I have been employed outside the home all my son’s life; he’s 8 now. My friends with older kids and jobs told me I would soon understand why they “have to” feed their kids crap and spend a lot of money on it. But I still don’t understand! I’ll grant it isn’t EASY to find the time and energy to cook–and we certainly rely on convenience foods and restaurants more than we would if we had one parent whose full-time job was nurturing our family–but the majority of our meals are homemade and healthy. Here’s what we ate for 4 weeks recently.

      We had an era when we all got home after 6:30, so dinner might not be ready until 8:00 or 8:30, but at that time our son was a great napper and sleeping late in the mornings, so it was okay to let him stay up that late. When he started going to public school, we adjusted our schedule so that his dad (now working from home) gets dinner on the table around the time I come home from work and then puts in a little more work time in the evening while I’m putting the kid to bed. I cook on weekends and also do some ingredient prep late at night or on weekends. It works for us!

    • Kara says

      I also work outside the home. I try to make sure I’m off at 4:30; home by 5:30. Yes, I do rely on convenience foods more than I would like (my husband is away for the military right now, so I also don’t have as much help as I used to), but I really do try to have a least 3 nutritious, home-cooked meals for myself and my 2 year old a week – and then eat off the leftovers the other days. He goes to bed around 8, so I take an hour or so after he goes to bed to prep the next day’s meal. We eat a lot of casseroles and use the slow cooker a lot. We have eggs for dinner at least once. It may not be perfect, but at least I’m not relying on frozen meals or fast food.

  3. anon says

    I’ve been following your blog for a long time, and I love the healthy eating ideas…especially for families! I think you’re doing a great job as a mom and I know you work really hard to keep the food in your home real and nutritious.

    I’ve been biting my tongue for awhile now, not wanting to appear negative or discouraging, and yet your last few posts allude to my own thoughts about food:

    eating should be enjoyable.

    The last think you want is for your kids to grow up “afraid” of food.

    It’s okay to just go out and let everyone order anything. Really. As my kids have gotten older (pre-teen boys…let’s talk FOOD BILL!) they are making their own healthy choices. When splitting an order of cheese fries gives then the runs, they think twice about ordering it again. But the key is that it’s their choice.

    Healthy eating can become an eating disorder if you’re not careful and balanced.

    Do you ever take a day and go on vacation somewhere (maybe into the city?) and just not think about food at all? Just eat what sounds good as you go along? Order a hot dog from a street vendor and eat ice cream cones?

    If you’re eating well most of the time, it’s okay to just take a day off now and then.

    I hope I’m not coming across as too negative or critical. That is not my intent at all. I think you’re an amazing mother and you’re doing a great job. Just be careful, yes?

    • says

      This is so true:
      “Healthy eating can become an eating disorder if you’re not careful and balanced.”

      I have to work at it to make sure I don’t get to that point – which is why missions like this come up to remind me! I overthink a lot of things a lot… :)

      Thanks for helping me make sure I keep the balance! :) Katie

  4. caroline says

    This is totally OT, but the July issue of readers digest had some interesting articles about organics, and natural medicines, including an article called ’13 things you didn’t know about organic food’

  5. Cori says

    Since my cooking has improved over the last year or so, My husband and I have been disappointed every time we go out to eat or order pizza. Even the fact that I didn’t have to cook or clean up hasn’t been making up for the mediocre, overpriced food. As for my 6 yr. old, all she wants at restaurants is macaroni and cheese, fries, or hot dogs. Gag! I do allow her grandparents to take her to McDonalds a couple times a year, but as a family we don’t really bother going to any sort of restaurant anymore.
    Oh, and I agree, it’s hard to remember that it’s good to enjoy food!

  6. Kathleen K says

    At one point during our family’s “food revolution”, I could barely stand to eat out. CAFO meat, rBST and CAFO dairy, rancid veggie oils made from GMO crops, GMO in the corn and soy, nothing organic, etc. It really took away the pleasure of eating in a restaurant.

    Then I realized. My husband enjoys taking us out. It is his way of saying thank you to me for the work I do in preparing healthy, from scratch meals. It is to give me a break since no one else in the family could cook a complete meal from scratch (we’re working on that!). So I stopped thinking about the bad, and focused on the good. We don’t eat at many chains, usually just local places, yes, we probably consume things we’d be better off without.

    Our boys no longer eat from a kids menu. Even when they were young enough, I rarely let them. We’d order and split adult portions, adding extra sides if needed, or giving a portion from our own plate. If they left still hungry, no big deal, we’d eat again later.

  7. says

    Awwww! Plenty of food for thought – am raising my 7 month old son to love his fruit and veggies but have been hoofing down food without enjoying it myself… I will take time to enjoy some delicious strawberries tomorrow :-)

  8. Jennifer says

    Love this post. I’m an over thinker, too, and my husband constantly spouts out everything he reads about harmful food additives and such as well. I struggle with balancing all of our research and desires to eat healthy with coming home from work pooped out and with an 18 month old wanting and deserving my attention after being at daycare all day. I love to cook, but it has gotten really hard to do it well and enjoy it. I want to stay at home SOOOO bad, for this and many other reasons!

  9. Pam says

    I ENJOY eating out much more than eating at home. I am not a huge fan of cooking and it is more of a chore than something I enjoy. Some days having to make dinner makes me crabby because there are so many other things I would rather do. At a restaurant someone makes it for me and cleans up after us (yay). I also don’t have to wait to eat while everyone else’s needs get met. Most of the time at home, my food is no longer hot, and everyone is almost done before I sit down. Then I scarf my food so the ancy kids can be “excused” to go play or do homework or whatever. Or scarf so we can leave to get to swimming or run errands.

    However, due to finances and in trying to make healthier choices, we eat out less than we used to. It is a daily challenge for me, not only to fit in time to cook a good well balanced meal, but to be creative and find new things that my family will eat. I watch what we eat and do the best I can to encourage good choices as much as possible, but we do not obsess over food. If we obsesses too much, then it is no longer enjoyable. Not to mention, sometimes maintaining mom’s sanity takes priority over anything!

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