This is good advice about husbands and real food, 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.
Ever since I pulled things like serving beef tongue and not telling him (and then successfully doing the same with beef heart), he has given in to the fact that he’s thoroughly boiled. And of course, now that he’s actually instigating dietary changes in our family, I think I can safely say the process is complete.
What’s with boiling him though? It’s about the slow process.
Here at Kitchen Stewardship, our basic, foundational habits all save time and money while increasing your family’s nutrition or health, but there’s another layer to “health” that is important too: 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 initial 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.
I’ve been asked many times to explain how I got my husband “on board” with the traditional foods eating habits we adopted over the course of Kitchen Stewardship’s existence. Is it a nearly universal question?
We’re called to be partners in marriage, so it’s vital that we work hand in hand. The way the man of the house reacts to the food being served can impact not only the peace of the marriage, but also the way the children accept the food and respect the mother.
It is not this way in every situation, but so many of us wives are the ones doing the reading about nutrition and/or following our gut to determine our family’s nutritional goals. What’s a husband to do? When we put something a bit off the grid on the table, do they just have to eat it?
My apologies to the 2% of men out there; this post is not exactly for you. Ladies, read on for inspiration to get on the same page with your husband in the kitchen, no matter what it takes.
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. This is our story in three phases.
The Beginning: He Was a Normal Guy Who Liked His Junk Food
By way of example, I present to you my husband in 2008 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.”
Transitions: Womanly Wiles and a Husband Comes Around
Here are some real stories from the first year of our real food changes, written as they happened:
- When I first started reading about real food in December 2008, I shared information about raw milk with my husband. He listened politely, thinking any big changes would be a long way off. I have a habit of taking a long time to make big decisions. Suddenly by the very next month, we went to the farm and I was asking for his blessing to take the plunge. Poor husband. His jaw sort of dropped, and he grinned sheepishly: “I thought this was more of a pipe dream…” he admitted. And the next month KS was born!
- I asked some friends if they wanted to get into a CSA that summer, and one said, “We’re very interested!! (We meaning me, and I’ll talk my husband into it later.)” and the other replied, “I read your first line to my husband, and he groaned.. Our hardworking hubbies just don’t know how seriously we take the job of care taking their health!!” Is that typical of many homes, or what?
- My husband also had to deal with wondering if I’m hiding something in his food, the results of many various experiments (like tongue and even dishwasher detergent!), and the re-makes of some of his favorite dishes. He can tell when I’ve tried something new; I’ve got no poker face. “What did you do…?” he’s fond of asking.
- He keeps wondering where all the chips have gone, and he looked at our last few boxes of cereal in the basement recently and cried, “That’s ALL the cereal we’ve got left?!” He added in dismay, meekly: “You’ve effectively killed my cereal habit.” This from a man who used to eat two bowls with skim milk, every morning and sometimes for snacks.
The photo of dad and the kids camping is a perfect example of our transition: We’re doing healthy things, being outdoors, hiking, etc. They’re eating apples – but they also had S’mores. (OK, we still allow those, but not daily!) 😉 And in the background, you can see both stainless steel water bottles and Gatorade that he hadn’t given up yet.
- If it hurts your pride and your pocketbook to pay three digits a night for a hotel room…
- If you love the wide open spaces, fresh air, and good old dirt of a campsite…
- If you hate the thought of packing hot dogs….
We’re right there with you. It’s all about real, homemade food, even in the middle of the woods.
We’ll show you how we do camping with four kids…
…just imagine the family memories you’ll make (on a budget) when you head out on your own camping vacation, no matter what ages your kids are!
Beyond womanly wiles and bulldozing your ideas through, what’s a real foodie mama to do to keep peace in the marriage? Sometimes there are a lot of changes to make to transform a standard household to a whole foods diet. It really goes against the paradigm of seducing our men through their stomachs. A good meal is traditionally (and truly!) like a love letter to a man, whether during courtship or marriage.
If you’ve read my story, you know part of the craziness that happened within my own head and in my home as I learned more and began to make changes in our diets. When the dust settled, my husband was tentatively on board.
I probably did some bulldozing. I may have used some womanly wiles (here is one example, see the part about jeans). Ultimately, I do have a few tactics that I can share with the masses. They’re coming. 😉
One funny one from back in this “first year of big real food changes” phase is the veto jar that my friend mailed him for Christmas. You’ve got to have a sense of humor about the whole thing!
Nowadays he just adds Frank’s hot sauce (or the homemade version when I have time to make it)
Real Food Family: Healthy Became the New Normal
Fast forward to 2013 and let’s meet him again:
- 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 (for more health details, read the rather scary story of his family history of heart disease and finding a “new normal” from Crohn’s and more)
- likely gluten sensitive (eats a 95% gluten-free diet and knows why); goes all the way grain-free from time to time starting with this highly effective diet experiment that eradicated his Crohn’s flare-up, proving unequivocally for the first time, for him, that our diet made a positive difference in his life
- lasagna lover extraordinaire (never any question what he’d order at Olive Garden) but misses his favorites. Olive Garden? Probably chicken, salad, no bread-stick
- 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 (read about stevia’s health benefits.)
- 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 double take and say, “You know that? I didn’t think you were listening…”
He also eats fish, when I serve a little salmon with his spicy seasoning for fish.
In 2012 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. He managed to stay grain-free the entire week. The man he was at the beginning of the journey 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).
The Final Phase: Assimilation and Ownership
This phase probably started when my husband did his first Whole30 on his own accord, something he decided to do for Lent to see what happened. The next year, 2016, he convinced a friend to do a Whole30 with him.
Then in 2017 my husband finally read a book that may end up making “health as the new normal” go even deeper, like when a new convert to Christianity starts evangelizing others. He’s already trying to get his own father to read it. 🙂
And our definition of “healthy” may take even more steps away from the mainstream too, if that’s possible (it is). This phase is a work in progress and not one I would expect most reluctant spouses to ever reach, but it’s kind of amazing to know that it’s possible, even if it does take almost a decade to actualize.
You can read more about how this is playing out in our household in the post about our new gut healing diet and how it’s going.
How You Too Can Boil a Husband
The advice finally cometh!
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
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 always 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.
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 served tasty alternatives often enough that he didn’t notice his habits had been broken.
We ate soaked oatmeal a lot for breakfast, which he loves, so the memory of daily cereal was less painful in the mornings.
I tentatively upgraded certain meals, hoping the end result would be as tasty as the original (or better, in a perfect world).
We had great success initially with Homemade Hamburger Helper, Pepper Steak, and chili (Recipe available in The Everything Beans Book), 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 first five years, his tastes truly shifted, and he now enjoys real food, sauteed vegetables, simple soups, etc. much more than he did previously. I didn’t have to be nearly as careful to serve “the normal” after a while, because we had a new normal…and it was delicious. In the assimilation phase, he actually started loving greens, for example, which even after we had done real food for years, he still used to pick out of his soups and stir fries. 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, one of the best of which is this chickpea pizza crust that is crazy good.
I make sure we still have good treats around, but they’re all upgraded nutrition.
I’m often trying recipes for healthy baked goods, and with our changing palates, even grain-free goodies with low amounts of unrefined sweeteners can be absolutely mouth-watering.
4. Show Results
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. At the “New Normal” touchpoint with over 4-5 years of slowly transitioning to real food, this is what we found:
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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. (Read more about the whole Crohn’s Disease and triglycerides story here.)
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 burgundy boxes are filled with bacon, if you’re wondering…
When I took those photos in 2012, 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.
In the years following, more changes seem to be made each time. He takes gluten-free bread now. We’ve upgraded the quality of the burgers significantly. Have you ever read the ingredients on a box of cheap, frozen hamburgers, by the way? Dis.Gust. Ing.
He’s even noticed that he feels bad with all the junk food – an unfortunate side effect of both getting older and eating healthy. But it’s one more way to see and feel the positive power of healthy eating, and he embraces the vegetable “detox” after returning even more.
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.
Partners in Life, Partners in Food
The bottom line in feeding a family, as in everything that has to do with running a household and growing children of God, is that you and your husband must be on the same page, or at least close. When I wanted to start raw milk, he said, “I’m never going to be more in favor of this than I am now. I’m still skeptical…but if you think it’s important, then let’s do it.”
love my husband. In my opinion, it’s good that he’s more skeptical than me, because it keeps me grounded.
It helps me remember that we cannot add a day to our lives by worrying, and that the Lord counts every hair on our heads and will feed us well, just as He cares for the birds of the sky and the flowers of the field. He keeps me balanced, and this is vital in a field where I am constantly coming across conflicting information and research.
Who’s to say what the perfect diet is?
Be a team with your husband; peace in the household is more important than the most perfect meal on the table. Giving up (for a time, with more prayer) may be the answer, if that’s what it takes.
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. If you need another tool have your spouse watch this video where I interviewed my husband on the process. It could be a game changer.
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.