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?
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
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:
- No reading the menu out loud.
- Mommy offers some choices; we discuss who gets what.
- Actual meat without breading is always preferable to deep fried foods.
- Everyone should try to eat a vegetable other than French fries.
- 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!).
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.
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.
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.
- Chickpea Wraps
- Chicken Barley Leek Soup (can be made with rice too)
- Mac and Cheese (from Better Than a Box)
- Black Bean Soup
- Veggie Bean Burritos
- Black-Eyed Pea Casserole (from The Everything Beans Book)
- Chicken, Rice and Green Beans (from Better Than a Box)
- Check out all the family-friendly recipes here at KS right HERE
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.
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.