Creating Happy Meals (the kind that don’t come with a plastic toy)

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Being a mom had caught up with me. My kids and a demanding job were consuming every ounce of energy I had.  And while weaning my daughter, I had developed what I thought was a sensitivity to gluten (but I didn’t actually have time to figure out.)   I knew I was consuming more refined sugar and caffeine than I should be and I wasn’t feeling great about our family “meals”.  I wanted to feel more energized, inspired by food and like I was role modeling good eating habits for our kids.

So, after leaving my job last year, I’ve been on a quest to improve my health and well-being, which includes cleaning up our family’s diet. It’s not like we were eating chicken nuggets and chips every meal, but I knew there was lots of room to improve how and what we were all eating.

And I realized through this process that in the space of a few years, we had gone from shopping/cooking/meal planning for two adults who ate a handful of meals  at home every week to four people (two of whom were rapidly growing) who ate the majority of their meals at home.  And as the current Director of Operations for our family’s food planning and execution, I needed some reinforcement and a strategy.

For my birthday this year (at my request), my husband gave me a bundle of meetings with nutritionist Gennis Lafayette.  I recently finished my last session with Gennis and feel like I’m in a much better place food-wise. More to come on that journey in future posts! (Side note: gluten-sensitivity symptoms seem to be gone.  Chalk it up to either the daily probiotic I’ve added, cutting out refined sugars largely or more “rotational eating”.)

Below are the meal planning strategies and tips I’ve gathered from working with Gennis combined with feeding a family over the past few years:

-With our schedules these days, I don’t plan what we’re having every night, but I plan/shop for 3-4 meals week. I also figure one night of leftovers. And I always have a couple of “back pocket” meals (frozen salmon burgers, scrambles, etc.) I can make on the fly.

-Recipe organization: I recently started using Pinterest to organize recipes I find online.  You can check out my Pinterest recipe board to check out some new and old favorites.

-Stock the freezer.  I’ll often make a big meal on Sunday night and freeze leftovers (or double the recipe)

-Still on my to do: join a CSA and use my crock pot more!

And here are a few rules/tips we’ve come up with in our house around food/mealtime:

House rule:  You don’t have to eat everything but you have to try everything.

Tastes change over time. (Case in point: me in stir-up pants in 80s.)  Maybe they don’t like tomatoes tonight, but they might next month.  Keep trying.

Involve kids in the meal process. I know this isn’t always possible and involves extra time and messes, but eventually it pays off.  My son now sets the table (sort of) and my daughter is learning her vegetables (when she’s not spilling things.) Other ideas include looking at cookbooks or food magazines together and helping with grocery shopping.

Be realistic. I loved Dinner:A Love Story. I think it’s the only cookbook I’ve ever read from start to finish.  One of the pieces of advice Jenny Rosenstrach shares is not to expect everyone to really sit down at the table for more than a few minutes until your youngest is about three. That was really helpful for me to hear.  Also, take-out pizza once in awhile is ok.  Sometimes that’s the best we can do.

Get their feedback. I’m by no means saying you should cater to your kids every whim, but talking to them about what they like a to eat helps involve them more (and also is a good segue into discussing nutrition and food choices.)  There was a fascinating piece in Wired this week on how San Francisco Unified School District brought in IDEO to re-design their school lunch. One of the things they did was get feedback from students on their experiences and what they’d like to see.

A few happy meal ideas on rotation in our house these days:

Pasta with sausage and greens

Chicken enchiladas, beans & salad

-Sushi, edamame, miso soup (I’ll grab some california rolls, inari and other veggie sushi from our local Japanese market)

Slow cooker chicken curry & fruit

-Salmon burgers, roasted broccoli and cous cous

Bon Appetit!

 

 

 

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2 Comments on “Creating Happy Meals (the kind that don’t come with a plastic toy)”

  1. bridgehousing
    May 2, 2014 at 4:09 pm #

    great post! We just joined a CSA – Live Earth Farms and it dramatically increases the amount of greens we eat.

  2. hlspain
    May 6, 2014 at 12:17 pm #

    Thanks! I just signed up for Eating with the Seasons. Pick-up is close by and you can select what you want (or don’t want!) Hopefully it’ll spur us into eating more veggies like your fam. xo.

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