By Katrina Richards • May 10, 2010•Writers in Residence
Let's face it, the Food War is raging, the corporate giants that prepare our food are not telling us exactly what they're putting in it or how it's prepared, or how it affects our bodies. I know that pre-packaged foods, fast foods, microwavable dinners, and frozen chicken nuggets are not the best thing to be feeding my hungry little kids.
But, on the other hand, I feel like I have little time for preparing wholesome meals, shopping around for good deals on produce, and even investigating products to see what I'm actually buying for my family.
Another issue is that attorneys have extremely high rates of heart disease and stroke as compared with the general population. I'm sure a lot of that is due to stress, but much of it can be attributed to a busy schedule that requires us to dine out with clients or grab fast food on the fly.
I am not writing about this because I'm an expert. Instead, I'm writing about it because it is an issue on the forefront of my mind every day, three times a day - and I have not figured it out. But I'm trying.
Here are the steps I'm taking to get my family to eat healthier:
I found a delivery service that will bring fresh, organic produce to our house once a week. It's about the same price as buying the fruits and veggies from the grocery store, and maybe even less expensive, and it saves me at least one shopping trip. The website for delivery in our local area is www.totalorganix.com, but I have heard of similar programs in Chicago and other locations.
When I do go to the store, I'm trying to buy things that are labeled "organic" or products that are produced without artificial additives, trans fats, hormones, or other things that are better to avoid. If I don't have them at home, we're less likely to eat them. I buy exclusively whole wheat pasta and bread instead of the bleached white versions. I'm now working whole wheat flour into my cooking instead of using bleached all-purpose flour.
We tried raising chickens in our small backyard in the middle of the city, but that turned out to be a mess. It was fun to watch them grow and we did get a lot of healthy eggs out of the deal (way more than we could eat), but we gave the hens away around the time our last baby was born, because it was too much work to do both. If you're interested in something like this, check out http://urbanhomestead.org for ideas on how to turn your city dwelling into a little farm.
Also on the "grow your own food" side of things, my family has had its own garden for the past few years. The first year I tried it, I was surprised at how a few plants actually grew so many vegetables. Three cherry tomato plants produced enough little cherries that I got sick of them and could not eat cherry tomatoes for the rest of the season, and this was after giving over half of them away. Tomatoes are relatively easy to grow, will grow on your back porch in a pot, and really like it when you put used coffee grounds on the soil around them.
Okay, at this point, you're probably wondering, "How in the world would I have enough time for gardening when I don't even have enough time to cook dinner?" The truth is that other things might have to go. For example, I've turned gardening into quality time with my kids and my husband. Instead of watching a movie, shopping, or going to the park this past Saturday afternoon, my family was outside making rows, sticking seeds in the dirt, watering plants, pulling weeds, and having a very good time. We got a little sun, got a little exercise, hung out together, and did something to help the planet.
Also, gardening is more work up front. If you can take a few weekends in the Spring each year to cultivate and plant, take fifteen minutes every other day to water, and take one morning each weekend to pull weeds (or lay landscape fabric/ mulch to prevent the weeds from growing in the first place), you have enough time to grow a decent-sized garden. A small garden or just a few plants will take considerably less time. Start small and work your way up once you're comfortable with taking care of a garden. If nothing else, start it as a little "science experiment" and then if it fails, at least you may have learned something. Basically, I've made it a priority and I accordingly made the time.
If you don't want to grow it yourself, or don't have the time or space, Farmer's Markets are springing up in towns all over the country. Most likely, there are small-scale farmers that bring their produce to your city at least once a week. This is an excellent place to find locally-grown produce at decent prices. It's also good practice to take your children with you and let them help choose the vegetables - they're more likely to eat what they have picked out themselves.
Preparing Healthy Food
I asked for help from a co-worker (working mom) on this part, because she's much better at this than I am. Here is what we came up with:
Use your crock pot. Throw a bunch of beans or veggies in a pot before you leave for work that day, and you have a healthy, home-cooked meal ready when you get off work. A little preparation up front will go a long way later - just like gardening.
Again, planning is key. If you sit down once a month and prepare a menu, then do all your shopping around that menu, you will save yourself from scrambling for food at 6:00 when you're exhausted and your kids are already starving.
Fresh fruits and veggies don't take a lot of prep time - just wash, peel, and eat.
Know your repertoire and create a staple list of those ingredients. Make sure you always have them on hand, and you will be able to whip up an easy meal on short notice when you are out of other ideas - this will help avoid going to grab fast food in an act of desperation.
Leftovers are a working mom's secret to healthy lunches and saving time. If you cook twice as much as you usually would for each meal, you can eat it for lunch or even dinner a couple days later, or send it with the kids in their lunches. You can even freeze the leftovers (in single-portion containers) and you can take one out and heat it up as needed, when you are on the go.
I have other friends who take one day a month to prepare several meals, freeze them, and they don't have to worry about what's for dinner for the rest of the month.
I, personally, still have a long way to go in getting to where this area of my life is manageable, but I like learning and growing while I take it one step at a time. Over the years, I hope the small choices we're making now will make our lives healthier, more earth friendly, and more self-sufficient.