Introducing November's Theme: FOOD.

Feeding the family doesn't have to be frustrating.

When I talk to moms about the aspects of their lives that give them the most frustration or stress, discussion invariably turns to food. Sure, we love to eat it. But what we don’t love is being responsible for it. Whether you’re fretting over trying to get your whole family around the dinner table at once or just wondering why every food label has so many words you can’t pronounce, the food issue these days seems fraught with frustration.

But it doesn’t have to be as hard as it seems.

Now let me be very up front: I am not a great cook (my kids can attest to this.) I’m not particularly knowledgeable about cooking: though my mom shared much of her housekeeping wisdom with me over the years, the most I was ever allowed to help in the kitchen was mixing the instant gravy packet, and consequently I am still very uncomfortable when it comes to certain things, like selecting cuts of meat, for example. I’ve been guilty of spending 25 minutes rounding everyone up and running out for Subway because I “don’t have time to cook” when the reality is that I don’t know what to cook and haven’t made a plan.

So I’m not standing in judgment of anyone! Nor do I think we all have to have perfect organic locally-sourced diets to be healthy and happy. I just know that, the more on top of our food budget and menu planning I am, the more relaxed, confident and efficient I feel–and I also tend to feed my kids and myself a whole lot better. Not waiting until 5 PM to start thinking about dinner eliminates a lot of stress and panic. And it’s a whole lot easier to keep the budget under control when I do some preparation ahead of time.

Here are my Happiest Mom Truths About Food:

  1. A home cook does not need to be a gourmet. I think a big part of the problem with the modern mom’s approach to food is what I like to call “Food Network Syndrome”: we watch shows where celeb cooks (with their shiny, well-stocked designer kitchens and–have you noticed–zero children hanging off their legs) whip up meals using spices we can’t even find at our local grocery stores. “I should be able to cook like that, too,” we sigh. Then, totally intimidated by the whole process, we throw up our hands, toss a box of mac and cheese on the stovetop and call it a day.Disconnect, anyone? I like to look at those cooking shows the same way I do fancy home magazines: they’re mostly entertainment and eye candy with a teeny touch of inspiration and information thrown in. No harm done as long as they don’t make me feel bad about my more basic, more realistic, more “me” recipes.
  2. Learning to cook some basic, simple meals is not a matter of luxury. Modern moms often seem to harbor a sort of pride in being helpless in the kitchen, as if to say we’ve come far enough along that we don’t have to cook anymore and should only do it if we want to (or have the time and money to invest in classes and top-of-the-line appliances.) But as far as I know, there’s nothing in the feminist manifesto about empowerment via fast-food burgers or frozen lasagna. Even if your spouse does the lion’s share of meal prep, having some basic cooking knowledge means you won’t have to resort to 24/7 frozen pizzas if he’s out of town. And even if you’re fortunate enough that you can afford a personal chef or buy fresh organic locally-sourced meals from a local cafe every single day,  I still argue that there’s value in knowing you don’t have to should circumstances change (like you lose your job, or move to a small rural town, for example.)

    As easy as a trip to McD's, but way tastier.

  3. Moms deserve (and need!) to eat well, not just our kids. So you lovingly puree spinach into your child’s blueberry muffins and dice up fresh fruit and veggies into interesting shapes to keep him nibbling–but then you subsist on Diet Coke and fiber bars? BUSTED! Learning to manage your menu isn’t just for the children, it’ll also help make you a healthier, happier mom.
  4. Preparing and eating real food is a matter of investing time and energy until you make it a habit. It doesn’t require special education or training, or even natural talent. Our grandmothers and great-grandmothers ate real food because they had to. We can do it because we want to…it just requires more discipline.
  5. Eating well most of the time means you can indulge in ‘junky’ food the rest of the time…without guilt. There can be a time and a place for everything, including Dino Nuggets and Chef Boyardee.
  6. Some basic skills, knowledge, and planning are all you need to stay away from the drive-thru. A lot of us weren’t raised to know our way around the kitchen, and it’s easy to feel sheepish and intimidated when you aren’t even sure of the difference between braising and broiling (I have been there. Last month.) And since take-out and drive-thru is always an option, it’s easy to put menu planning on the back burner (yuk, yuk) until “later”…but then later never seems to come, does it? In reality, though, you don’t need to master deglazing or braising to whip up some meals that are way healthier and better tasting than anything else you can have in thirty minutes or less.

The Six-Meal Shuffle: Meal Planning Any Mom Can Master

This month I’ll be introducing the Six-Meal Shuffle–coming up with six family-pleasing, tasty, easy meals you can master without working up too much of a sweat before you move on to more complicated menus, based on the idea that there is nothing wrong with eating the same basic things over and over, and that actually, it can streamline everything from budgeting to grocery shopping to actually getting those meals on the table (and convincing your kids to eat them.)

I’ll also be talking to moms and experts, from cookbook authors and foodies to couponing experts and meal-planning gurus, for their inspiration, tips and tricks. We’ll cover everything from eating on a budget and menu planning to actually learning those skills we somehow got to be adults without picking up (whether it’s how to slice a tomato or how to choose a cut of beef.)

I am so looking forward to this month, because I hate for something that should be enjoyable–smelling, choosing, preparing and eating food!–to be relegated to just another stress-inducing task. I’ve definitely let food get in the way of my enjoyment of motherhood, when really, it should be one of life’s biggest joys! So let’s grab November by the spatulas and make a vow to get more comfortable in the kitchen, whatever that means for each one of us. I can’t wait to jump in.

Readers, what are your biggest challenges when it comes to cooking and meal planning? Where do you need the most help–or inspiration?

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