Finding family around the table

This morning I ran to the grocery store to grab a gallon of milk in fear that we wouldn’t have enough to make it to nap time. While I was walking quickly through the aisles to get to the dairy, I was struck by the sheer volume of prepackaged and canned food. And I thought to myself, What would our ancestors say if they walked into one of our grocery stores today?

I’m not naive enough to think that prepackaged foods have only been around in my lifetime. I know supermarkets have slowly filled their shelves with boxes of muffins and cans of spaghetti-os. But when did we get to the point where the majority of food in the grocery store comes boxed up with the phrase “just add water” tattooed across the front?

I am awestruck at the number of adults (both older and younger than myself) who have never made a tomato pasta sauce before or who eat out for almost every meal.

Don’t get me wrong; I’ve bought my fair share of pizza rolls and other freezer meals. But as I’ve begun to focus more on where my food comes from and what I’m feeding to my family, I’ve identified the need to take a step back and evaluate what we’re actually eating.

It appears, as a society, that we’ve allowed the busyness of our work and family schedules to become priority over our nutrition.

We’re substituting convenience for flavor and health.

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My husband and I both work full time jobs with weird hours and commitments. We have two young children, one of whom demands to be fed at 5pm sharp. We know firsthand how difficult it can be to make a home-cooked dinner every night of the week, especially given a busy, stressful workday. But, we decided that our priority as a family is to sit around the dinner table together each night, regardless of what we’re eating.

Whether you’re able to stay at home all day and cook, you work twelve hour shifts, or somewhere in between, I hope these next few tips help you prioritize real food and real flavor:

On Saturday, make a menu for the week.

Go through each day and figure out if there is anything out of the ordinary planned and pick out dinners accordingly. If you know you’ll be working late or need to plan a workout after work, that would be a good day to designate as a “crock pot” or “leftovers” day.

Go grocery shopping once a week.

After you’ve made your menu for the week and picked out a few meal ideas for breakfast and lunch, make your grocery list based solely on the items you need to cook your menu. Going to the store with a list is crucial and helps eliminate the temptation to pick up a handful of “just in case” freezer or prepackaged options. I’ve found, if we have a menu in mind and we purposefully shop for our groceries, I feel much more inclined to cook what’s on the menu that night, regardless of how tired I am.

Pick one night to be your “crock pot” night.

Crock pots are magical things. You fill it up with ingredients in the morning and when you get home from work your dinner is cooked and waiting for you. There are so many crock pot meals out there on the web; I have faith you can find a few recipes your family will enjoy!

Be realistic in your meal decision making.

I love making homemade pasta noodles. Just because I love it doesn’t mean it doesn’t make a mess of the kitchen or take time to set up and make. A long term goal for me is to – eventually – only make noodles (as opposed to using a box of dried noodles) when we’re having pasta for dinner. Right now that’s not a realistic goal. When my son decides he doesn’t like anything we’ve chosen for dinner, it’s much quicker to whip out a box of dried macaroni and throw it into a pot of boiling water than it is to knead pasta dough and roll it out. Or, if you are wanting to test out a new recipe for dinner, plan that for a night when you know you’ll have extra time, in case something does not go according to plan.

Practice.

I think one reason people shy away from cooking is fear of recipe lingo or that their food won’t turn out as pretty as the pinterest picture. The only way to get better at cooking (like anything else) is to practice. Set small goals for yourself – try out a new recipe every other week; learn what it means to saute, broil, or baste; watch youtube videos or cooking shows to learn some new kitchen tricks.

Forgive yourself.

Life happens. Just because you make a meal plan and shopped specifically for it, doesn’t make you invincible against the rest of the world. Some days, you get extra work from your boss or it starts pouring rain and the commute home takes an extra forty minutes. Don’t take it as a failure if you ended up in a drive through or ordering delivery.

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y’all, I love food.

I love making food. I love eating food. I love sharing food with others around our kitchen table (read this as an invitation to our home for dinner).  I want my family to enjoy their food; not inhale it. That’s why I do my best to cook with fresh ingredients, especially knowing that I can bring in some flavors from our backyard garden.

And I want you to enjoy your food too. So put down that jar of spaghetti sauce and slice up some tomatoes! Cook your food; enjoy the flavor; and find your family gathered ’round the table.

May your hearts be full.

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