I Am, In Fact, A Short Order Cook
“Do your kids eat that?” is the question that is frequently posed to me when I post a picture on social media of some culinary marvel that I’m eating. (I’m joking on the “culinary marvel” part; I’m the laziest (healthy) cook in America, remember? I’m just talking about tabbouleh or quinoa, or something.) But the bigger question is really this, “Does everyone in the family sit down to the same meal or do you prepare different foods for different family members based on individual preferences?” Weigh the pros and cons of each side and decide where you come down. Routines that are consistent with and that reinforce your family values are what create an emotionally healthy eating environment, not necessarily the rules themselves.
Like most things having to do with parenting though, there are a whole lot of opinions flying around, and a fair bit of judging others too. I offer a typical exchange I’ve had on this subject as an example:
“My kids have two choices for dinner,” a friend said recently. “Like it or leave it!” In her house she makes one thing for dinner and your choice is eat it, or don’t eat. Okay, that’s fine. I tried living that way for years and the end result was something I now find unacceptable. I call it “Eating to the Lowest Common Denominator.” Here’s how it evolved (or more accurately, devolved) at my house.
When my kids were little I would make a “kid-friendly” dinner for them when we returned from work, school or errands, then make dinner for my husband and myself upon his return home from work later in the evening. By that time I’d spent roughly three hours in the kitchen preparing and cleaning up, and in my case eating. You know, a bite here, a nibble there. Just to make sure it tasted okay. The kids’ food looked so good and I was hungry too. But that wasn’t my dinner because I was making something more sophisticated for us grown-ups. Of course, by the time the grown-up meal was ready I’d consumed enough calories to count as an entire meal. As years passed and two more children joined us, and my husband became even busier, I dropped the pretense of a grown-up meal entirely because my husband frequently didn’t return home until quite late and had usually already eaten. In my case this meant I ate whatever I’d made for the kids. Granted, I could have made healthier fare. I could have insisted they try more sophisticated dishes. But I’m a people-pleaser at heart and I hate confrontation. I caved because I didn’t want to fight with them about dinner. Everyone was already stressed out by that time of day and in the face of all of these demands I chose the path of least resistance. We all ate whatever was deemed acceptable by the most finicky among us. We ate to the lowest common denominator.
Not surprisingly this kind of food is fattening and I believe it is deeply dissatisfying. I’m not really sure why; maybe it’s because it’s not real food. All this highly processed junk just doesn’t nourish us in the same way that real food does.
But as I lost weight I decided that I was worth the time and effort it took to prepare food that I found highly satisfying. I discovered that the more satisfying I found my food the less I needed of it.
I also let go of the idea that we should all eat exactly the same thing.
Alas, in my house this means that I eat different food than my children by-and-large. My oldest children, when they’re home, will gladly eat one of my amazing salads or some other culinary wonder that I’ve created, but the younger ones still crave the classics. These are usually much healthier versions of the “kid-friendly” foods I used to prepare, but it’s a pretty standard American menu. I, however, do not want to eat that way. So I don’t. In essence I am a short order cook. I prepare food for the kids, separate food for myself, and if the man is home for dinner later that evening, well, we’ll scrounge up something for him too. It’s rarely a Norman Rockwell-type of experience and it may not suit your values or your family, but it works just great for us. And because I’m okay with being a short order cook, I can maintain both my weight and my sanity with relative ease.
Losing weight’s hard, but it gets easier. And you’re so worth it. Go get it!