For the Love of Cooking
Today, the world of food looks very different than it did even one generation ago. Grocery stores are stocked full of cheap, processed foods. It’s easier for people to buy things pre-made or pre-cooked because we are a society always in a rush. Both parents are often working outside the home. Mealtime has become a chore, full of reluctance and disinterest. But what if it didn’t have to be that way and you could find joy in cooking? What if it would change your entire view of food, and lure you back to the kitchen to begin preparing meals again? Come here my thoughts on the family space in our house – the Kitchen.
I remember when my kids were babies and just starting to eat food. I LOVED experimenting with baby food recipes. I made all my own baby food from scratch. I never bought one jar of processed food for them. My kids ate everything from fish to sweet potatoes and loved it all! This happened easily, because their palates were so new and with every flavour their understanding of food matured. And guess what? Out of four children, not one of them was a picky eater.
Admittedly, I was a stay-at-home Mom and had more time than some. But having a job outside the home isn’t an excuse to completely throw cooking out the window. Making baby food for a month required maybe 4-5 hours of prep. Buy sweet potatoes, pears, and whatever new foods you want to try. Peel, cook, put in ice cube trays, freeze, pop into Ziplock bags. DONE! When you want to cook a new recipe using a combination of foods, you can just prepare like any other meal.
Even when I was home with my kids, I had four of them in three years. I had my hands full just keeping them out of constant trouble. I was also doing a double degree online in English and Psychology. I was running back and forth to the local collage to write exams, and I was studying or writing every day between naps or whatever shenanigans my kids were up to.
But through it all, I knew the importance of providing my kids with the best possible start in good health. I wanted them to learn to love food and to do that, I had to be conscious of cooking with good food and include them in the process as soon as they could help in the kitchen. The more they learned about food prep, ingredients, flavours, and trying new foods, the more they were accepting of the new foods I would cook for them.
Eating is a lot of habit. Like any habit it can be broken.
Listen to your body. If it tells you that you are hungry, then EAT! Just eat the foods that fuel your body. Start seeing food in a different light. Start seeing it as energy and nutrients. And don’t think that you have to eat Bok Choy every meal in order to be healthy. Enjoy peanut butter. Enjoy your steak. Remember that food doesn’t have to be bland. Good food can taste amazing!!
When it comes to kids and food as they get older, watch for signs of taking back control. As they became individuals, they start to say things like, “I don’t like that anymore.” I’m sure every parent has said to themselves, “How does one who used to eat scrambled eggs every day, suddenly hate scrambled eggs?” It isn’t that they hate scrambled eggs. They’ve simply decided that they don’t want that anymore and it becomes about taking back control and choice. It’s okay for some things, but when it becomes a bigger issue when they sit down for meals every day, then you need to have good conversations about what’s happening.
When my oldest daughter Madelyn was young (maybe 5 years old), she went to her Grandpa’s house one weekend and when she came back, I noticed that she stopped eating green grapes. I always bought green grapes for a snack and she loved them. When I asked about why she wasn’t eating them anymore, she said, “Grandpa doesn’t like green grapes. He only eats the purple grapes.” I’m sure my eyes rolled into the back of my head in that moment, but instead of trying to take away her control to choose, I proposed an experiment called the Food Challenge. She loved games, so I figured I would lure her in.
The food Challenge was that I would buy both green and purple grapes and I would blindfold her and have her try both and tell me which one she liked the best. Now I realized that I had a 50/50 chance of losing this challenge, but it was worth a try to prove my point. She agreed and we did the challenge. In the end she had fun with it, we giggled as she gobbled up both grapes (obviously not concerned about which was which) and then declared she liked the green grapes better. When she took off her blindfold and realized she was holding a green grape, she looked at me and said, “Huh, I guess I do like green grapes after all.” And she went back to eating them like she did before. My entire point was simply to prove that just because her Grandpa didn’t like green grapes, doesn’t mean she should suddenly stop eating them. He was a very impressionable person in her life and without thinking about how it would effect her, he made a comment and voila, that was enough to deter Madelyn off green grapes. This kind of mentality can create habits in children that lead to picky eating.
Kids come up with all kinds of strange ideas around food. It is so challenging as a parent to constantly try and foster healthy habits. But the main challenge is when as parents we don’t eat the way we should. Monkey see, monkey do. If you don’t eat fish and you never cook fish, chances are your kids won’t ever eat fish or enjoy seafood because it’s never introduced to them. It’s not to say we can’t dislike some foods. But beware of how much your choices dictate how they eat also. Having fast food every week is going to foster that habit in your kids. They will start to ask to eat out more. It’s normal. Most eating habits start with the parents.
My kids never got juice when they were little. I just never even offered it to them. I didn’t buy it, therefore they didn’t even ask for it. There was no option. It was water at the dinner table. Many years later, I bought a jug of orange juice. Guess what happened? They began to ask me to buy orange juice all the time. Some rules were strict. Water at the dinner table. Zero arguing. And I truly got zero arguing. But the second there are other options or you give once on this rule, they will take a mile. It’s how children see the world. Options give them choice and we have to remember that while some choice is healthy, we still need to be the parents. We have to know what’s best for them when they are young and provide choice when it is warranted and set the rules when it is necessary.
Food used to be about basic sustenance. Now it’s about entertainment and convenience. Friday night rolls around and we are feeling exhausted and lazy and don’t want to cook, so we order pizza takeout. It’s completely fine to do this once in awhile, but when it becomes easier to order out or pick up fast food several times a week, it grows into a bigger issue. That’s where our relationship with food breaks down. We are shoveling food down without appreciating what it takes to get it to our plates. We grab it and go. More often than not, it isn’t even satisfying, and we are left wanting more food. Cooking in the kitchen forces us to slow down at least one thing in our daily life and with that comes a more mindful approach to eating. Does it require more time and work? Of course it does. But we can play music and dance as we prepare food and encourage the kids by showing them how important cooking food from scratch is.
On the flip side, when we make food all about entertainment, then we are using socializing with friends as an excuse to over-indulge. We dine out and eat more than we would ever cook at home. We eat desserts and drink alcohol and dump more calories into our bodies than necessary. In our house, desserts are almost only special occasions and or when my daughter Emily decides to bake (which is one of her hobbies).
I remember when I was a kid my parents taught me that if you didn’t eat your dinner, you didn’t get anything afterwards. It didn’t traumatize me or starve me when I didn’t get desert or a snack later. It simply was the rule in my house. If I didn’t want to eat what was being served, that ultimately was the consequence.
Yes, there are circumstances in which you will see a child naturally steer away from something. Take heed of these observations and have conversation around them. Emily has from a very early age, eaten very little meat. She will eat chicken and sausage and a few other meat products, but I saw that Emily was inclined to avoid meat. Instead of making this an issue, I simply began conversations with Emily about why she didn’t want to eat meat. I explained the importance of protein and gave her other protein options. She loves salmon and she will eat chicken in small amounts. So we give her options because we would rather foster healthy eating options for her in this case. She’s our more challenging child at the table. But there is some choice because we need to find a way to help Emily still eat protein.
With Carter we saw some sensory issues with food when he was a baby. He had an over-active gag reflex and would throw up when eating mushy things like mashed potatoes. We took note of those things and just gave him different texture options. He ate potatoes cut up instead of mashed. No biggie.
Pizza nights are maybe once every few months. Take out is reserved for logistical challenges like being away over the dinner hour or working late. But we try and keep our schedule open at supper time. Take out is also a treat. So when the kids get a fun pizza night they appreciate it and see it as something special, not expected.
A year or so after I separated from my husband and was on my own with the kids, I decided to try Hello Fresh and then Good Food. They are meals that come delivered to the door in boxes. The ingredients are measured out (so no waste), the recipe comes in a step by step card format, and the food is fresh. There were so many options to choose from every week. This renewed my love for cooking.
We’ve all been in that place of being bored cooking the same things over and over again. We’ve all dreamt of having a personal chef. But these food boxes helped spice life back into the kitchen. New ideas, new foods, new tastes. The best thing that came about was that my kids could follow the easy instructions and make the meals with me. As they got older, they were able to make the meals completely on their own. So I started giving them nights when they could cook all on their own. It was incredible to watch their love for cooking flourish. It taught them to appreciate food more when they had to prepare it. It taught them skills like how to cut with a knife, how to work with the stove and oven safely, and how much work goes into providing good meals for the family.
I know that some people believe these boxes are too expensive for the average person. I was a single Mom of four kids when I started ordering them. I had just started a new business and certainly did not have a lot of money. I did the research and price compared and there really wasn’t a huge difference if I went to the grocery store and bought all the ingredients. Do you pay a little more for the convenience of having it brought to the door? Yes. But was it worth it for me to not have to come up with new ideas on my own and or go grocery shopping all the time for supper ideas? Yes. I highly recommend these boxes to anyone who wants to enjoy cooking again. It made it so fun to experiment with new foods and different sauces and spices. It began a love for the kitchen again when the mundane meals grew tiring. It’s been almost five years since I started ordering these boxes. I don’t order them every week. I pick the ones we want. But I consistently get these meals every month and it’s made my life so much easier.
One of the biggest challenges to healthy eating is grocery shopping. There are so many options down every aisle now that it leaves us never knowing what to get. Too many choices!! But have you ever noticed that the fresh foods and main food groups are around the perimeter of the grocery store? Not actually down the aisles. The options for processed foods are insane. There are literally 30 different options for crackers! If you stick to the outside walls of the store, you will be better off.
Read Labels – I can’t stress enough how important this is in our world today. You never know what is in food until you start to understand how to read labels. The ‘low fat’ craze years ago made us think we were doing ourselves some good in reducing fat, but we discovered that those products were just packed full of sugar instead. Fat isn’t the enemy. Our bodies need fat, just good, unsaturated fats. Trans fats are the ones that will clog up your arteries. Eat nuts and seeds, avocados, and olive oil. Good fats are essential for healthy brains. Good fats are what make us feel full and satisfied after we eat. They reduce cravings.
Look at the caloric values of foods on the labels. It would probably astonish you to see how many calories are in some foods. The average daily calorie intake for a woman is 2,000. A man is 2,500. That’s if you are trying to maintain weight. If you want to lose weight you have to reduce that further. So now take those yummy croissants they have smelling all fresh in the bakery section and look at the calories of ONE. It can be upwards of 300 calories. It’s about the same for an entire chicken breast. Which one offers more nutrients?
Read the labels! Know what ingredients are in the food you are buying. Can you understand the ingredients? Are their dyes and artificial flavours? The less processed the food is, the better for you it will be. Food is always going to be healthier in its most natural form. If we have organic options, we opt for those almost always. We especially watch where our meat comes from.
If you spend the time to read labels and understand more about what is in food, you’ll be so much wiser when it comes to what you put in your shopping cart.
New Year’s Day 2021, my partner Will and I were relaxing by the fire in our favourite log cabin in the woods. He read me some excerpts from an article he found about mindful eating. For those who aren’t aware, Will suffered a brain injury several years ago and suffers from Post-Concussion Syndrome. He quite literally had to re-learn so many basic skills in order to join society again. As part of his rehab program, he had to learn how to slow down when he ate and they taught him how to be mindful of what he put in his mouth. Chew slowly. Taste the flavours.
Will lost 60lbs in the months after his injury and he began to recover. His rehab taught him so much about how to slow down and watch what he was eating, and without his driver’s license he began walking everywhere.
I read the article he gave me on mindful eating. I was fascinated how easy it was to refocus on eating at the dinner table. So we took that mindset home to the kids. We started asking them about the tastes they had when they ate their dinner. We asked them to slow down and we started talking more at the table to force them to put their forks down in between bites. It created a calmer dinner environment, but also lots of engaging conversation. Never mind that it helps with digestion and a better development of your taste palate.
Whatever you do in your kitchen is valid. Everyone’s lives are different and the abilities of one may not match the other. This isn’t a competition. But can you find ways to foster better eating habits and a fun environment in the kitchen so that your kids and you learn to appreciate cooking more? Start small and you’ll find before long, you are enjoying chopping, singing, and the kids will see that in their lives as a positive. It’s the first steps to changing how they view food and meal prep. Happy Eating to you all!