I've been having a handful of conversations lately with friends and family about food, everything from where to get groceries, meal planning, if organic is worth it, recipe ideas and more. It's got me thinking more and more about how Mike and I eat and how much it has changed over the years.
But first, a little background: I grew up eating a lot of processed foods. Totino's Pizza Rolls, Frosted Mini Wheats and Toaster Strudels were regulars on the menu, and the few times my mom served a salad, I slathered it in ranch dressing while still struggling to choke it down. Nothing against my parents at all, with both of them working, they were doing they best they could. And in their defense, our house was the place to hang out, because we had "all the best chips in the pantry and gatorade and pop in a mini fridge downstairs." So I grew up knowing nothing about food, only thinking that Ramen Noodles and Suddenly Salad could be made complete, well-rounded meals by adding chicken to them.
I was probably always a bit overweight in high school, and I definitely gained the freshman 15 when I ate dorm food my first two years of college. Then I got an apartment with friends and started having to cook my own meals. Over the course of about a year, I lost about 10 lbs. without trying, just slowly learning to cook my own foods, encouraged by my roommates who definitely did not consider Ramen Noodles a dinner. Then I moved to Minneapolis and was suddenly immersed in a "foodie culture." Farm-to-table restaurants littered the street corners and farmer's markets were in every neighborhood. I discovered the world of blogs right around the time I got married, and slowly, over time, bloggers like Sonja and Alex from A Couple Cooks, Annie from Annie's Eats and Angela from Oh She Glows convinced me to purchase ingredients like tahini, eat a vegan meal, and make my own pie crust. I lost another 10-15 lbs. over the course of a few years, not trying, not really even noticing. The only change was changing my diet. For reference, (and I can't believe I'm sharing this) I was a size 8-10 in high school, a 12 in college, and today am a size 4 on a good day, a 6 over the holidays. I tell you this only to show you how much diet matters. I'm actually less active than I was in high school and college when I ran cross-country, played basketball and ultimate frisbee. Now the only thing I do for exercise is the obligatory SAHM daily walk around the neighborhood.
It didn't happen overnight, or even in a year, it was a slow change, one that when I really look back, probably took a good five years or even longer. I didn't even realize what was happening until my family started making comments about how "healthy Laura cooks," or how, "Laura probably never eats this stuff (referring to processed foods) at home."
For the record, I definitely do still eat processed foods, but I have changed. I'm more educated about what goes into my body, I care much more about what I eat than I did in high school, things like Totino's don't even appeal to me anymore and I love a good salad and I rarely - if ever - add ranch.
When we were first starting out as a married couple, I - like lots of wives - had the adjustment of learning to cook for my husband, making sure he felt like I wasn't spending too much on our grocery bill, and my worry about him comparing my food to his mother's. I still wasn't a very good cook back then, but I was brave. I was fearless in the kitchen, and over the course of the next four years, I'd learn to make all homemade bread, make our own cereal, work with dry beans, and know the difference between farrow, spelt, quonia, couscous, and more. Slowly over time we found that we started eating about 75 percent vegetarian. Part of it was just because it was cheaper, and part of it was because I found myself reading more vegan and vegetarian blogs and making recipes from them. I'd try anything - weird ingredients didn't scare me, and as I learned how to read and follow recipes (There is a real way!) multiple steps didn't make me nervous and I started to enjoy my time in the kitchen. It became a way to relax and wind down after a day at work.
In 2011, through our small group, Mike and I were challenged to create a family mission statement and vision and among other (much more important things) we started talking more about food and what we eat. Through our conversations, it became clear that we both desired to create a healthy culture of food in our family. While we ate quite differently growing up, both of us had one thing in common - family dinners were of the upmost importance. And that was something we wanted to continue to keep a proiority in our family going forward. We also wanted our children to have a positive relationship with food. I don't believe I did growing up, nothing was specifically done to make it bad, but nothing was done to help me form a positive attitude towards it either. Because food is such a big part of everyone's life no matter who you are, Mike and I felt that we should be intentional and thoughtful about it. Beyond just sharing a meal each evening, we desired for our family to connect on the topic of food on many levels - how food is produced, prepared, and its affects on our bodies.
We didn't want to be obsessive about it - we had seen the other side too and wanted no part of it: People who won't touch processed foods ever, bring their own foods to events or gatherings (or make other people cook special things for them), or deprive themselves and their children of all sugar/gluten/etc.* We believe that for most people a balanced diet of all the food groups is best, and that if we eat 80-90 percent "healthy" the other 10 - 20 percent don't matter too much. Which means you'd better believe you'll see me eating Sun Chips and ramen noodles (I just can't kick the habit!) and chocolate cake and loving every single second of it. That's also our goal with Eli. If we feed him healthy at home 80 - 90 percent of the time, I don't care what his grandparents or aunts and uncles give him. He definitely had cookies and ice cream and sugars of all sorts before he was one - I'm fairly certain my dad gave him ice cream when he was about 6 months old - and I honestly don't care. It's ridiculous to try to control everyone else and it almost seems that because we're open with what Eli eats, people are not as crazy about trying to sneak him an entire cookie.
We actually don't talk about how we eat all that much unless someone directly asks us. We don't want people to feel pressured to have to feed us a certain way, or make sure their foods are "up to par." I remember when I didn't know anything about food and I honestly thought people like that were snots, and I don't definitely don't want to make anyone feel bad about their food choices. But at home, food is a priority for our family. That means setting aside a budget for groceries that can afford healthy, wholesome and quality ingredients, and (particularly for me) setting aside time learn about cooking and baking, making gardening a priority, making things homemade when possible, and to simply become educated about food.
Because it seems like many of you have an interest in how we eat, over the next couple of weeks I'm going to smatter in a few post with more of Mike and I's thoughts on food and the way we handle it in our daily lives. Lots of you ask me for recipes, and just like the whole "style/fashion" issue, recipe development and sharing really isn't my thing, but I'll definitely be sharing how I find and select recipes, and some of my favorite places to get them. I have a few other things on the docket to share, but I'd love to hear if if any of you have other specific things you'd like me to write about and I'll add them to the list!
I do want to reiterate, we're not crazy, extreme health nuts. I like to think we have a pretty balanced view on food and don't lean heavily one way or the other. We try to make good choices overall, but if you look in my pantry, there are more of processed foods then I care to admit. We're always working on getting better with what we eat, and particularly for me, working on having a more positive relationship with food. I'm not an expert and can only share my story - but I hope that in doing so it will challenge some of you to become more thoughtful with what you eat and how you shape your family's views on food.
*Just to be clear, I am not talking about people with allergies or intolerances or those that choose to be vegetarians. There are valid reasons to avoid certain foods!