My Food Philosophy
Here’s a bit about my approach to food, from ingredients to attitude.
I stock my pantry, fridge, and freezer with whole foods as much as possible.
Most of the time, I cook with whole ingredients at home. That means I am more likely to buy, say, old-fashioned rolled oats than packets of oatmeal. Stocking my pantry with basic ingredients including whole grains, dried beans, and a wide range of flours allows me to stick to my monthly grocery budget and it gives me greater control over what we eat—I can add spices, fats, and flavorings according to the preferences of my family. I opt for whole or low-fat dairy products because I prefer the flavor and think they perform better in most recipes than fat-free versions. (My love of full fat plain yogurt knows no bounds!) And I find it fun to make homemade versions of items you’d usually buy in the store, so you will find recipes for staples including bread, hummus, and sometimes even cheese—but that doesn’t mean I don’t also value the convenience of store-bought versions. I certainly don’t have time to scratch-bake crackers everyday and I don’t expect you to either!
When possible, I use local produce and meat (but I understand if you don’t).
We are lucky to live in an area of central Iowa that boasts an impressive number of local growers—especially for a state known for commodity corn and soybeans. In addition to belonging to a vegetable CSA, living next door to a vegetable farmer, and having our own garden, we are members of a meat CSA that provides us with most of the meat we eat each month. The meat actually costs about $1 less per pound than comparable grass-fed meat at the grocery store, and we value being able to support farmers that we have come to know as friends. I trust our farmers and love that I don’t have to worry about what pesticides or hormones might be lingering in our food supply. (During the winter, I simply do my best with produce from the supermarket and the zucchini and greens that we put away in the freezer.) I completely understand that how you approach these issues will vary widely depending on where you live and your budget.
I minimize added sugars at home.
I have actually become less neurotic about sugar over the years, which I think is a relief to everyone in my household. I still get really worked up about the sheer volume of treats that seem to be everywhere that we go! But once I realized that I can’t isolate my kids from the world around them, I decided that I would do my best to minimize added sugar at home so that I don’t have to worry so much about the food at birthday parties, playdates, and church. This is also just my personal preference as I like my baked goods and desserts to be less sweet. So while I often use fruit to lend sweetness, I also use modest amounts of maple syrup, honey, and yes, even real sugar, in dessert recipes. Sometimes you just need a real deal cupcake, right?
I am not a short order cook.
My family eats breakfast and dinner together 99% of the time, which yes, does mean that we eat dinner at 5:30 (and it also means that us adults have a snack later in the evening). I do my best to serve a variety of foods—whether the girls say they like them or not—so that we don’t get stuck eating the same few foods over and over. When I make a new or unfamiliar food, I always try to pair it with something I know they like. Or, at the very least, have cheese, crackers, or fruit on the table so that there’s something “safe” to eat. I do not cook separate meals except on very special occasions—like when I want to make a special meal for just my husband and I to enjoy after the girls are in bed. We are incredibly fortunate that neither of our kids has had an issue with growth, allergies, or appetite (apart from during illnesses). I do have good friends with kiddos who have those issues though, so you may see the topics addressed.
Mealtime is as drama-free as possible.
I meal plan, use a spreadsheet-based grocery list to help me stay organized, and I post the week’s menu on a dry erase board in our kitchen so everyone knows what’s for dinner. And I follow this advice from feeding expert Ellyn Satter:
The parent is responsible for what, when, where
The child is responsible for how much and whether
No pushing, no making anyone feel badly if they doesn’t like something, no taking it personally if they decide not to eat something that it took me hours to make. I trust that my kids are in tune with their hunger and that their intake will balance itself out over the course of any given week. We don’t talk about “good” foods or “bad” foods, but I focus on flavor and how more wholesome foods will help them grow and run fast (or twirl like a ballerina, depending on the day). I try not to have much in the house that I don’t want any of us to eat to avoid additional power struggles and mealtime is done (at least for her) as soon as either of them starts to play with their food more than eat it.
I happen to be gluten-free—but my family isn’t.
A few years ago, I discovered that eating gluten gives me very intense migraines. I had a temporary reprieve during pregnancy and breastfeeding, but if I eat it now, I’m debilitated for at least 24 hours. I do not have Celiac’s disease, nor do I have an issue being in contact with gluten, so I cook and bake with both regular and GF flours. I love baking with almond meal, buckwheat flour, cornmeal, and chickpea flour, so you may seem those ingredients pop up.
I have two very opinionated taste testers (as well as many friends who regularly enjoy the surplus of what I make) so you can be sure everything is being well vetted, tested, and retested when necessary.
The result of all of this?
I have two girls who are enthusiastic eaters. They do not eat everything I make or serve them, but they are generally happy eaters. One love smoothies, the other has never had more than a sip in her life. One loves meat, the other could take it or leave it. They are unique and opinionated, just as I expected them to be! And they both still make a total mess at the table and I consider myself lucky to get to clean up after them…if amazed how how often I find myself sweeping the kitchen floor!
For me, cooking is both a creative outlet and a way to see the concrete results of my efforts to feed my family—which I find very rewarding especially since I otherwise spend much of my time on the computer editing and writing for work. I love the challenge of figuring out new recipes and spending time in the kitchen, both on my own and with the kids.