Eating Healthy at Home
Preparing and Eating Meals Together as a Family
article by Cindy G. Foust
Happy mid-year mark to the BayouLife nation! As we welcome June with temperatures still in the 50s, we celebrate graduations and school being out for the summer. Really? Yes, just like that, someone pushed the fast forward button, and it’s time again for summer vacations, pool parties and sleep overs.
From a “grown-up” perspective (I’m not sure I qualify as such, so I will use the word loosely), I personally enjoy this time of year from the viewpoint of a “foodie.” For certain, I am a person who gets a kick out of visits to the farmer’s market and stopping on the side of the road for home-grown produce. If you circle anywhere near my very boring and somewhat ho-hum network, you already know that this writer has no hobbies, no social life and no enviable travel schedule (unless travel to a ballpark makes you envious.) Like most folks I know, my days are filled with work and children, which I wouldn’t have any other way, but it leaves very little time for a “hobbyful” (Dr. Seuss, meet Cindy Foust) life.
There is one thing that does give me great joy, however, and makes the hills alive with the sound of music, and that is cooking. I have come to appreciate that cooking either puts a person in a happy place or it puts them in a grumpy, irritable place. Frankly, there is no in between, you either love it or you don’t. For me, that happy place is in my kitchen, performing some new experiment on a shrimp, with my family and friends standing around like the proverbial guinea pigs.
However, not everyone embraces the warmth from the oven, and for many families, the kitchen just becomes the place where your kids set their backpacks. Some of the buzz words in education today are obesity, childhood obesity and healthy eating, and heads scratch daily on what we, (my fellow Americans), can do to change this trend. Many believe that we are too far gone, and it would be impossible to eradicate the damage. Just call me Hopeful Holly, but there is boatloads of research out there, and experts that share the opinion that if families will cook and eat together, it could be a vital step in resolving obesity issues, and not just for children. In my humble opinion, it seems there could be an entire revolution just waiting to happen…and that revolution could start in the kitchen (I’ve got to start with my friend Melanie, who thinks take-out chicken nuggets are a food group.)
I read somewhere that cooking with your children is a “lost art” in households across America today. Common sense supports that primarily because families lead such hectic, busy lives and the family time that probably suffers the most is the dinner hour. It’s just easier to pick up pizza or run through a drive-through. Let’s face it, planning, grocery shopping and preparing meals takes time. How many readers have ever found themselves rushing from work to the grocery store and after trying to decide what to cook, rolling in the garage on two wheels to get dinner “on the stove?” Probably everyone that reads this column. As the research suggested, family dinnertime is a lost art. But that same research says that if families today would slow the cycle down just a bit, and evaluate the value of organizing family meals, prepared some nights by the entire family, what an impact that effort could make.
How so? By encouraging your children to take part in the process, they will be more inclined to try healthier foods. Listen, I’m not saying you have to plan a seven-course meal that includes sorbet and eating with the right fork, but the reality is that good, home-cooked meals are going to be much healthier than take-out. Most people are probably not aware that the average calories for a fast food meal (burger with cheese, fries and a soda) is 1300, and if you add a shake or dessert, it goes up even more. Cooking at home however, reduces the caloric intake drastically, depending on your meal choice (half of a roasted chicken, baked potato and green beans averages 350 calories).
Children that are challenged with weight control could benefit greatly from the extra time and effort it will take to prepare your meal at home. There are plenty of meal choices that the family can make together, that doesn’t include cabbage (I’m not trying to offend the cabbage farmers of America, because I love cabbage), that will encourage healthier food choices that are lower in calories.
I’ve written before about how a person’s general health as an adult is overall improved based on their health as a child. In fact, this could be an entire column, but it’s just the plain truth…if you are a healthy child, chances are you will enjoy good health as an adult. And as with most every column I write, encouraging families to spend time together at every opportunity is just something I am passionate about. Time spent in the kitchen together, preparing a meal is yet another opportunity for structured family time. Hey, I think Ward and June were on to something in the Cleaver household, having meals together, talking about the events of the day. And finally, eating at home is certainly more economical than eating out, so if you need to appeal to the bread winner in the family as you make an argument for the family to gather in the kitchen to bake some chicken, there’s your argument.
All these arguments make for a win-win opportunity. In the words of the great culinary genius, Julia Child, “Learn how to cook, try new recipes, learn from your mistakes, be fearless and above all, have fun!” So readers, get those notebooks out, plan some weekly meals with your family, carve out some time to prepare it together and enjoy your family time around the table. With this extra effort, your family will be healthier, they will begin to look forward to this time and your pocketbook will be fuller. Just don’t be surprised when your friends start comparing you to the Waltons.