Growing up in a rural Midwestern town in the 60's, I remember family meal time at dinner very well. My favorite meal as a child was great northern beans fixed with a ham hock and eaten with corn bread. There were 6 of us, and usually, we were all there at dinner and ate whatever my mom prepared. (Admittedly, there were just a few things I didn't like as a child, and more than once was required to “sit there until you eat it.”
My husband and I upheld the tradition of the Family Table, especially at dinner time throughout the raising of our four children. We can all look back fondly at some of the fun dinnertime moments, and even some of the meals...like the time we had just moved to Fort Devens, Massachusetts. We had $80 to our names to spend on groceries for two weeks and we had to buy even the basics like salt and flour. I bought a bag of pinto beans and some flour and we ate a lot of bean burritos (with homemade tortillas). Instead of a hardship, our kids, especially our son, who loved bean burritos, was in hog's heaven.
Then there were the “Special Nights”. This was a tradition I started when the kids were very young, and we kept it up until they were mostly all moved out. Every family member had his or her own special night in sequence from youngest to oldest. They got to choose the meal (usually Friday night) and an activity (usually a game, since we were often stationed overseas and there wasn't anything else to do). In addition to the relationship building we had at dinnertime, this provided wonderful fun, memories and connection. (I'm pleased to say that my youngest daughter has continued the tradition with her husband and two young children. Her activities are a little more varied than ours were.)
If I haven't inspired you yet with my reminiscing and rambling, then allow me to share some thoughts with you about why the Family Table is so important. Studies show that the benefits of eating together as a family include better relationships, better grades for kids in schools, and kids being less likely to get involved with drugs and alcohol. Wow! With results like that, why is it that the majority of Americans eat fewer than five meals a week together? It seems to me that most young Americans have been seduced into the current trend of eating out, buying prepackaged foods and eating individualistically instead of in unity. The trend follows the current mantra: Instead of “Out of many, one”, it's “Out of one, many”. We find ourselves busy, separate and alone; being swept along by the tide and not even realizing the consequences of our actions.
The solution? A return to the Family Table. That means that we must make it important in our lives and a priority. That also means that some meal planning, shopping and preparation will support the Family Table habit. It may even mean working less overtime, taking time to plan ahead, and letting go of some of those after school activities. But it's worth it!
Here are some other benefits of the Family Table: Better relationships (given that you take the time to talk); Learning social skills (things like don't speak out of turn and chew with your mouth closed); Social graces (don't complain about the food and eat what is served); Developing a varied palate (children will learn to eat a variety of foods when served a variety of foods); Better digestion for all (especially if you take plenty of time for your meal and enjoy a relaxed environment).
As mentioned before, supportive measures for the Family Table include meal planning, shopping and meal preparation. These activities also lend themselves to corporate activity. Allow children to be involved in these activities as soon as they are able. This also generates more skill and relationship building.
One other benefit that we can extrapolate from the Family Table is better health. Fast food and prepackaged meals are notoriously fraught with chemicals. When you plan and execute your own meals, you can greatly reduce this threat. In addition, with some careful planning and consideration you can also greatly reduce your exposure to pesticides, herbicides and antibiotics in food by choosing organic and avoiding plastic packaging when possible. This will equate to better health, fewer doctor's visits, better behavior in school and possibly a drastically different outcome in health down the road.
I encourage you reverse the trend toward separateness and build your family. Proverbs 14:1 says, “The wise woman builds her house, but with her own hands the foolish one tears hers down.” Resist the trends of the day to go in separate directions, eat different things, eat out frequently and avoid family meal planning, preparation and sharing. Build a “together” family, one meal at a time.
You might also enjoy this online article titled, “The Importance of Eating Together”:
One of the biggest challenges for families who decide to adopt a healthier lifestyle is how to convince the kids to give up their favorite foods. After all, the kids weren’t in on this decision, and now they suddenly have to eat oatmeal instead of Coco Puffs. The following are some considerations for helping kids of different ages adapt to your new lifestyle.
First and foremost, is to establish your goals and reasons for your own lifestyle change. In a marriage, this should be a joint decision. Mom and Dad must be in agreement on this. Kids will fight tooth and nail to undermine the authority of mom or dad, but they recognize and respond better to united authority.
Secondly, be careful to have a positive attitude about the changes you are implementing. If your kids hear one of you complain about what you are eating and lamenting the loss of old eating habits, children will immediately see your own uncertainty and “play that card.”
Third, is to realize that children have used food as an area of power struggle since the advent of choice. You can expect some battles based on this alone. If you are really convinced that you are doing what is best for you and your family, then don’t waver from that decision, but show sympathy and consideration for the child who is required to adapt to it.
Now, with these things in mind, let’s talk a little more practical. I like the slogan, “Educate before you legislate.” Any child who can talk can understand your reasons for making changes if you can speak on their level. A family council might be in order for families with kids of school age and up. Share with your children (with mom and dad present) why you have made the decision to modify your eating habits. Then invite your kids to participate in planning for healthier eating. This process will likely take some time and several meetings. You didn’t learn about healthy eating in a few minutes and neither will they. You would be responsible to set the parameters; then they can choose foods that are within your allowances. If kids have choice, they will feel more empowered and less resentful about changes. Weekly menu planning is an excellent way to include the whole family in decisions.
As a suggested parameter, I like making healthy eating your habitual diet. Foods outside the definition of healthy (refined sugars, flours and oils) can be for special occasions. Your kids (and you) will have tons of opportunities to eat outside the boundaries of “healthy” as they and you participate in real life (school, birthday parties, holidays, eating out, etc.) So the meals planned for home, and the groceries brought into the house should mostly fit within your goals. You could take this a step further by inviting your kids to make a grocery list, and then participate in the shopping afterwards. (I remember giving my complaining middle school daughter the responsibility of planning the meals for the week. I then gave her the job of making a grocery list and shopping for the groceries. I gave her a set amount of money that she could spend. I still recall the intense look on her face as she walked through the store with the calculator in one hand and her list in the other. This real life experience helped her realize the weight of responsibility of weekly food shopping and preparation.)
Another way to include kids in decision making is to let them look through cookbooks, pick out a recipe and join you in the preparation, or if they are old enough, they can fix dinner for mom and dad. My son and I had many wonderful conversations together in the kitchen from about fifth grade through his junior year. (Then he got too busy with sports and girls.) He liked to cook more than any of my three daughters, so he was a great helper and friend. I encourage you to invite your kids, males and females, into the kitchen with you as soon as they can safely cut up cucumbers. (My son makes homemade bread, holiday pies and Saturday morning pancakes for his family now.)
For very young children, I like the idea of making food fun. If you arrange fresh strawberries and bananas into a face on a whole grain pancake, and add a dollop of unsweetened yogurt and a drizzle of maple syrup, your kids won’t rebel at the idea of “healthy” eating. If you are trying to convert them from Jiffy peanut butter and jelly on white bread to organic natural peanut butter and whole fruit spread or honey on whole grain, then take the edge off by cutting the sandwiches into fun shapes. (Remember also that you have included them at least somewhat in the decision making within your parameters.) Make a list of healthy foods and let them choose from that.
Healthy snack ideas for kids include organic peanut butter or almond butter on bananas, whole grain crackers with organic cheese, dried fruit, (Make sure your raisins are organic since they rank at the top of the list along with peanuts as the most highly pesticide-laden foods,) fresh fruit, pears and cheese or apple and cheese, raw vegetables with peanut butter or a yogurt or hummus based dip. In times past, a typical after school snack might be a sweet potato with butter. A piece of Ezekiel bread with butter or nut butter would be very sustaining. Stay away from salted and roasted nuts. The best way to prepare nuts is soaked and raw or lightly roasted in the oven. Pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds can be prepared by stirring in 1 teaspoon of olive oil and roasting in a skillet on low heat until lightly brown and fragrant, or roasting dry in the oven or skillet, and may be lightly salted with sea salt. (These are usually available through co-ops or buying clubs.) For those who tolerate dairy, unsweetened organic yogurt with flax seed, fresh fruit such as blueberries and a drizzle of maple syrup or raw honey is delicious, (or add ¼ teaspoon vanilla instead of fruit.)
Finally, for kids who are old enough to understand, they should know if your decision comes from your conviction to honor God with your body. Invite them to do the same.
Eating healthy means different things to different people, but in this article, I will give you many helpful tips for eating quality foods that provide protein, healthy fats and carbohydrates. You will find money saving tips and delicious recipes that will stretch your food budget. Use the same principles and create your own money saving recipes!
General Money Saving Tips
Meal Planning Tips
You can save money by planning meals ahead. You will be less likely to feel the need to eat out and less likely to spend impulsively at the store. Begin by planning around food you already have in your freezer or pantry. Another way to plan is by considering what is in season since those fruits and vegetables will be cheaper than when out of season. Thirdly, use cookbooks or the internet for recipes, make a list, shop and prepare meals ahead if time if time is too short to cook during the week. This can really cut down on impulse buying, eating out and feeling the need to purchase prepackaged foods. One book that is a great resource for meal planning and preparing ahead is The Stash Plan (Your 21-Day Guide to Shed Weight, Feel Great, and Take Charge of Your Health) by Laura Prepon & Elizabeth Troy.
Tips for Getting Quality Protein in Your Diet
Quality protein is one of the most expensive foods in our culture, but worth buying to avoid pesticides, toxins, hormones and antibiotics. Animal source proteins contain the most complete profile of amino acids (building blocks) for maintaining your body’s strength and health. However, you can also be healthy by eating a little animal protein with other plant protein sources, which tends to cost less. Buy 100% grass-fed and pastured or wild-caught meats and fish and combine these with grains, beans, nuts, seeds and dairy to “stretch” your budget. The following recipes are some of my favorites that combine these foods for economical and healthy protein. The possibilities are endless.
Country Style Soup
½ cup dried green split peas, soaked overnight
½ cup dried navy or great northern beans, presoaked overnight, or for 8 hours
½ cup dried lentils, soaked overnight
¼ pound nitrate-free turkey, chicken or beef sausage or hot links (spicy tastes great!)
2 quarts water
3 medium potatoes, sliced (may omit for low carb or substitute turnips)
3 carrots, sliced
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves fresh garlic, minced
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon thyme
1 teaspoon dried sage
½ teaspoon pepper
1 small green cabbage, chopped
1 pound nitrate-free turkey or beef hot dogs (opt.)
Soak beans for 12-24 hours before cooking. Drain and cover with fresh water 2-3 times during this soaking period. Cut sausage into ¼ inch pieces and brown. Add fresh water, rinsed beans, onion, garlic, salt and pepper, thyme and sage. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to the lowest setting, and simmer covered for 1 ½ hours. Check white beans for doneness, and continue cooking if not tender. When beans are tender, add potatoes, carrots, and cabbage to soup along with hot dogs, if desired. Return to a boil and cook 15-20 minutes longer. Delicious served with whole grain sourdough bread.
Notes: A soup bone is a good flavor alternative in place of the sausage. Also, this soup can be frozen.
Tips to Stretch Your Food Budget
Traditional cultures used the whole animal. Here is a very economical way that you can use a whole chicken to feed a family of four, for at least 3 main meals:
Cut up a whole chicken. Use ½ of the breast for stir fry. With the other half breast, thighs and legs make chicken and rice. Then with the back, wings and bones from the legs, thighs and breast, make a bone broth, and then a soup. (Recipes follow)
Note: A whole chicken can cost anywhere from $3.00 for a conventional chicken on sale, to $20.00 for a pastured, locally raised one. Buy the best that you can afford, with conventional being at the bottom, then hormone, antibiotic free, then organic store bought, then local, pastured the best. A real pasture-raised chicken has higher levels of the fat soluble vitamins A, D and K2, has a better balance of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids, and if fed ideally, will have no genetically modified residues or pesticides. Even organic store-bought chickens may contain chemicals such as chlorine used to wash them.
Chicken Cashew Stir Fry
1 chicken breast, deboned and sliced into small pieces
1 bunch broccoli, peel stalk, and slice into very small florets or pieces of stem
1 medium onion, sliced
4 ounces mushrooms, sliced (optional)
½ cup cashews (whole or pieces)
2 tablespoons arrowroot or organic cornstarch
Tamari (wheat free) soy sauce to taste
1 tablespoon grated ginger (optional)
Oil for stir frying, coconut, macadamia or avocado
Stir fry chicken breast in oil on high heat until chicken turns white instead of pink (takes a few minutes). Remove from pan and set aside. Add two tablespoons of oil to the pan and add the broccoli pieces. Stir fry for about two minutes (broccoli will start to turn bright green), then add the onion slices and stir fry another two minutes. Finally, add the mushrooms if using and stir fry another 2 minutes. (Times are approximate. The goal is to have the veggies be tender crisp.) Stir in the cashews and grated ginger; add the arrowroot mixed with 1 cup of water and stir until boiling and hot. (Add more water if desired.) Stir in about 1 tablespoon Tamari and serve over brown rice or quinoa. Pass the Tamari.
Chicken and Rice (Serves 4-6)
1 ½ cup brown rice, washed
2 cups water
1 tablespoon whey, yogurt, kefir or lemon juice
1 additional cup water or chicken stock
Assorted chicken pieces (suggested ½ breast, 2 thighs and 2 legs)
1 medium onion, chopped
1-2 stalks celery, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
3 large carrots cut in 2 inch pieces, optional
EITHER 1-3 teaspoons curry powder OR 2 sprigs fresh rosemary and 2 sprigs fresh thyme or ½ teaspoon dried thyme and ½ teaspoon dried rosemary
1 ½ teaspoons sea salt and pepper to taste
Soak rice in water and whey overnight. When ready to cook, pour off soaking water into a large cooking pot with a tight fitting lid. Add the extra cup of water or stock and bring to boil. Stir in rice, chicken, onion, celery, garlic, carrots and seasonings, and return to boil. Stir once again; then reduce to a simmer and put the lid on the pot. Cook about 1 hour, or until the rice is done. (You may also cook this in the oven (covered) on 350 for 1 ½ hours.
Chicken Bone Broth
1 whole chicken back, 2 wings plus any additional leftover bones
Water to cover
2 tablespoons raw apple cider vinegar
1 small onion
1-2 stalks celery
4-5 peppercorns (optional)
Bring water and chicken to boil over high heat in large pot. Skim off any foam for about 5 minutes. Add the remaining ingredients; bring to boil, and then reduce to simmer. After 2 hours, remove chicken with a slotted spoon, cool and take meat off the bones. Refrigerate the meat for later use.
Return all the bones to the pot. Either transfer to a crock pot or simmer on top of the stove for 12-24 hours. Strain the liquid from the bones and vegetables, cool and refrigerate. You may freeze this broth or use in recipes. (You may discard the bones or use a second time for broth.)
1 tablespoon olive or coconut oil or butter
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 carrots, peeled and sliced
2 stalks celery, sliced
1 can (28 ounces) stewed tomatoes
4 cups chicken broth
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley or 2 teaspoons dried
2 teaspoons dried basil or 2 tablespoons fresh, chopped
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 ½ teaspoons sea salt and pepper to taste
1 can kidney beans drained (or cook your own to save money)
Reserved chicken from making broth, chopped
1 medium zucchini
1 cup macaroni pasta, whole grain or gluten-free (optional)
Parmesan cheese for garnish
In a large pot, put the oil, onion, garlic, carrots and celery and cook about 5 minutes over medium low heat, stirring frequently. Add the tomatoes, broth, seasonings, beans, and zucchini. Simmer for 30 minutes. Add the pasta and reserved chicken, and cook for 10 more minutes, until pasta is done. Serve with cheese for garnish. As with many tomatoes dishes, this is great leftover!