Family Meal Success

Today, all four of us sat down at the table for our evening meal. This is a very rare occurence, probably happening about once every 6 weeks or so at present. It’s also something I want to “fix” – I think families should eat together as much as possible.

In the week, it’s almost impossible to arrange this, as DH doesn’t get in until close to 7pm some nights and rarely before 6pm. The boys are getting ready for bed by 6.30pm, so a family meal doesn’t fit in (unless of course, I push the boys bedtime back, which is a possibility although that would take up some of the evening time I have with DH).

At weekends though, there is no excuse. We are both usually around all the time, so feasibly could eat together as a family at least twice a week.

Today I made (made!) potato dauphinoise, sausages (from the Good Little Company) and broccoli. 10 month old DS2 scoffed the potatoes and broccoli with enthusiasm (much of it went on the floor). DS1 picked at it (unfamiliar food), and after a few mouthfuls and a 15 minute wait, I ended up making him a peanut butter sandwich. My potatoes were a little watery as I used a bit too much milk, and one of my sausages split and left it’s charred remains over all the other nicely browned ones. However! On the plus side:

1) We all sat down together for almost 30 minutes as a family
2) DS2 got to eat proper food, not processed baby food or annoying purees
3) DS1 got to eat try a proper dinner, not a 10 minute quick cook pasta or fishfinger tea
4) DH and I got to eat proper, home-cooked food, that didn’t actually take hours for me to prepare or use up every pan in the house.

So all in all, it feels like a success. I’m going to start recording our evening meals so I can (hopefully) watch them improve over time.

I’m fully expecting the evenings after we have both been at work to be the worst, but on the weekends I know I can do better.

Spending Scrutiny

Something I’ve been thinking about doing for a long time now is tracking every penny I spend.

I already use a program to track my banking transactions (Moneydance for Mac), and have done for years, but I can be a bit non-specific about spending, for example, listing hundreds of pounds worth of “cash withdrawals” over the course of a year. I have no idea where all that cash goes.

And my categories have fallen into habit rather than specificity – I tend to put a lot of things under “child costs:other” and “groceries” simply because I can’t be bothered to tailor the categories now I’ve been using it in a particular way for so long.

So.

I’m going to start afresh tomorrow, and record every single penny. Daily.

Every. Single. Penny.

This will help with the goals of paying off my credit card debt and in saving for when babe no.3 arrives. It will also help us in the long run, as DH and I agreed the other day that we are almost certainly going to start feeling the squeeze in our current house once babe no.3 is running around as a toddler. I know this is a couple of years down the line, but during at least one of those years I will be bringing in hardly anything and we are already unsure how exactly we would ever be able to afford to buy something bigger than we already own.

I need a revised selection of categories, and I need to add a cash account that records literally the cash in my purse.

Lots to do.

Day 36 – Suppressed Immune System

For the second time in my life I have managed to coincide getting pregnant with a child starting nursery.

What is the result of this?

With my pregnancy suppressed immune system, I end up catching everything the kids catch. And when kids start nursery, they catch everything going.

DS2 has managed two weeks before being struck down with a horrible viral thing. He’s coughing and crying, and mucus-y and grumpy. And I’ve got a horrible cough at the top of my chest and knives in my throat and sore skin and I’m exhausted.

In fact, I’ve been so bad the last two days that DH had to stay home from work to look after both of us. So now that’s two of us using up our leave, all because of one sick baby, and one baby that is about the size of a sesame seed :-).

Luckily DS1 has soldiered on, strong as an ox, with no problems (and has even switched out of nappies and into pants this week with absolutely no fuss and more enthusiasm for the idea than I ever thought possible).

So, the washing is piling up. The house is a mess. The kitchen surfaces are dirty and sticky.

And this is exactly how it was, a year and a half ago, when DS1 started nursery and I was just pregnant with DS2. Both of us ill, both of us miserable, and me unable to take any painkillers/cough meds/nuclear strength throat medicine because I am growing a babe.

Man, it sucks being ill when you’re pregnant!

Meal Provision – The Most Intimidating Part of the Day

Is it just me?

I own a lot of cookery books. I’ve cooked for myself since I was 18 (that’s 19 years of experience – something that should surely make me an expert?). I know that home prepared food is better for you. I know how to do the basics in a kitchen.

But what usually happens is this: I mooch around the cupboards and fridge, idly pick up recipe book after recipe book, and feel that quiet, terrifying desperation. I have no idea what to cook if it doesn’t come out of a packet (oh the shame I feel admitting this). It’s all going to take too long/be too much hassle/require the mother of all clearing up jobs.

I look at the vegetables and grains and bits and pieces in my house and have no idea what to make out of them all.

Or I look at recipes and realise that I don’t quite have all the ingredients for any of them.

I have so much food in my house, and cannot make anything with any of it!!!!

Is it just me?

Or do other people feel this terror and despair over having to think of something for dinner yet again?

I knew that overhauling our evening meals was going to be a challenge, but here I am at the bottom of the mountain and I honestly don’t know if I can conquer it.

Where I am and where I want to be are so far apart it seems impossible to get started.

Eating Overhaul: Progress so Far

Well, as you know I cut out sugar and started eating big salads at lunch every day at the end of May. It’s been a month now and I am loving the changes I’ve noticed since I started this: more even skin tone and clearer skin, better sleep, less cravings.

Lunch/daytime eating is now pretty much sorted for me – I love salad and eat it every day happily. I always have it with some form of carb (most recently, a slice of home made bread), plus a portion of protein (fish, nuts, cheese, egg – or a concoction such as a slice of ready-bought quiche).

These two changes alone (removing the sugar and eating a balanced, largely raw, lunch) have been straightforward to implement and the reward of how I’ve been looking and feeling is great motivation to improve my diet further.

This whole eating overhaul has been done (and will continue to be done) in stages. Stage 1, which took the longest time for me to understand, was how a meal should be composed. Not getting this has been the reason for my failure over and over again at trying eating plans and diets.

A balanced meal (in my experience), needs to contain three things:

1) Carbs
Yup. Bread. Or some pasta. But not stuff full of sugar. Why? Because without carbs you can’t fully process:

2) Protein
The. Single. Most. Important. Item. On. Your. Plate.
Meat or fish, if that’s your thing, but also eggs, beans and nuts. Protein keeps you feeling full, stops you having carb highs and lows and acts on your brain at a cellular level to regulate your emotions (read Potatoes Not Prozac if you want to understand exactly how protein can kill your sugar cravings forever).

3) BIG serving of fresh stuff
Vegetables, vegetables, vegetables. Raw is best, cooked will do.
Fruit is also good, but I like to have less fruit as it’s quite sugary.

If all you do is attempt to make each meal fit this criteria, you will probably drop your consumption of sugary snacks simply because your body is getting what it needs so it will remain stable and happy between meals.

Stage 2 for me was the complete removal of sugar and a concerted effort to eat raw food every day at lunch, as part of a balanced meal. I didn’t cut out caffeine, until recently I was still eating cereal for breakfast (Krispies, Cornflakes, etc.), we’re still having the odd takeaway, and our dinners tend to be quick and easy – i.e. some form of processed food.

Before stage 2 my typical day’s eating looked like this:

7am Rice Krispies, whole milk, juice, mug tea
10am chocolate bar or cake, mug tea
2pm Cheese sandwich, mug tea
3pm Maybe another bit of cake or biscuit, depending on what was in the house, sometimes a final mug of tea
8pm Takeaway dinner, or ready meal, or pasta and sauce, or pasta and pesto, or pie and shop bought mash

Now, my typical day’s eating looks like this:

7am Muesli with whole milk or natural yoghurt, some chopped fruit if I’m particularly hungry, juice, mug tea
10am Mug tea (or a hot chocolate as a treat on the three days I work).
12pm Large green salad, slice of bread, some flatbreads or a pitta, slice of quiche or handful of nuts, or smoked salmon
3pm A couple of dates and some nuts, or a plain yoghurt with nuts and honey, mug tea
8pm Takeway dinner, or pasta and sauce, or pasta and pesto, or pie and shop bought mash

The next two things on the agenda are 1) our evening meals and 2) cutting down my tea consumption

I only drink 3 cups of tea a day and never touch coffee. The rest of the time I drink water, so the tea habit isn’t so bad, but I am and have always been sensitive to caffeine, so would like to cut down to 1 or 2 cups a day. Finding a substitute is hard – I love to have a hot drink to cradle – it’s one of my comforts that gets me through the day.

The evening meal is a MUCH bigger challenge.

My goal is to aim for simple, home cooked food, based on potatoes, veg, nuts, eggs, cheese and beans. However, this is going to take a few leaps to get to. First I need to move us away from “prepared” foods: pies, pasta parcels, freezer staples like kievs, crispy chicken, potato smiles, and veggie boxed meals. Then I want to make the move to cut out meat again, which, being pregnant means I have to be very careful about eating properly. In tandem with these changes I need to be more disciplined about preparing food, organising shopping, and not making excuses to order food in. I also kind of have to learn to cook again, as my cooking skills are limited and I don’t enjoy doing something (like cooking) that I am not very good at.

So at the moment, I’d say I’m in the early part of stage 3: move away from prepared foods. In order to be economical I’m attempting to use up everything we’ve bought that comes in a packet. We have a freezer full of stuff in bags and boxes, and quite a lot of other bits in the dry food cupboard (packet risotto, boil-in-the-bag-rice!). I’m also doing the kids food in tandem, so we are nearly out of baby snacks (maize-style organic crisps, rice cakes, organic sugar-free biscuits and rusks), pureed fruit, and baby rice.

I’ve already had success giving DS1 broken up nuts, raisins and fruit for snacks (although supplemented at the moment with the stuff I am using up). DS2 is going to be more of a challenge as he has been slow to wean and despite giving him finger foods every day he is still gagging on most of it. I’m trying to avoid purees (actually, I have a load of them in the cupboard to use up, since I decided that purees were a waste of time), but without them he still gets at least 90% of his intake from milk, and at 10 months I think he should be reducing this.

I’m also going to move DS1 and DS2 onto porridge for breakfast. DS1 is eating the last of the cereal and I’m not planning on buying any more when it runs out (at the moment he has bitesize shredded wheat with a few Rice Krispies on top). DS2 eats baby rice at breakfast, but I have some baby porridge in a box to use up, then he can have the real thing (well, Ready Brek to start with!).

All this is going to simplify our eating – it will limit our choice, which is a good thing, and it will be better for all of us to get all these packaged and processed foods out of our cupboards and our bodies.

I suppose the biggest hurdle in all of this, is the acceptance from me that eating healthily requires more time and preparation in the kitchen. I need to accept this as non-negotiable. I think once I take on board the fact that food is important, and thus warrants more than 10 minutes spent on its preparation each evening, I will be more inclined to do it without resentment.

Well, that’s the plan.