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Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The Balancing Act: Healthy Meals in My Home - It's been a Long, Rocky Road, Part 2

20 Meals a Week for a Family of 9!
June 2009-present

There have been several stages in this part of the journey, even though I was making meals "from scratch."

Bulk R Us
After those 5 months in the boarding house, we found a reasonably priced duplex that seemed the perfect fit for our family.  Armed with Meaghan's recipes and the knowledge I had gained, we started filling our home with ingredients and I started cooking from scratch every meal.  

Hallelujah!!  I thought I had "arrived"! I had finally learned how to feed my family!  

But God had more for me to learn.
During this stage, we bought the cheapest food possible, but cut our ties to Costco and packaged food.  

Instead, we went to our local restaurant supply store and bought 25 pound bags of rice, flour, brown sugar, sugar, oats, dry beans and cornmeal.  We bought spices in bulk. YES! We still do this!  Restaurant supply stores have spices for a mere fraction of the price of your regular grocery store.  DO NOT get spices at your regular grocery store unless you have a very small family.

The Feingold Revelation
Oct 2009

By this time in our lives we had a 8 year old daughter, 6 year old daughter (Annie) , 4 year old son (Logan) , and almost 2 year old son.  Annie's and Logan's behavior were terrible.  Really, really terrible. 

We thought we were reasonably good parents.  People told us we were good parents, but at home they were just awful.

Logan had an awful temper.  I had never seen a child that was SO angry so often.  He would throw things, scream at people, push, kick -- all with very little provocation.  When he was a bit younger I would just put him in a pack n play and let him scream until he was done.  What else could I do? I was nursing a little baby and he was flailing all over the place! But now that he was older, and quite a tank, I was seriously worried that he would injure his brother or older sisters.

Annie was having extreme anxiety.  Biting her arms, pulling her own hair, night terrors, sobbing constantly, perseveration (repeated movements like tapping her lips), crying constantly about clothing being uncomfortable, completely unable to deal with any amount of change, sobbing over simple was bad.

I found myself disciplining and correcting and DEALING WITH CHAOS constantly.  It was exhausting, and embarassing, and totally not working. Finally I fell to my knees and begged The Lord for help.  We had to change something.  I also asked my Sunday School class for prayer because we needed a miracle.

In October of 2009, by happenstance on an online forum I heard about the Feingold Diet.  In summary, some people are sensitive to the chemicals found in salicylates (not us) and artificial ingredients (that's us).  We very rapidly went through our pantry and cleaned out all of the artificial ingredients, and then had to relearn what we could feed our family.  My next blog post will have this entire lifechanging, prayer-answering transformation and some helpful tips.

Nutrient Dense
November 2012 - present

In the Fall of 2012 one of my husband's relatives was diagnosed with cancer.  At Thanksgiving, Brian's mom mentioned that she was avoiding all meat and dairy.  I thought "How can that possibly be healthy?? Isn't dairy good for you? Don't you HAVE to eat meat to live?"

So, I turned to the almighty internet for answers.  I googled "Dairy and cancer" and inadvertently changed my life.  I will also cover this journey in a future blog post.  Or maybe 5.
   A nutrient-dense meal means getting as many nutrients per calorie as possible.  
This is based on a Dr. Joel Furhman has potatoes, brocolli, onions, tomatoes and is very spicy...but no salt, oil, or fat!

Other Future Blog Posts:
Making my children eat my food :)
Travelling as a Feingold Family
Meal Planning and Shopping Tips
School Lunches, Heaven Help Us

The Balancing Act: Healthy Dinners in My Home - It's Been a Long, Rocky Road, Part 1

As I mentioned in my last blog post, I come from a long line of amazing cooks that stopped suddenly one generation short of me.  

Do you remember that Sesame Street song "One of these things is not like the other?"  That's me.  All the women in my family are fabulous cooks...and then there's me.

For whatever reason, I came home from my honeymoon, ready to launch my new household, with 3 skills.  
1. Boiling water
2. Browning meat
3. Opening cans

Seriously.  It was really that bad. 

So, if this is you, and you feel really overwhelmed by the idea of feeding your family homecooked meals, I have good news for you!!  You can learn! 

Here are the stages of my (currently 14 year) journey from "The Kitchen is where we keep the TakeOut Menus" to "20 meals a week for a family of 9."   We still have a pizza night, for all you math people out there.

The Kitchen is where we keep the TakeOut Menus
Dec 30, 1999 - June 2004

In this stage we are eating fast food or restaurants for the majority of our meals, with occassional frozen dinners and frozen one-skillet meals.  

In our first apartment, we had almost no cabinet space for all of our lovely dishes from the wedding, so I kept clean dishes in the dishwasher....and I didn't care!  Because I didn't need a dishwasher!!  Every meal came in it's own styrofoam package or a sack!  I never had to clean a pot, or wash a dish.

I also couldn't figure out why I felt so poor.  Brian and I were both working and we had no children, but the money just evaporated from the checking account.  Weird.

(Funny story from this inlaws came to visit me in my tiny house in Abilene when Brian and I were in college.  Patty had to make the shopping list and cook at MY house.  Please believe me, I really had no idea how to feed people that did not involve a broken drive-thru microphone.)

Everything in my Pantry is Square
July 2004 - Dec 2008

In this stage I realized I needed to start feeding my family food that I bought at the grocery store.

So, I would go get 12 boxes of Hamburger or Chicken Helper, then look on the back and see what I needed.  Hmm.  Eggs, Butter, 12 pounds of meat. Done!!

For real.  I am not exaggerating.  I would call Brian and say "So, Do you want Stroganoff, or Cheezy Lasagna, or TexMex Chicken?"  

In the back of my mind, I still knew this was not normal, or the way I wished I fed my family.  We would go over to other people's houses, and they never fed us Hamburger Helper.  So, I would collect magazines and cookbooks and try to cook out of them, but this is how that would go...

I would choose a recipe.
I would look around my kitchen and realize I was 10 ingredients short.
I would go buy the ingredients.
I would have a heart attack at the $55 grocery bill for one meal!!
I would cook the $55 meal and then go back to Hamburger Helper.

I couldn't figure this out!  Why did people say cooking at home was less expensive than fast food? Why did they say "cooking from scratch" was less expensive than frozen food? 

By this time we had 4 small children, and we would fill our trash can every single day.  Half of it was diapers, LOL!  But the other half was wrappers.  Individually wrapped granola bars, Individually wrapped fruit roll ups, Boxes of macaroni and cheese, Boxes of Hamburger Helper, Boxes of cookie mix, Cans of chili, Cans of Corn, wrappers and wrappers and wrappers.  

We were creating SO MUCH TRASH!  I remember thinking that half of what I brought home from Costco was wrappers and boxes.  And, of course, our grocery bill was still crazy high, because when you buy 24 individually wrapped granola bars, and you have 3 toddlers, they each want 4 granola bars a day...or maybe 6.  So that $250 shopping trip would last us 2 days.  At least that's what it felt like.

(Funny story from this Stage - My fabulous Stepmom Janet gave me a huge crockpot for my birthday, and I was thinking "When will I EVER use this??"  HA!!  She's a really smart woman, and I had no idea what a valuable thing a humongous crockpot is!) 

Here's my growing family - 4th of July 2005. Ages 3,1, and 5 weeks!

Jan 2009-May 2009

God is so good.  He knew I was struggling, and He had an ingenious solution.  

We were way over our heads in debt and my good friend Meaghan (and her husband Chad) ran a boarding house for single women.  She would only charge $400 in rent for a room, and this covered rent, electricity, cable/internet and GROCERIES!!  Seriously!!

We were at the end of our lease, so we prayed about it, gave away as much furniture and stuff as we could, and moved into the boarding house.  Brian and I stayed in one room, and our 4 children stayed in the other, and we reduced our total living expenses to $800 per month!!  We were also living with Chad, Meaghan, their 3 small children, and 2 single our family of 6 makes 13!  In one (large) house.

And for 5 months I got to watch Chad and Meaghan buy groceries and cook meals for 13 people.  

Here's what they did, that I never did....


They did not buy a cookie mix.  They bought flour, and baking powder, and chocolate chips, and butter.

They did not buy frozen one skillet dinners.  They bought celery, and peppers, and chicken, and rice and teriyaki sauce.

They most certainly did not buy granola bars and chips, as they had found these things disappeared FAST.  Instead, they bought fruit to snack on.

This was my epiphany.....  


*Going back to my $55 recipes from the earlier years, I now realize it is because I had no ingredients in my house.  So, if I needed a teaspoon of basil, I had to buy a $10 jar of basil.  In order to cook meals at home, you much have lots of spices, lots of staple items like baking soda and flour, lots of condiments like salsa, soy sauce, and garlic, and it is very helpful to always have at least one onion in the house. ;)

And so, eight and a half years after my wedding, I had finally learned how to cook
20 Meals a Week for a Family of 9....

but the journey wasn't over. To be continued in Part 2!

Summer of 2009. Ages 7,5,4,2