More often than not our lives are filled with crazy, hectic days. That’s just part of being alive in this modern world filled with so many things to do, places to go, people to see – well you get the idea. Every day of our life we are presented with countless choices. The more hectic our lives are, the less time we have to do the things we need to do, the more tempted we will be when presented with a choice between two things, two paths if you will, to choose the easy road over the one that might, at least on the surface, seem more difficult. There is a reason why the easy road is well marked, well lit, and nicely paved. More people travel there. But it is often the hard road, that winding, dim pathway that can lead to some of life’s greatest rewards.
So it is with food. (You knew we were going there didn’t you?) Ah the age old question – “what’s for dinner?” We all make a choice, every day, every meal, about what to eat. My wife and I both work full time and we are raising four kids, all ages 6 or under. Things sometimes feel like they couldn’t get any more hectic (yes, I know they will!). Every day, I mean EVERY DAY, we are tempted to take the easy road when it comes to meals. It takes a conscious effort to drive by those Golden Arches and say ‘no thanks Ronald – we’re having something much better than your delicious Happy Meals, french fries, and McRib sandwiches (yep, I’m passing up even the McRib – how’s that for willpower?). Just don’t ask what we’re having because we haven’t quite figured it out yet, but we will, and it’s going to be good. “Oh come on, pull in,” Ronnie whispers in our ear, “one hour at the most, in and out, and you could have dinner over with, and the clean-up too! After the day you’ve had, haven’t you earned a break? You know the kids want it. You know YOU want it.” Yes, we do. Maybe it’s not McDonalds, but some other restaurant that sounds good, or pizza, or Chinese takeout – the possibilities are endless. But we want it, because we’ve had a hard day and we deserve it!
But more often than not we are able to resist that siren’s call. Not all the time, but enough that going out to eat becomes a special treat rather than the norm. You can too. Here are some tips that have helped us along the way.
1.) Consider the health of you and your family. This is by far the number one reason we do not eat out as much as we used to. You would not BELIEVE the sheer amount of pure unadulterated JUNK that is in most restaurant food (and processed food in general!). It all goes back to carefully considering what we put in our bodies because it WILL affect us at some point, even if years down the road.
2.) Keep a full pantry of staples. Buy in bulk when you do buy. If you don’t have to visit the grocery store every day cooking doesn’t seem as much a chore. You should always have plenty of basics around the house to cook with.
3.) Hone your cooking skills; always be willing to learn something new or to try something you never have before. Take a cooking class, learn from a family member, or just read some cooking books and give it a shot. Cooking is contagious. The more you cook the more you will want to cook!
4.) Consider the cost. It is way, and I do mean WAY, more expensive to eat out than to cook at home from scratch. Avoid the temptation of box meals and processed foods. These drive up the cost and drive down the health benefits you gain from cooking from scratch.
5.) Plan your meals. Plan your menu for the week or even longer. When you shop, get everything you need in one trip.
6.) Make enough for two days (or more), and freeze the rest for leftovers. Voila, a meal for another day!
7.) Have some basic, go-to meals that are both easy and favorites of you and your family. Sometimes you will just need something fast and dependable. In a pinch, this can be the lifeline that keeps you from giving in to the fast-food temptation.
8.) Add variety and excitement to your meals. Cook with lots of spices. Learn how to make your food taste good. Try something completely new at least once a week. Go to sites like foodgawker.com, pick something that looks tasty and give it a shot. You might just discover your next favorite dish!
9.) Use a crock pot. So many great things can be cooked with a slow cooker. Start a meal that morning and let it cook the entire day, ready for when you get home!
10.) Keep a clean, organized kitchen. This probably sounds very basic, but you aren’t going to want to cook in a dirty, unorganized kitchen. Wash the dishes and put them away after every meal. Let the whole family participate. Not only do “many hands make light work” but it also gives children a wonderful sense of ownership and belonging as they each take part in the important family dynamic of eating a meal together.
When I was a kid eating out was special. We looked forward to it and enjoyed it all the more because it wasn’t an everyday thing. Today it’s become the easy way out, and ultimately it’s our kids who pay the price in bad habits and nutrition. In our ten years of marriage (almost 7 with kids) there’s been plenty of times where we’ve regretted eating out, but never a time where we’ve regretted eating at home. In fact, the more we choose the road less travelled the more we enjoy the view!
Source: Mattes, RD, Donnelly, D. Relative contributions of dietary sodium sources. Journal of the American College of Nutrition 1991;10(4):383–393.