I was born hungry. Hang out with me for any length of time and you will know that I’m not one of those girls who “forgets to eat.” I wake up every morning and my first thought is “what’s for breakfast?” Those people that have a hard time eating in front of other people? Nope. Not this chick.
A love of food was ingrained in every fibre of my being from a young age. As kids we would read recipe books around the lunch table (we were homeschooled…this obviously would not be socially acceptable if I would have been in public school). It was a beautiful thing. Somehow, drooling over glossy-paged recipes while eating made lunch taste even better. My mom encouraged baking and cooking in the kitchen for as far back as I can remember. (No, her house was never clean but I will tell you that her laid-back attitude in the kitchen gave me a thirst for learning how to make food delicious.)
My dad’s favourite time of the year, to this day, is Christmas simply because of the food. Rewind time back fifteen, twenty years and each Christmas season, we would all make a trip to “the big city” to visit the St. Jacobs’ Farmers Market. Here, my usually very controlled father, let loose. He dropped hundreds of dollars at the various meat counters, sniffing out all the mouth-watering samples, and finally capping off the day with hot-off-the-press apple fritters.
Growing up we had the best conversations, sitting around the supper table. My mom is not a gourmet chef, but she makes stick-to-your-bones, full-of-butter-and-dairy dinners that comfort you from the top of your head to the tip of your toes. The food was simple but the time we spent together around the table was priceless.
Food to me symbolizes comfort, happy memories, togetherness, and downright yumminess. Fast forward time to our first year of marriage – some of my favourite shower and wedding gifts were cookbooks. So much so that I challenged myself for the entire first year of marriage to not make the same recipe twice. (Thankfully, I have married a man who has a love for food that matches mine.)
Skip ahead four years and we are now well-established as a family of three. And suddenly my relationship with food changes drastically. (No one warned me about the “witching hour.” Previously known as “let’s-prep-supper-while-languorously-sipping-wine-hour.” Babies and toddlers do not care that food has to get on the table. Both of my girls were rather preoccupied with screaming their guts out from about 4pm-6pm most nights instead.) Out of desperation to get supper on the table as quickly as possible, creativity was thrown out the window and the Feddema family adopted a meal-plan. As time wore on, and our girls (who had previously been fairly decent eaters) realized they could assert themselves more, we soon encountered territory I thought we’d never have to endure…picky eater-hood. Not only did meal prep now have to happen quickly, but it also had to include only about three-ingredients to avoid food-flinging tantrums, or a downright refusal to eat.
There are days when I dreamily reminisce of the days when I was only concerned with feeding Jeff and myself. I remember beginning to make dinner at 3 pm, just because I could. I recall buying ingredients like saffron and ricotta and asparagus. I begin yearning for the days when we were able to sit around the dinner table for longer than ten minutes. Usually I break out of this reverie somewhere in the frozen food aisle of the grocery store, grimacing at my cart full of food I thought I’d never be putting past my kids’ lips.
The reality is we have two beautiful girls. Two beautiful picky eater girls. For the longest time, we tried every trick in the book. Time-outs. Making them eat their unfinished supper for breakfast. Taking away privileges. Going to bed hungry. I know that we’re not the only family who has begun to hate dinnertime, that even managing to get one morsel of food past their kiddo’s lips (that’s not processed), is nothing short of a miracle. So I’d be curious to know what you do that works for your family.
For now, these are the steps that we have taken with our meal-planning:
Step One: Do a meal rotation. We have been successfully implementing a one-week rotation of recipes for the past few months. I feel that while this may be boring for Jeff and I, it still provides variety for us while maintaining enough repetition that the girls get used to having certain foods always put in front of them. This is what our one-week rotation looks like:
Mondays: always meatless. (We usually do a black bean soup or a chickpea dish. Surprisingly, our girls love beans.)
Tuesdays: sheet pan meal. (Either baked chicken or sausages and some form of roasted veggie, served with fresh cut veggies. Our girls love sausage. Chicken, not so much. So the days that we make chicken, I offer fish sticks or chicken nuggets instead. Here I go, doing exactly what I said I wouldn’t do – make a separate meal for the kids. Desperate times call for desperate measures, people.)
Wednesday: processed food picnic. (No joke. Jeff works late every Wednesday, meaning I do supper-time solo. I’m not about to battle on my own stubborn, tired kids and what they want to eat. So, we roll a blanket out on the floor in their room of choice and we have a picnic, eating frozen pizza, Kraft Dinner or chicken nuggets and fries.)
Thursday: always a crockpot meal. Thursdays can be busy days with volunteering at the school library for the afternoon. I don’t have a lot of time to make food between volunteering, picking Zoe up for school, getting Elsie from her grandparents and then heading home. (I usually rotate between barbecue pulled chicken or meatballs, served with roasted and fresh veggies.)
Friday: pasta night. (Spaghetti sauce and noodles. Nothing exciting. Jeff and I do zucchini noodles.)
Saturday/Sunday: leftovers/breakfast for supper. We find that we have plenty of leftovers from the week that we don’t have to cook on the weekends, which is awesome because we want to reserve the weekends for relaxing and hanging out.
*I should note that each meal we serve fresh cut veggies (usually peppers and cucumbers) and fresh cut fruit (mostly strawberries, melon and/or apples).
Step Two: Consider dietary restrictions. This should maybe be step one. However, step two it is. Jeff and I both have a very sizable list of dietary restrictions (gluten-free, corn-free, soy-free, sugar-free, potato-free, sunflower oil-free….basically, we can only eat air). Obviously this makes planning meals quite a bit trickier, especially when considering that alternatives to those allergens are often not the most kid-friendly ingredients. We have found that eating Paleo has been the best for us and we’ve adopted a couple of favourite cookbooks (Against All Grain by Danielle Walker, Whole30 by Melissa Hartwig, modified recipes from the Looneyspoons cookbook, the Ketogenic Cookbook by Maria Emmerich, just to name a few).
Step Three: Create a master grocery list. This can be a bit of a job but it’s worth it. I go through each recipe and write down every single ingredient that I need. I then take stock of items that we need on a daily basis, not related to the recipes. (Example: cold cereal, milk, eggs, bread, fresh fruit, etc….) It becomes a huge list. But by the end of it, I know that my weekly grocery list will always be some variation of items from this master list. If I’m writing down an item on my weekly grocery list that is not on this master list, then I really need to ask myself why we’re getting this.
As I said, we’ve been implementing this meal-plan for a few months now. While my past self would have cried over the monotony and redundancy of our meals each week, the mom-me is doing inner handstands when my girls consistently eat most dinners (can’t get too outwardly excited or it causes them to prove me wrong). The stress around the dinner table has been mostly eliminated. As well, the stress of dinner prep is completely gone. I’m never scrambling, wondering what to make for supper. The meal rotation also has been super helpful with keeping me on track with our $500/month grocery challenge. Clearly, having a master list (and sticking to it!) prevents impulse buys, which, to be honest, anything bought on impulse languished in the back of my pantry anyway.
I’m hopeful that a day will come when I can get my kids excited about food the way that my parents cultivated a love of food in me. I’m banking on eventually being able to read cookbooks together and getting excited about trying a new recipe together. For now, though, you can find me, sitting cross-legged on a picnic blanket in the middle of my living room, swirling lots of ketchup on lots of orange mac’n cheese and be proud that we’re surviving.