As you may have gathered in the previous post, we are a well-intentioned if often-straying family when it comes to food. Here’s the thing: I think that is true of every family. Removing the barriers and, more importantly, the pitfalls is the key to success in so many things.
Mom would buy grapefruit and then painstakingly slice it, prep it, leave it in the fridge and post a note as to its existence near the cereal. She bought and washed grapes. She sliced cantaloupe. She placed bananas in a visible and enticing spot on the counter. It was (and is) genius, really. Lesson two: preparation, preparation.
Honestly, it is shocking how late in life I realized her tactics. Each night, the coffee was prepped and the timer set. A tray with all the appropriate accessories (spoons, sweetener, mugs) was readied… because honestly, does anyone want to search the deep recesses of their mind while uncaffeinated to figure out how to brew coffee on a weekday morning? Breakfast cereal, bowls and spoons were laid out. Skipping breakfast was not encouraged and met with almost as much of a lecture as far grander transgressions.
Now, I understand the method to the madness and preparation. Breakfast is unlikely to be skipped when the thinking is done for you. Fresh fruits and vegetables are very likely to be grabbed and consumed when the work is removed. We thought we were choosing to reach into the fridge and swipe a handful of grapes of our own free will. Alas, we were being cunningly manipulated into healthy choices.
I take it a step further with my obsessive meal preparation. I consider the options, prepare the shopping list and write the menu on giant chalkboards in my kitchen. I think a lot of people assume I do it for some sort of statement or a rubbing of my Martha Stewart-esque ways into their collective faces. Au contraire… I dread the witching hour when I arrive home from work exhausted and preoccupied. Without preparation, that hour arrives and I make a maddening move: I open the fridge or pantry door and stand there, baffled, staring into the depths, hypothesizing with my feeble mind what I will make for dinner. A plan and a clearly-posted menu take all of that away. Suddenly, we aren’t the family microwaving cheese onto tortillas and passing them off as “quesadillas” or picking up fast food or making breakfast for dinner… again. We are a family with a good meal ahead of us. My kids and husband smell good things from the kitchen and know that I care. The systemic chopping is therapy for my work-torn soul.
Preparation, in the home and in the kitchen as well as in life, turns out to be the best defense. It’s shocking, really.
And so, I’m now the mom who, on a weekend afternoon like this one, quietly congratulates herself and realizes she has made one small parenting step, and that one small step leads to another. The neighborhood kids have been playing in the late autumn sun all afternoon. The time has arrived when one breaks from the stupor of play long enough to realize they are very hungry (and they have to go to the bathroom). The kids all disperse to their respective homes, operating on an unspoken childhood pact and hoping for a quick-grab snack and a hasty return to play without being apprehended by chores or parental demands.
I watch quietly and unnoticed as some, though not all, of the neighbor kids re-emerge from their homes with processed, individually-packaged (i.e. convenience) foods and disposable water bottles. It won’t kill them, and it definitely won’t be the end of humanity. But again, I won’t lie about the pang of pride as my kid saunters in, grabs one of her chilled, reusable stainless water bottles from the fridge, downs a big swig and covertly swipes some grapes and a hunk of cantaloupe from the fridge before springing back out into the afternoon sun.
She definitely got away with something. I did, too.