(Un)Foodie Friday: What I’ve Learned from a Lack of Family Dinners

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My daughters attend a YMCA after school program located at their public elementary school. At the end of the school day, when the other kids rush off to their parents, my girls and their friends head over to the school cafeteria to check into after school care. Well, this year, their teacher often lets them help around the classroom with her daughter, M’s best friend, so my twins can avoid the check-in chaos in the cafeteria.

(Un)Foodie Friday: What I've Learned from a Lack of  Family Dinners from hdydi.com
Photo Credit: woodleywonderworks

New this year, they’ve started offering children dinner at 5:30. The kids who are still there are fed food from the next day’s school lunch. It’s a win-win situation. The school’s food doesn’t go to waste and the after school kids don’t get crabby from hunger.

When I picked up J and M on their first day of second grade, I was surprised to learn that they had already eaten. Part of me was sad that we wouldn’t have our family dinner together. The lack of family dinner went against one of my core parenting philosophies. I was miffed not to have the opportunity to assure my children a homemade meal in which every ingredient was high quality and nutritious.

It took me less than a week to fall in love with dinner at the Y. We suddenly have an extra hour or more together in the evenings. Instead of a mad rush to make and eat dinner, check homework, and get ready for bed between 6:30 and 8:30, we have time to talk and play between the homework check and bedtime routine. Instead of hungry, grumpy kids who haven’t had a meal in nearly 7 hours, I have happy, energetic little girls bursting with news from their day.

We get home and there’s no sense of urgency. Once the girls put their backpacks away, our time is our own. One night this week, J sat down with her knitting and phoned her grandmother while M and I read, snuggled up on the couch. Another evening, M entertained us with a high energy 45-minute rendition of Feliz Navidad, switching between a hairbrush and a remote control for her microphone and her sister’s head and mine for percussion. Last night, M spent an hour telling me, in great detail, all about her PE lesson, while J played with our cats, drew ducks and swans, and worked on some optional math homework. I can’t remember the last time M told a complete story on a weekday, in her own way without me trying to rush her along.

There’s been a lot more laughter in our house since the school year began. There’s been a lot more singing and dancing on weeknights. My house is cleaner than it’s been in a long time; I can fold laundry and dust while I’m talking to my daughters. I now wait until they’re in bed to eat my own dinner.

Providing excellent nutrition to my children has always been high on my list of priorities, but I’m now reevaluating those priorities. Nutrition is important, of course, but the school lunches aren’t awful. Yes, they’re mass produced and include some processed foods, but there’s a large number of dishes produced from scratch, and they, like me, include a whole grain, protein and vegetable in every meal. Far more valuable is the time I spend with my kids, and spending it over food didn’t work nearly as well for us.

I say good riddance to weeknight family dinners, and welcome weeknight family time.

Sadia (rhymes with Nadia) has been coordinating How Do You Do It? since late 2012. She is the divorced mother of 7-year-old monozygotic twins, M and J. She lives with them and their 3 cats in the Austin, TX suburbs and works full time as a business analyst. She retired her personal blog, Double the Fun, when the girls entered elementary school and also blogs at Adoption.com and Multicultural Mothering.

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Teach a Child to Grocery Shop…

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My husband has a very physical job, and our daughters, M and J, are incredibly active kids. It takes a little more effort on my part to fit exercise into my day, since I have a desk job, but I do my best. I will admit that I haven’t been good about working out since we moved to El Paso, so I’m thankful for Goddess in Progress‘s weight loss contest giving me the push I need to get back in shape. I like aerobics and Pilates, with the guidance of exercise videos in the privacy of my home. The twins and our cat join in with differing levels of effort.

Alongside intellectual curiosity, critical thinking, social responsibility, and self esteem, my husband and I believe that it is our responsibility to teach our children about physical well-being.

Unfortunately, our daughters’ school isn’t helping. Although they have daily physical education, they’re teaching the kids all about junk food. Cookies and slushies are available to purchase at lunch time. No carrots. No sliced apples or bananas. After school, there are cupcakes and cookies on sale, tempting the kids right before they exit the school and are handed over to their parents. On Halloween, each child was asked to bring a bag of candy for the school trick-or-treat event. Every classmate’s birthday heralds cupcakes with neon icing.

The other day, J volunteered to accompany me to the grocery store while M stayed home with Daddy. As I reached for the box of Cheerios M had requested, J asked whether she could choose her own cereal.

“Sure,” I told her, “But you have to choose one that has 6 grams or fewer of sugar per serving. Any more than that makes it a treat cereal instead of a breakfast cereal.”

I showed J the nutrition facts on the side of cereal box I was holding, pointing out where the sugar grams were. She picked one brightly coloured sugary cereal after another, rejecting each one for having too much sugar. I suggested that she’d have better luck if she looked at some granola boxes. She finally settled on Kashi Honey Sunshine.

ServeImage“Mommy,” J asked me, “can I teach M how to look at sugar next time when she comes shopping with us?”

She had her chance tonight at dinner, when M asked for a third serving of Welch’s sparkling grape juice. My husband told her that he thought she’d had enough sugar for the day, and offered her water instead. J showed M how to read the label and exclaimed, “38 sugars! That’s a whole bunch.”

“That’s true,” I told her. “This juice is a treat. We drink it for the flavour, not because it’s feeding our bodies. It’s fine to have a treat every so often, but it’s very important to make sure that we get all the different things our bodies need. We need protein to be strong, and fiber not to have hurty poops. Our body needs some fat to stay healthy, but not too much.”

For the rest of meal, the girls pored over the nutrition label on the juice bottle, asking about the different nutrients. My favourite was J’s reading of calcium as “Colosseum.” There was something quite lovely about the image of ancient architecture bolstering our bones.

I taught myself about healthy eating in my early 20s. Both my parents developed high blood pressure in their 30s, and I didn’t want to go down that path. Rich, fatty Bengali curries with massive quantities of rice must have contributed to their cardiovascular issues and my father’s subsequent Type II diabetes.

It certainly helps that both my husband and I love to cook. It’s hard to put too much junk in our bodies when we’re aware of every ingredient we eat. We don’t tend to count calories, and we’re not averse to eating out, but we try to be responsible, while allowing ourselves our treats. I’m fond of chocolate, and my husband of red wine.

I hadn’t planned to teach our girls to read nutrition labels at 5. I imagined that the model we set at home would show them how to make good food decisions. Peer pressure, though, is a strong force, and M told us today that she had bought 6 cookies at lunch to share with her friends. We don’t want the girls to feel like they need to diet or deny themselves the occasional sweet treat. However, we do want them to understand that while eating is a social and pleasurable activity, nutrition is the primary role of food. Food for taste alone is an extra, and to be taken in moderation.

Are you surprised to hear that junk food is being sold in elementary schools? What would you do if you discovered this in the school your children were to attend?

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ilunchbox.com – Great Resource!

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My oldest child just started 8th grade yesterday, and my older set of twins has been in kindergarten for a few weeks now. Buh-bye, summertime! I’ve got a houseful of zombies over here, as we haven’t really adjusted yet to getting up at the crack of o’dark thirty yet. And somehow, I still haven’t gotten it into my head that I could save myself significant time in the morning if I would do lunchbox duty at night, before I go to bed! Nope, every morning, I stand in my kitchen, bleary-eyed, throwing together PB&Js.

A friend of mine just passed along this great resource, though, and I’m hoping it’ll bring an end to the boring lunches: ilunchbox.com is full of great, kid-friendly recipes, like this one:

Berry Breakfast Roll Up

Note/Suggestions: This is not just a great and quick breakfast item, but a great snack item as well. This will make about 4 servings.
Ingredients

* 1/2 cup low-fat cottage cheese
* 2 tablespoons brown sugar
* 1/2 teaspoon ground apple pie spice
* 2 cups blackberries, washed and drained (any berry will do)
* 4 burrito size multigrain or flour tortillas

Directions

1. Combine cottage cheese with sugar and cinnamon and mix well.
2. Heat the tortillas until they are warm and easy to use.
3. Put a 1/8 cup of the cottage cheese mixture on the first third of the tortilla and a 1/4 cup of berries.
4. Fold the sides of the tortilla inwards and roll the tortilla up and over the berry and cheese mixture. Continue to roll the tortilla until the end.
5. Melt the cheese in the toaster oven or microwave, or serve room temperature.

Besides all the recipes, they have lots of healthy food ideas, shopping lists, a blog, and lots of articles about nutrition. Check it out! I’ve been poking around the site all morning long. Thought some of you with school-age kiddos might find it interesting too!

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