In January of 2015 I made a resolution to track our food-based trash (see a post about this here). Yeah, that didn’t last. I do think I would have kept it up if we hadn’t spent spring of 2015 in East Africa. But we did, and then I did not pick the resolution back up again when we got back.
But never one to kick myself, I offer no apologies and I move forward with a belated 2016 resolution! Fittingly, this resolution is about compromise.
When we got back from Ethiopia last summer we launched into domestic craziness. Travis started his Research Experience for Undergraduates program and went back to Ethiopia with 10 students a few weeks later. He was gone for a month, and I put James into a part-time preschool/daycare program, went back to work at the co-op in town, then started a new job and found a new nanny when the co-op closed down (heartbreak!) and our nanny situation with James’ beloved babysitter fell through (heartbreak again!), all while diving back into managing the online maple syrup business for our family’s farm (Stannard Farm) and getting Lytle back into physical and occupational therapy.
I dropped the ball a bit. I valiantly struggled with school lunches (read here about that) before succumbing to the daily sandwich, apple/orange/banana, and packaged snack. My spirits faltered and I stopped coming up with creative food options for Lytle, numbly handing her Cheerio after Cheerio (okay, multi-grain Heritage O’s, but whatever). But then, a few days after January 1st, 2016, I went to Tanzania and an amazing thing happened. I got my second wind. I rallied. And I saw that I had to learn to make realistic compromises without losing track of my big priorities.
Parenting is hard enough without setting ourselves up to fail. Short of becoming a full-time homesteader (which may not be as great as it once sounded to me, I recently read the stark and poignant This Life is in Your Hands) I simply cannot maintain my own sourdough starter, make keifer and yogurt, can jar after jar of jam, pick and freeze my own blueberries, make and age summer eggnog for Christmas, experiment with three different kinds of fruitcake, and keep up parenting and online farm businessing. Honestly, this whole second kid thing has kicked my a*#, and the whole Down syndrome thing adds an extra layer of effort.
So my New Year’s Resolution for 2016: I will compromise with grace, and I will find a way to do it my way.
It starts at the grocery store.
- I spend more time in the freezer aisles then I ever thought I would, but when James recently asked if we could get the frozen brussels sprouts I breathed a prayer of gratitude. And of course, we bought them.
- We always have at least two kinds of frozen berries for smoothies and snacks.
- I used to buy only local fruits and vegetables, but now I do the full-on kid fruit and veggies thing and we always have apples, oranges, bananas, avocados, cucumbers, carrots, and red bell peppers in the house regardless of the time of year.
- I buy chicken and beef stock. I still make my own when it’s convenient, but I like to always have it on hand and I don’t want making it to be a stressful necessity.
- I buy the fruit mixes in the little squeeze packs. I’ll stick one in James’ lunch if I’m desperate, Lytle will always suck one down even when she shuns all other food, and whatever is leftover in the pouch goes into tomorrow’s smoothie.
- I buy crackers and school lunch snacks; I make sure I always have at least three options on hand, and then I hide them from James and Travis.
Which grocery store?
- Since the co-op in town closed I’ve felt more than a little cold about who I support. I mostly shop at one of the large chain stores in town, they have a decent organic section, they sell the Organic Valley milk that I like and they have a good olive bar (James and Travis can eat their weight in olives).
- I was at Wal-Mart picking up something Wal-Mart-y and remembered I was out of squeezies. And I learned something amazing. Wal-Mart has a better selection of kiddo squeezies that contain grain than the two chain grocery stores in town or the natural foods store. And the nut bars? Best prices and selection, hands down. And although I would not weep to see Wal-Mart burn to the ground (hell, I’d bring sticks and organic, homemade marshmallows)*, if there is one nearby I will shop there once a month for the selective food items that benefit my family.
- I will also start shopping at Costco when I find one reasonably close by.
- Farmers’ markets will always be my go-to when I have access to them! The kids love them, and I appreciate that whatever town we are in, it’s something we seek out.
In the kitchen at home.
- I still like to experiment. And I still have trouble throwing away leftovers. But there are a few things I can do to keep myself in check. (1) I try to cook everything separately so creating leftovers and lunches is easy and versatile. Example? Instead of making up all the stir-fry in the pan, I keep the rice separate from the veggies from the sauce (James doesn’t like sauce on things right now anyways). The next day the rice makes it into a salad for lunch, the veggies make it into an omelet for dinner, and the sauce ends up somewhere else. (2) I embrace compost. I stop agonizing and I visualize beautiful soil. And then I throw the leftovers away. (3) If I even suspect there is too much stuff in the fridge I make “refrigerator soup” (this is where I simply combine the rice and veggies from above with a container of pre-made chicken stock) and freeze it.
- James has become picky. See above re: sauce. I keep everything separate. I pander a little bit to the breakfast thing because I’m more concerned with him heading off to school with enough calories then heading off to bed with enough calories. And I load up his pbj sandwiches with sunflower seed butter (“sunbutter” — a necessity as there is a kid with a tree-nut allergy in his room). I throw frozen berries, nuts and seeds on his granola. In the afternoon I just set out cut veggies; if I don’t push it, odds are he’ll walk by and grab at least one. And then I close my eyes and sip my wine when he won’t eat anything I want him to at the dinner table.
- Lytle has expanded her eating repertoire, but she’s hardly an adventurous or consistent eater. The earlier me would be horrified, but we start the day with multi-grain Heritage O’s in milk. She loves these, and the dual-texture combination stimulates her oral senses while she hones fine-motor skills chasing them around with her spoon (low muscle tone from Down syndrome + hippie food sensibilities = compromises! Another one? Eating in the bathtub to practice cup and spoon skills.). Smoothies are where I get in the nutrients. We do frozen fruit, milk, nut butters or nut meal (I throw almonds, walnuts, and sunflower seeds in a blender), flax meal, sometimes avocado and some banana. She drinks it down, thankfully, so the rest of the day I don’t have to worry if lunch is raisins and Annie’s cheddar bunnies eaten off the floor or dinner is (frozen) sweet potato fries and yogurt.
Where won’t I compromise?
- I minimize buying single-serving anything. Applesauce, yogurt, milk – I buy the large containers and spoon/pour them out into jars for lunches. I buy the large boxes of crackers and bulk dried fruit and put small quantities into re-usable bags.
- The frozen stuff is ingredients-based, not meal-based. Lots of frozen vegetables and fruit for the most part, and some frozen seafood and frozen pasta such as cheese-filled tortellini.
- I load up on meat and bread at the farmers’ market and then freeze it (a tip: slice the bread before you freeze it, and then you can toast individual slices at a time! Maybe that’s a no-brainer, but I felt really smart when I figured out I could be doing that).
- The snacks I do buy are as plain as possible, no sandwich crackers with some kind of faux cheese spread. And I never buy cookies or candy or popsicles. Except for ice-cream, I regularly make all of our treats.
- I buy organic when I can, especially for meat, dairy, and certain produce. I buy good oils and nut butters.
- If it’s granola for breakfast, then I’ll do it my way. I buy the most basic granola I can, and then I add sunflower seeds, flax seeds, chia seeds, chopped almonds and walnuts, chopped dark chocolate, and coconut.
And what will I keep trying?
- I will master some kind of homemade granola bar. Marge Granola’s Megan Gordon has posted a great looking recipe for seedy sesame almond squares on her blog, A Sweet Spoonful (full disclosure: she uses Stannard Farm maple syrup!).
- I will figure out homemade fig newtons or some kind of dried-fruit cookie/bar.
- I recently made “chicken nuggets” and they were a huge hit with the kids. Less so the fish nuggets:) I can learn to serve the traditional kid-friendly foods, I just intend to do it my way: buy whole fish or chicken, cut it into chunks, egg wash then bread crumbs/cornmeal/coconut, fried in coconut oil and finished in the oven.
- I will let go sometimes. This takes perpetual practice for me! A recent success? Ly just had her second birthday and one part of me wanted to whoop it up and have a party with Martha-style food and decorations (check out the party for her grand-daughter’s first birthday and then remind yourself that she probably has a personal staff of 10 and she doesn’t get up three times in the middle of the night because of said grand-daughter). But I reined myself in, took the kids and a friend of James’s to the Sensory Gym, and then got pizza for about seven of us. And when a friend offered to bring cupcakes I said thank you and I let her.
I’ll probably kick myself later for saying this, but I think I’m over the hump. I have highs and lows, but I think I hit my food rock bottom last fall. Now I’m ready to move forward with goals that suit our values but are still realistic. Bring it on, 2016. I’m working on my mac and cheese recipe, with a side of frozen brussels sprouts.
*Lest you think I’m just being a tree-hugging, big-box-store-hating, over-educated stay-at-home mom, please read this article about what the Walton family donates to charity. And then grab a marshmallow stick.