Processed Food is a Slippery Slope

The challenge was posed just over two years ago, by my then 16 year-old daughter:

Go for an entire year without making oven food.

Hmmm … Oven Food … as in anything cooked in the oven?!

Well, no. You see, at some point, over the years of child-rearing, oven food became our family’s term for any food item that got slid from a box onto a cookie sheet and heated in the oven. In our house, oven food means processed food, specifically processed food of the suppertime entrée variety.

The challenge came following a week in which I apparently — according to my daughter, although my youngest son would strenuously disagree — out-did myself in the kitchen. Although cooking isn’t my favourite thing-to-do, I had just had an unprecedented spate of success: an entire week of made-from-scratch meals — some new recipes, some tried-and-true favourites, and a couple days of some really tasty leftovers.

The fact that I accepted her challenge with an enthusiastic, Sure, I’ll try! illustrates just how far we’ve come …

Here’s a rather sad fact: when I got married, nearly 25 years ago, I didn’t know how to peel and chop an onion. I had never sliced and diced a sweet pepper. And I didn’t know the difference between a bulb of garlic and a clove, let alone how to operate a garlic press.

I grew up in the 70s and 80s, with a mother who was an absolute wizard with a needle and thread, but who, unfortunately, hated cooking with an almost equal passion. Although part of the problem lay with the fact that she didn’t really know how to cook, it was also fairly obvious that there was a fair measure of simmering resentment about having to cook. We were, after all, living in the height of the me generation, a time in which women all around her were embarking on careers outside the home. And while women were being liberated from mundane drudgery, food corporations were standing at the ready, poised to take full advantage of a social movement. What better way to free women from the ignoble chore of cooking than by selling them processed foods?

The result of these combined circumstances? A nearly perfect storm of unhealthy eating when I was growing up.

Suppers at our house were a rotating variation of either white rice or boiled potatoes paired with some sort of meat:  chicken, which was shake-and-baked; pork chops, also shake-and-baked; or fish, breaded and frozen and slid from the box into the frying pan. Mix into the rotation a few frozen pizzas, some fish sticks and frozen french fries, some canned soup, and the occasional chili cobbled together with hamburger, powdered onion, a can of baked beans and a can of tomato soup. Add in some canned corn or frozen peas, the occasional head of broccoli or a once-a-week salad made from nutritionally-devoid iceberg lettuce (dressed with pickle juice), and you have a pretty good idea of what I ate for the first 23 years of my life.

Although my husband was used to better fare (his parents enjoyed cooking and were quite good at it), we embarked on married life fuelling our bodies with me as the head of the kitchen. While I surreptitiously observed my mother-in-law in her kitchen, and thus began to figure out the basics of onion and pepper chopping, my husband and I were both busy with school and work, and neither of us thought it important to spare much of an effort to escape the ease of processed food. Most meals were slid from a box onto a cookie sheet and thrown into the oven. Sometimes there was spaghetti and a jar of prepared sauce. There were an awful lot of breaded mystery-meat patties that we fried up, and to this day I have no idea what they contained, although I do remember there was a long list of fine print on the packaging, words I never bothered to read.

We were all set to raise the next generation of non-cooks (otherwise known as heaters) when a serendipitous mailing arrived at our house: a free copy of the Nutrition Action Health Letter, a publication put out by the Center for Science in the Public Interest.  The CSPI’s mandate is two-fold:  educating the public on nutrition and health, as well as lobbying government and corporations on issues such as food additives, labeling laws and health claims.

For the first time in my life, I took a hard look at what we were eating, and what I was feeding our young children. And I didn’t like what I saw.

Subscribing to the Nutrition Action Health Letter was the first step in what’s been a 20+ year journey.  That initial subscription marked the beginning of my label reading, my recipe cutting (this was pre-internet), my days of checking cookbooks out of the library, and my voracious reading of anything that had to do with nutrition.

But although I started finding recipes, and began to do more cooking, I often still found myself in ruts. It was an effort to try new things, and I found it disheartening when a promising dish turned out to be a dud. Although I was having some success, my kids were still putting up a fair amount of resistance. They were — amazingly! — willing to eat soup containing chick peas, a thing I never once encountered in childhood (and shamefully, I know I would have run the other way if ever offered some), yet they greeted lentils with disgust. I often found myself making the same dishes over and over, and I still clung to the whole heating business, interspersing scratch meals with a liberal selection of convenience slid from a box. I told myself I was choosing healthier options, because, based on the advice of the Nutrition Action Health Letter, I was diligently reading labels, avoiding preservatives such as TBHQ and BHT/BHA, and eschewing anything that contained partially-hydrogenated oils or high fructose corn syrup.

But I noticed something: on days I decided to heat, I felt guilty (I wasn’t doing much better at feeding my family than my mother had!), and on days I had to cook, I resented the time taken from something else I’d rather have been doing. Truth be told, I didn’t really enjoy cooking any more than my mother had. Processed foods were still my crutch. And it wasn’t until I embarked on my daughter’s challenge and threw away the crutch that several things became clear:

  • Convenience is a slippery slope

Tell me one person who, after getting an automatic clothes washer, would go back to a washboard. And why on earth would they? An automatic washer cleans clothes just as well, if not better.

But while we of a certain age grew up with the prevailing notion that food is food is food, the trial is now over and the jury’s come back. And unfortunately, the unanimous verdict from all proponents across the full spectrum of diets (vegan, vegetarian, Mediterranean, paleo), is that a diet high in processed food is a recipe for unhealthiness.

So what about moderation? Surely processed food every now and again isn’t going to kill us?

No, it isn’t. But while I’m usually an everything-in-moderation kind of person, here’s what I’ve discovered about me and moderation, with regards to processed food: every incident of heating that occurs in my kitchen is a teetering on a slippery slope. Because I don’t enjoy day-in and day-out cooking, heating chips away at the hard-fought habit of cooking in exactly the way a day off exercising chips away at the habit of going down to the basement to run on the treadmill. But processed foods aren’t just a slippery slope for me. The bigger problem is that they’re also a slippery slope for my children, most notably my nine year-old.

Here’s a fact about my youngest child: he LOVES processed food!

But maybe it’s not just him; maybe ALL young children do, and perhaps there’s a scientific reason for it.

During my year of no oven food, I read Michael Moss’ Salt Sugar Fat, How the Food Giants Hooked UsTruthfully, it wasn’t an absolutely riveting read; however, it was an eye-opening insight into the processed food industry. Here’s what we’re up against when our child balks at our home-cooked meal and pleads for chicken nuggets: oodles of dollars in research and years of careful tweaking of salt, sugar, fat and numerous other additives, all with the goal of making food sublime and tantalizing and even addictive.

The best way I’ve found to compete against all that? I now know to let it in the door as seldom as possible.

Here’s the second truth I’ve come to:

  • Cooking is work

I know. This is a really obvious statement. Of course, cooking is work!

The thing is, a lot of people (that is to say, people who aren’t doing the actual cooking) often don’t really *get* the fact that cooking is work.

There’s finding recipes, meal planning, and grocery shopping. Then comes the chopping and dicing and measuring of ingredients, the time spent standing over the hot stove. There’s setting the table, clearing the table, and washing the dishes. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that for the vast majority of us, day-in and day-out cooking is not fun; it’s work, deserving of respect.

One way to teach children (or husbands/wives/partners!) to respect the work of cooking is to have them take part in the process. But the other part of the equation comes with setting some simple rules. These rules are what I would refer to as company manners, the etiquette one should be taught to follow when visiting someone’s house and partaking in a meal. But the thing is, if expressions of Yuck! or Ew! are disrespectful and unacceptable at Grandma’s house, then why are they allowed at home? And a thank-you for supper at the end of the meal, some acknowledgement and expression of gratitude that work was performed in getting food onto the table — no matter if the meal was greatly enjoyed or not — should be a basic requirement.

And this leads to my third observation:

  • Children will — eventually — learn to eat what is set before them

Suppertime at our house used to be filled with all sorts of unpleasantries: there’s been whining, obstinate refusals to eat, instances of head-on-the-table shedding of tears. It’s a tough thing to go through as a parent. We worry that our kids will starve, that asking them to eat something they don’t like will somehow damage them. We despair that we’ll never be able to take them anywhere.

Parenting is often about picking your battles, making decisions as to which points of contention are worth fighting over, and which ones you’re going to raise the white flag on. Here are some thoughts on making the supper table a place where you stand your ground:

  1. Children will eventually learn to eat what’s put before them. (Reassurance and tips for this can be found in the book French Kids Eat Everything). While the best time to shape a child’s eating habits is when they’re very young, it is entirely possible to change course when they’re teenagers, and to embark on healthy eating mid-stream, as a family.
  2. Picky eating can be both nutritionally and socially detrimental. The best way to combat this is by refusing to make secondary meals, and by taking the position that supper is what’s served. In my experience, nonchalance is the best defence to counter-arguments.
  3. The incidence of many diseases, such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease, are on the rise. They’re also beginning at earlier ages than they did in previous generations. Poor diets and processed foods are largely being held to blame for much of this. The documentary Fed Up provides a stark analysis of this situation and describes a state of affairs that’s both maddening and heartbreaking (although the current desire to point the finger of blame at sugar and processed foods, and to exonerate saturated fat, isn’t correct either. Videos showing why you shouldn’t buy into that new way of thinking can be found here: part one and part two). The brutally hard truth of the matter is that while it’s easy to come up with excuses (I’m too busy to cook, my life is too stressful, I don’t know how…) it’s becoming harder and harder to plead ignorance of the consequences of a poor diet. We as parents — as the adults in the house, as the grocery shoppers and cooks — are responsible for what food items come into the house, and although saying no isn’t the easiest thing to do, the evidence is telling us it’s the right thing to do.
  4. The ability to cook is, I would argue, an essential piece of adulthood. If it’s our job as parents to raise responsible and competent adults, then continuing along whatever detrimental path we’re currently on is ultimately doing our children a great disservice. According to Jamie Oliver, the British chef who worked wonders in getting real food into school cafeterias in England, many families in Europe and North America are now into their third generation of non-cooks, their health at the mercy of food corporations whose main concern is turning a profit.
  5. If I can do it — remember where I started? — anyone can do it. And because of the internet, it’s easier than ever before. Google makes the need to embarrass yourself in front of your new mother-in-law entirely unnecessary, and also provides answers to every possible cooking question you could ever think to ask.

Once again, I’ve written a novel of a post; my apologies for my long-windedness.

Unfortunately, I’m not quite finished yet, because I do have to come back to the challenge my daughter set …

Did I make it the whole year?

Here’s what happened:  I set out on the year not stressing about it overly much, a fact which is curiously surprising given the fact I stress over a lot of things! Perhaps, because I’m not a buyer-in-bulk and didn’t have a vast store of frozen goods in the freezer waiting to tempt me with convenience, I subconsciously felt I had no choice: the cooking habit simply HAD to take hold right from Day One. I vaguely knew I had to have meal plans in place, and to make sure I had staples on hand. I knew that on busy days I’d better be thinking about supper at breakfast time and planning accordingly, either by pre-chopping vegetables, or choosing easy recipes, or by plugging in the slow cooker, a hitherto little-used appliance which became my best friend. I tried a lot of new recipes over the course of the year. I learned to LOVE days of leftovers and to plan meals of leftovers for the very busiest of days. My nine year-old eventually gave up complaining about the “weird food” we were always eating (I’ll explain more about this in another post), and he stopped asking for hot dogs and Kraft Dinner (macaroni and cheese to the Americans out there).  (I do admit that when he asked for that specific meal for his birthday, I couldn’t say no. And while technically hot dogs do fall under the processed food umbrella, they’re not really oven food, are they?)

So here it is … with the exception of one terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day (to quote Judith Viorst) in which I headed (in a perfectly foul mood) to the local Foodland at 5pm in order to buy a box of Highliner breaded salmon … I did it!

And when I announced it to my family, somewhere around New Year’s, in a somewhat bemused and unbelieving voice, all the while searching my brain and trying to recall if there actually had been any other very bad day like the aforementioned one, my daughter said, “What?! I don’t remember that! I didn’t really challenge you to do that, did I?!”

(At which point I closed my eyes, speechless … )

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20 thoughts on “Processed Food is a Slippery Slope

  1. Ditch the microwave!! It will save you (and your kids) from being ‘heaters’ – and you’ll have to cook. 🙂
    Well, that’s been our experience.
    Marian, I was not able to cook a thing when we got married either – 25 years ago – but after preparing a few dinners from boxes, I knew there was a better way. Now, we rarely go out to dinner because it tastes better, is better for us, and costs so much less. We maybe eat out 3 times a year!
    Thanks for sharing your journey.

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    1. We mainly use our microwave for defrosting, and for cooking a lot of our vegetables (all of which I could in theory be steaming). Just a couple of months ago our microwave broke. I wasn’t too upset and was all set to begin steaming vegetables for meals, but then my husband hauled up our old microwave from the basement and set it on the counter and plugged it in, so my microwave-free experiment never got a chance to happen! But other than cooking veggies and defrosting, we’ve never been “microwave heaters”! I think perhaps there was a line I drew in the sand which prevented me from ever buying things that seemed expressly designed for microwave “heaters” – like hot pockets, for example! I don’t think my kids have figured out such “food” items exist – we don’t have regular TV (therefore no food ads!) and they don’t go grocery shopping with me anymore. The only risk is that one of them will eat a hot pocket at someone’s house and then come home and ask me to buy them. Which I won’t, because as I’ve said to them many times, I’m a mean mom! (But hmmmm…the local Foodland is within bicycling distance…maybe one day I’ll come home to one of the kids heating up a hot pocket in the microwave after all!)

      I’m glad to hear I’m not the only one who couldn’t cook when they got married! But it does sound like you figured things out a lot faster than I did 😉

      And we don’t eat out a lot either, but when we do we like to go to smaller vegan places, whenever possible. The food is healthier, my 16 year-old egg-allergic son can order whatever he wants, and we feel better about supporting a small, independent, alternative-type restaurant, versus a place like The Keg or Boston Pizza, neither of which need our money!

      Thanks so much for stopping by, Sara, and reading my long-winded journey 🙂

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  2. Another child of the 70s here, and I loved every word of this. Could have written most of them myself. Food is still a huge struggle/frustration for us. My babies never ate a lick of processed baby food (made it all myself), but their dad took over food duties when pre-school started and now processed meat is about the only kind of meat one child will eat.

    I’m going to think about the idea that it’s best to go cold turkey. I, too, like to believe in moderation. I also need to factor in that my children are nearly 17, and I don’t have that much time left to cook for them on a daily basis. I mean, I do–but perhaps not enough to wage the war it would be to change things now.

    I do cook and meal plan and try to serve healthy food, but it’s hard and I resent it (especially when my efforts are met with rudeness!) and sometimes I just can’t make cooking fit into the confines of our day.

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    1. I’m so impressed that you made all your own baby food, Rita! Whenever I heard of people doing that I always imagined it was incredibly difficult – and only now do I know that while it would have been time-consuming, it wouldn’t have been difficult at all 😦

      I wish I could give you some advice on what to do about your situation with cooking and your kids; I completely understand your desire to not wage a war with them, given that it won’t be long before they’re (likely) off to college. I wouldn’t want that either; I had exactly the same feelings last year, when our daughter was in grade 12 – which battles am I going to fight at this stage? Do I want her leaving our house incredibly happy because she’ll finally be away from me?? And yet … if you could somehow make your kids understand (and take seriously) your concerns! Would they be amenable to a sit-down conversation (away from the supper table) about what you’re trying to do, and the reasons you feel it’s important (as well as addressing the issue of the rudeness)? But maybe you’ve already tried? Oh, Rita, I wish I could help 😦

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      1. Hindsight…if I knew then, what I know now, I’d go back and change it! Very shortly after we had our daughter – 18 and 1/2 years ago! – we moved provinces, and I don’t mind admitting I was absolutely clueless about babies! No mother or MIL around to ask, a husband who travelled enormously, bout after bout after bout of mastitis, and a house to “move into” … I was just getting used to/through all that when I started her on solid foods, and when I vaguely heard/read (this was pre-internet) of people making their own baby food, but that you needed a food mill to do it (did you really (?!) and what the heck was a food mill anyway?!) I simply went for the convenience of jars. I did read labels, though, and at least I never bought anything with added sugar, or any of the other baby “desserts”. (And to be honest, she often ate healthier than we did – I didn’t know what a sweet potato was and I had never in my life cooked squash, and yet our baby was happily eating this stuff from a jar!)

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  3. what a good post! I have been working on a similar post for a while, but it keeps getting ever longer. I grew up in the 80s with plates of white food–rice or potatoes from a box, white chicken, and either steamed corn or overcooked broccoli (heated up in a plastic container. I shudder to think of the toxins we ingested.) My grandmother was renowned for her bad cooking, and my mother notes that she was truly unaware that vegetables did not come from cans until she went to college.

    My son’s food allergies totally overhauled how we ate. I couldn’t cook when we got married. I didn’t know that parsley was an herb that could be cooked with, and once my husband served me chicken that delicious and juicy and I asked what kind of meat it was—but in my defense I had never had chicken that wasn’t so overcooked it was striated like string cheese. (My mom was also deathly afraid of food poisoning from undercooked food.) Once my son came along, I not only had to learn how to cook, I had to do so without heating up stuff from a box.

    Now I CAN cook, but really don’t enjoy doing so, and it has been a long journey from making edible food to making delicious food. And my edible/delicious ratio still falls lower than I would like.

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    1. Thanks, Lisa! I like long posts, and while I don’t really love cooking, I do love talking about cooking (and food), so if you do get yours done I’ll gladly read it 🙂

      Heating in plastic containers!! My mother did that too! She’d sometimes make a vegetable soup, starting with a packet of dried Knorr soup and adding leftover turkey and noodles (which were then cooked until they were close to mush) and then she’d pour the stuff – while still hot! – into yogurt containers. They’d be frozen and then re-heated in the microwave. I’m shuddering too!

      My second child (now 16) was diagnosed with an egg allergy when he was one. With just the one allergy we don’t have it quite so difficult as you do in your house. It must be really hard to have to work around a number of allergies; all I had to do was to figure out what to do about the problem of eggs in baking (baking is something I do really love to do, so I was pretty determined to figure that out).

      It’s been a journey for me too, to get to the point where most of the meals I cook are considered delicious by most members of my family (actually, to be honest, I don’t think my 9 year-old considers much of anything I cook delicious, but at least he’s not complaining anymore!). My daughter (now 18 and off at university) has been a huge help with this. She decided she wanted to be vegetarian just before turning 12, and a lot of our really good meals are the vegetarian ones. She also really enjoys cooking, so will find recipes for us to try. She takes things more in stride than I do, so if things don’t turn out she doesn’t tend to let it get her down, whereas when I go through the effort of trying new recipes and they don’t turn out well, then that turns me off from trying new things.

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  4. Ha, your daughter’s response makes me laugh! For some reason it reminds me of the time a while back when my husband suggested that we should try to eat mostly produce that is local and in season. As I recall he was rather sheepish about suggesting this, as I do the menu planning and grocery shopping, and most of the cooking. And I was like: “Babe…that’s exactly what I do!”

    I happen to really enjoy cooking, so I don’t worry too much about processed food, as it feels more like a self-limiting crutch than a slippery slope to me. We do eat more processed food than I did when I was growing up — my mom is a great cook and was a SAHM, whereas my husband and I both work full-time and the fact that there are only 24 hours in the day means that sometimes something has just got to give. I do wish that the “foodie” world would agitate more for better convenience foods instead of placing all their emphasis on virtue-through-scratch-cooking. Lots of people simply don’t have time to make dinner from scratch every night, and there are lots of people who just don’t enjoy cooking — which should be okay, you know?

    That said, I think there’s also a case to be made for very SIMPLE scratch cooking. Having a few recipes that I can make from memory and get on the table in 20 minutes of active time (toast with garlicky kale and poached eggs; Welsh rarebit with spinach; split pea soup) is a real lifesaver for us.

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    1. Oh, the things we women do that our husbands/partners don’t know about! That sounds so much like a conversation I would have with my own husband 🙂

      I wish I could really enjoy cooking like you do! I like the results of cooking, and that certainly is something that keeps me going with it, but I think my happiness on days of leftovers are a dead giveaway 😉

      Not sure if you’ve ever had the opportunity to look at one of those Nutrition Action Health Letters I mentioned, but they do a great job of analyzing food products (so for example, one month they’d have a big cereal comparison, the next month would be soup…) and they rate the products on a number of measures (salt, fibre, additives, trans fat, etc), and then give them a thumbs up or a thumbs down. It’s a great tool for people who don’t necessarily know what to look for on labels, and helps them to make better choices. There definitely are better choices out there (before we went cold turkey, most of the stuff I bought came from the organic/natural section); whether those items are a slippery slope or not completely depends on your family and how you view food and cooking. (And I think it’s highly unlikely that someone who enjoys cooking would ever let it become a problem).

      Yes, I totally agree with you on the need for simple scratch cooking. I can’t remember where I read this, but someone commented on the fact that seemingly “every” chef was putting out “15 (or 20) minute cookbooks” in order to fill the need for quick home-cooked meals…but when this person actually went to make the recipes, they took WAY longer than the promised time, something that probably makes people want to give up entirely. Maybe instead of promising 15 minute meals, chefs should advise more of a “divide and conquer” approach? Chop the veggies the night before, or in the morning before leaving for work?

      There is large batch cooking (or “freezer cooking”) on weekends … but I’m sure you’ve already thought of that?

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      1. About the “quick and easy” cookbooks, I have a similar beef with the designers and marketers of “2 hour!” sewing patterns.

        Prep work on weekends is supposedly how Ruth Reichl makes home cooking happen. I think it makes sense, but our weekends are already so full with chores (5 loads of laundry, strip beds, plan menus, grocery shop, clean bathroom, scour kitchen sink…and those are just my jobs!) that I am loath to add another big one to the list.

        Ah, this discussion about quick recipes is reminding me of a blog series I have wanted to do for some time. Because we don’t need whole cookbooks of quick recipes…we just need 5 or 6 that we know by heart.

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      2. It’s annoying, isn’t it, the essential untruth of all the quick and easy marketing? I usually estimate at least double the time, if not more 😦

        Yes, the whole big batch cooking on the weekend thing – I suggested that, cringing a bit as I was writing it, tbh, and thinking, I’m sure Sarah’s already thought of that, and her weekends are probably jam-packed already… Sorry!

        Yes! Do a series on quick recipes!

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  5. We’ve somehow managed to balance at a partway point on this slippery slope! We eat a lot of breakfast cereals and canned foods, and we often have some frozen pizzas and frozen entrees of the all-natural vegetarian type. Breaded fish portions get into our home at times–although I think I’ve finally figured out a crumb topping for baked fish that satisfies my son enough that we might get by with buying plain fish for home-crumbing.

    But we do cook at least 4 dinners per week, usually 6 or 7, basically from scratch. It’s sadly unusual. I remember an after-dinner gathering of friends in our home, before any of us had kids, when someone remarked upon entering, “Wow, it’s the delicious smell of home cooking!!” and it was just that we’d browned onions in olive oil to top our frozen veggies cooked with pasta–and his response was, “You bought a real onion AND used it before it went bad?!”

    My partner and I stick stubbornly to the idea that we, and our children, are worthy of food that took a little effort, rather than stuff that tastes like somebody loves you. But there’s still some slack. For example, we buy ONE jumbo box of Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal when we shop at GFS–that’s about every 3 months–and our son is allowed to eat it only for dessert, not for breakfast. He can have it as his dessert every night if he wants, but once it’s gone, no more for months.

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    1. We do breakfast cereals as well, although I do always buy the healthier versions (less sugar and no food colouring). I think if I had tried to close the door on every single processed food item for breakfasts, lunches and snacks (in addition to suppers) I would have faced open rebellion from my kids! There definitely are some really good options for healthier processed food in the natural food sections of grocery stores, although they do, unfortunately, usually cost more than their conventional counterparts.

      I too, subscribe to the idea that our family is worth the time and effort of cooking. I read your “tastes like somebody loves you” and couldn’t agree more! The funny thing is that so much of what’s out there – stuff that, if you wanted it, someone had to go to the kitchen to make it – is now, for a lot of people, almost unimaginable as a thing that could be made from scratch. Using your example of the pudding cups, how many people make pudding from scratch anymore? Growing up, and even through to my early 30s, it never would have even occurred to me that such a thing came from something other than a box (which really is a sad thing to admit!). And then I found a recipe for pudding in the Laurel’s Kitchen cookbook, and tried it, and it wasn’t hard to do at all! We once had a knife demonstration from a young salesman (in his 20s) who had just found out at his previous demonstration that it was possible to make stuffing from scratch – without a box of Stove Top Stuffing mix! “Some people actually cut up bread!” he exclaimed. It’s not a stretch to say he was flabbergasted! I think the shifting that’s occurred – in practice as well as in mindset – from person to manufacturer, is a really sad thing. It’s one thing to be too busy to cook (and I do think this is valid for a lot of people), but to lose touch with the concept of what’s possible, and how things used to be done, seems somehow worse to me.

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  6. I followed you from Rita’s blog and I love this entry on so many levels I don’t know where to start! Especially the bit about cooking being WORK. The amount of time and effort I put into feeding my family well takes more time than I ever would have imagined and while I ‘m fortunate enough to love it and have a spouse who appreciates said work I struggle with the low value society places on that kind of domestic labor. As if my love of homemaking poorly reflects on my level of intelligence.

    The kids can be a challenge, can’t they? Both mine, 5 and 8, love processed food even though they’ve had very little of it. My older one’s favorite foods, which he gets VERY seldom, are canned chicken soup and canned mandarin oranges. After a lifetime spent eating mostly fresh produce and soups I make from scratch. It can be discouraging at times. Now that they both eat lunch at school I struggle with how much to allow them to consume the CAFO meat hot lunches. Or what to pack that doesn’t make them feel like freaks compared to their friends which can end up giving them food issues later. On a recent field trip with my older son’s class I was shocked to see that there are still people packing their kids lunches of Wonderbread sandwiches, Fritos, Little Debbie, and a Capri Sun. I don’t mean that in a judgmental way but more that I delusionally thought society had moved past that.

    As for picky eating, I’ve been struggling with frustration lately. I believe no one should have to eat food they truly dislike. But there’s a difference between “this food makes me gag,” and “this isn’t what I feel like eating right now.” We’ve never experienced the former but I’ve had it with the later. It’s one thing if there’s a food or dish my kids consistently don’t like (zucchini, mushrooms, enchilada sauce) but if you liked this dish last time I cooked it and are claiming to hate it now I don’t accept that. Or if you loved this soup Wednesday night but refuse to eat it for Sunday lunch that’s not okay. Not to mention the bit where you ate the cheese off the top and/ or mixed all kinds of condiments into your food before you decided you don’t like it. I’m tired of throwing away food from plates or eating the same leftover dish for lunch five straight days in a row simply because you prefer a cheese sandwich for lunch. I have done the Mommy Dearest thing and offered the same food for consecutive meals until it was eaten. Which makes me feel all kinds of crazy and in the wrong for picking battles over food. But on the other hand I do feel it’s okay to teach lessons about not wasting and eating what there is even if it’s not what makes your little heart sing this particular moment.

    Can you tell I’ve been doing some soul searching in this area lately? 🙂

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    1. Thanks, Beth! I hear you on the struggle with feeling undervalued by society – this has always been a hard thing for me to accept as well, despite the fact that I too have a very supportive husband. I sometimes run a mental list of everything I’ve done, or have yet to do, during the day (usually when I’m in the kitchen, and usually when I’ve been chopping for what feels like forever! (healthy takes time!)). I’ll think of all the different hats I’ve worn – baker, seamstress, chef, laundress, painter, childcare worker, chauffeur – and I’ll wonder why it is that all of those roles are paying jobs, and yet as soon as someone is doing the same task for their own family, it’s no longer considered work. While I know I really shouldn’t care what other people think, it really irks me!

      When my older kids were in kindergarten, I often helped out with supervision at lunch time, and it was an eye-opener for me as well, to see what kids had packed in their lunches. Exactly the stuff you listed. And even worse was the fact that so many kids didn’t even bother eating the sandwich. They went straight for the chips and the majority of everything else went into the garbage. Another huge problem for the kids was the lack of time: they’re barely seated before the lunch ladies are telling them if they’re done they can line up to go outside. No wonder they went for the chips first 😦

      With regards to picky eating, we’ve never had to deal with the issue of “this food makes me gag”, so I guess we’ve been pretty lucky. I have to confess to being really quite unsympathetic to pickiness of the “I don’t like it” variety, and have always told the kids, this is supper. Period. I wish I could say I always said it calmly and refused to make the supper table a battleground, but that would be a lie. We did manage to muddle through it somehow though, and I don’t think I caused them any permanent damage 😉 The older two (18 and 16) are really very exceptionally adventurous with regards to food, and our youngest (9) is over the pickiness now and is getting to be quite amenable to trying new foods. (But if there’s an opportunity for processed food, he’ll take it!)

      Good luck with figuring out a balance with food and your kids, Beth, and thanks so much for taking the time to leave a comment!

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