Rethinking Slow Food for a Fast Life
I love the idea of Slow Food. I cherished my brief subscriptions to La Cucina Italiana and Slow Food. I set a lofty goal of one day cooking like an Italian grandmother — despite my German-Slavic roots.
And then I became a mom.
My Slow Food fantasy got replaced by the one where I rub the side of my reusable water bottle and out pops a genie and grants my wish for getting just two more hours in a day — and not through giving up more sleep. The genie has yet to show up so I’m left with a timeframe of 24 hours and way too much to stuff into it. I spend every day trying to creatively rearrange all the puzzle pieces and fit more in — much like the way I load the dishwasher.
When summer activities for the kid change over to fall sports, school, homework, school projects, parent volunteering, and community service projects, my daily time puzzle gets even harder to manage. I find myself choosing carefully the pieces of the puzzle that I absolutely won’t leave out. One of these pieces is feeding our family actual food — perhaps not Slow Food, but actual food. It’s not always an easy task but there are a few creative approaches I have found to help fit it in.
LEARN TO LOVE THE LEFTOVER
After a commute home, weeknights leave me a window of about 15 minutes to get dinner prepared before the youngest native gets restless. To deal with this, we do most of our “real” cooking on the weekends, especially Sunday dinner. Monday through Wednesday, we alternate leftovers from the weekend. These “heat-and-eat” nights take less time to prepare than a trip through the drive-thru lane. Dishes are minimal too, every bit counts.
Thursday, we finish any remaining leftovers or prepare a quick meal like soup and sandwiches or eggs. Friday, we often eat at the grocery store before we shop. Saturday is the farmers’ market trip and the cooking begins again.
COOK ONCE, ENJOY OFTEN
I discovered this great thing about my oven. It magically cooks two chickens just as easily as it cooks one. Part of one chicken can be served for dinner. Then I can use the pre-cooked chicken for quick weeknight recipes like a chicken salad, chicken tacos, chicken chili with canned beans, or a chicken quesadilla.
Another magical discovery is that it takes about the same amount of time to make a pot of soup for eighteen as it does to make a pot for eight. Even my family, who has been conditioned to like leftovers, balks at the same dish over and over (and over), so I keep containers on hand that hold just enough for a weeknight dinner. Two nights worth of soup get used for dinners the current week. The rest of the soup fills the containers and goes into the freezer. Weeks later, pressed for time on a busy night, I can pull out my own prepared food and have it hot from the microwave in minutes. This works great with other dishes, too, like lasagna, chili, or spaghetti sauce.
ONE FOR ALL, ALL EAT ONE
There are legitimate reasons why moms have to cook separate meals for kids; food allergies and sensitivities, special needs, infant and toddler foods. When it comes to just pleasing a picky eater, though, I feel for the mom or dad doing double duty at the stove. It’s hard enough just getting one meal on the table every night. If this is you, there may be some ways to get the family eating from the same menu again.
Things to try include giving your picky ones a cookbook of healthy items and saying, “Okay, you get to plan dinner for one night this week.” Or, you may try having everyone in the family eat at least one-to-two of the same dishes and vote for favorites together. Over time, you’ll find shared likes and can hopefully get back to preparing one meal everyone can agree on.
BE A BOY SCOUT IN YOUR OWN KITCHEN
In case of a food emergency, be prepared with a few pantry staples on hand. Wholegrain pasta, canned beans and tuna, and sundried tomatoes are great — whatever few shelf stable ingredients you need to make a quick meal if the fridge is empty.
When you do have ingredients and a bit of prep time, but don’t want to leave food on the stove or in the oven while you are at the ball game, dance practice or piano lesson — or all of the above — crockpots are a perfect solution. Dinner is waiting for you when you do finally get home to the table.
Another good plan is keeping your fresh fruits and veggies washed, prepared, and even cooked and chilled on hand to make weeknight meals easy. I’ve noticed a significant increase in our weekly fruit and vegetable intake when these foods are ready and within reach for meals and snacks alike. It takes a few minutes to assemble a salad for a weeknight dinner or to fill the kid’s lunch box – or a cooler on the way to a sporting event or practice — with fruit and veggies when these healthy foods are ready to go.
Grocery stores charge a premium for the convenience of pre-washed, pre-cut fresh foods. The only cost you should have to pay is just a bit of time. Best of all, you can share this time cost with the whole family by working together just for an hour or so after the grocery run. Even the youngest in the family can tear lettuce and use the salad spinner, or portion out nuts and dried fruit into serving-size bags for grab-and-go moments. The oldest in the crew can help chop and clean up, which brings me to the next tip.
FOOD IS A FAMILY ACTIVITY TOO
I used to feel the mom guilt over taking my kid to the farmers market instead of spending the whole day running from dance class to the soccer field to karate practice. And then I realized that food is a lot like swimming lessons. We made swimming lessons one of our child’s mandatory activities because we wanted her to be safer around water. Food habits like sourcing and cooking healthy, real food also keep her safer — from obesity, food safety issues, and cardiovascular diseases.
As part of this mandatory activity, we plan our new kind of slow food: slowing down enough to spend time teaching our child to think about nutrition, to shop for food, to cook, to go to the farmers market, to visit farms and volunteer, and even to garden. Food can be a wonderful activity, even it if is just sitting together at your own kitchen table laughing while shelling peas.
FINALLY, CUT YOURSELF A BREAK WHILE YOU ARE CUTTING THE CARROT STICKS
There will be grilled cheese and soup for dinner sometimes. And I’ve learned to be okay with that. The odds of me as a real mom with a real life making gourmet meals every single day is about as realistic as me trying to look like an 18-year-old cover model post-airbrushing.
I had to just get over it already.
You should adjust your reality filter, too. That chicken salad sandwich you pull together in five minutes instead of going to a drive-thru means you gave your family actual food. That’s something to feel good about, not guilt over. Embrace your ability to pull together ten-minute meals from pantry goods, to make a turkey on whole wheat on the fly, to keep both your life and your food real. Even if neither one is real slow.