Nothing tastes as good as being healthy feels. ~Author unknown
Before I go on about the ways I have simplified the task of feeding my family, I want to say that it has been a long road getting here and I’m not quite sure the path to eating perfection will ever be attained, nor should it. For many, many years, we ascribed to the “beans and rice, rice and beans” mentality until we learned that those meals, albeit healthy and frugal in their own right, were not kind nor helpful to the multiple health issues I am fighting against daily (Endometriosis, Adenomyosis, hormone imbalances, infertility, repeat miscarriages, migraines, and more). A few years ago, before I became pregnant with The Toddler, I was facing some serious stuff. That’s all I’m going to say about that except to note that my long-time doctor (sadly, now retired) and I had a major life-changing discussion in his office while going over my recent test results, ultrasound scans, and everything that could and couldn’t be done about the extent and seriousness of my illnesses (think: Cancer and gene testing). Scary stuff.
As a last resort, this doctor—who was a champion for me and my health from my first appointment on, a beacon of hope in some of my darkest times of baby loss, one whom celebrated with us the birth of every child he surgically delivered, and the adoption of The Girl—urgently prescribed a type of modified-Paleo regime that strictly eliminated ALL grains and sugars from my diet for three months, and put me back on natural progesterone support. What I needed to commit to was a diet without rice or pasta (not even gluten-free), no pizza or breads, no fruits or desserts, nor sugar in my tea. You get the picture. He wanted me to check in every month and let him know how I was feeling, continue sending in my NFP charts, note any changes in all symptoms and frequency of migraines, any new or worsening conditions, anything positive or negative related to my cycle and health issues. After the three months’ trial, he said that I could begin to add one grain or sugar back into rotation at a time to see if and what I could tolerate in those food categories.
I owed this special doctor so much for the family he helped us build, the prayers he prayed in our name, wholeheartedly trusting his medical knowledge and advice on the management of my health-related issues over the years, and appreciated his candid, yet gentle discussions with me about the truth and seriousness of the female disorders I live with every day. Although, in the past I had tried The Endo Diet, I was unsuccessful each time I tried to modify my diet to meet the requirements. It seemed overwhelming and daunting, especially during the times after another miscarriage or months on end of trying to conceive another pregnancy. However, three years ago, I was desperate.
Hitting the vortex of desperation with my doctor’s newfound research, empathy and conviction to keeping another pending surgery at bay, he put me on the path to a whole new me. Truly. This major change to my diet, which seemed simple and doable against all the odds I was facing (after all, what did I have to lose?) in turn changed my health around almost instantaneously and, in a sense, gave me my life back. Quite possibly, considerably changing my diet is the one and only reason—aside from a true miracle—that The Toddler’s life exists. For this reason alone, I am humbled and feel blessed beyond compare, and try my best to maintain this type of eating regime for optimum health so that I can be the best version of myself for those I love the most.
The one area of my life I refuse to scrimp on is what I serve my family to eat. In our household, we have multiple special-diets that we must adhere to due to a list of life-threatening food allergies and serious medical conditions. There was a time when I enjoyed cooking and learning new, elaborate recipes. Although I do still enjoy cooking and trying enticing recipes, health and safety is always on my mind. Over the last few years, I have discovered that simple, whole foods are the easiest, most cost-effective, and healthiest means to feeding my family.
So, what are some of my strategies for feeding a large family with all the variables I mentioned above? How do I keep the necessary tasks of cooking and preparing healthy and safe meals, and shopping within a budget possible? For one, I make it a priority to serve raw and fresh fruits and veggies at most meals and for snacks. I tend to only steam, cook, or roast vegetables at dinner time. We do serve your typical “kid-friendly” snacks (Veggie Straws, Goldfish crackers, Annie’s bunny fruit snacks, etc…) but the list of packaged foods we choose to buy is slim due to allergen restrictions and my commitment to feeding my family more whole foods and less processed ones, and find it a relief to both my healthy-eating conscience and wallet staying away from most pre-packaged snacks for daily consumption.
Over the weekend, I typically will buy the ingredients I need for cooking a pot of homemade chicken and vegetable soup, turkey and veggie chili, or Tuscan vegetable soup on Sunday or Monday for myself to eat at lunch and/or snack all week-long. This has been a lifesaver for my health-related and time-saving needs. It’s especially helpful to have this type of healthy leftover on hand for nights the kids have swimming lessons (pizza night!), or when my husband is away on business and I serve the kids a meal they prefer (think: chicken nuggets, French fries, applesauce, and green beans!).
What saves us the most time and money is eating a ton of left-overs, non-complicated foods, and simply, meal planning. An organic rotisserie chicken goes a long way and can be made into multiple meals throughout the week. The last of the chicken leftovers get thrown into the soup pot and all of the pieces combined make a delicious bone broth. Food waste is a big deal to me and one that I haven’t quite ratified 100% from my kitchen. However, I will tell you that by simplifying what is written down on my grocery list and not being too over-zealous in my meal planning, we waste much, much less than ever before.
Managing to keep my food shopping to one or two grocery stores only—the two that best serve our eating and monetary needs–also helps. (In case you are wondering, I shop primarily at Aldi and Kroger.) Texting The Husband at the end of his work day when we are out of: whole milk, eggs, bananas, etc… and asking him to please stop on his way home helps me to stay out of the grocery store every few days, which also saves me from the temptation of over-buying and over-spending (but, it was on sale!) when we need only a few essentials to get us to the next pay period. We rarely eat out because it’s difficult to keep The Toddler in a high chair, not to mention the many allergies to consider. At this stage in our family’s life, we’d much rather spend our time and money elsewhere.
Keeping to particular food shopping and meal preparation routines enables me to simplify my life to ensure there is adequate room for what matters most: keeping my family well-fed in healthy and safe ways, and making memories by spending our precious time together doing what we enjoy.
Please share with me how you simplify the ways it takes to feed your family. Do you enjoy eating out together, or do you prefer to make homemade meals? What advice can you offer about simplifying meal-prep routines?