The latest in our 'How to feed a family' series also features some great tips on how to convince a 6-year-old to eat gourmet food.
Welcome to the latest post in TreeHugger's series, "How to feed a family." Every week we talk to a different person about how they approach the never-ending challenge of feeding themselves and other household members. We get the inside scoop on how they grocery shop, meal plan, and food prep to make it go more smoothly.
Parents work so hard to feed their children and themselves, to put healthy meals on the table, to avoid spending a fortune at the grocery store, and to fit it all around busy work and school schedules. It's a feat worthy of more praise than it commonly gets, which is why we want to highlight it – and hopefully learn from it in the process. This week we talk to Kate, who loves good food and makes a point of teaching her daughter to appreciate it too.Names: Kate (45), Adam (45), and daughter (6 and three-quarters!)
Location: Austin, Texas
Employment: Both parents work full-time, and Kate works from home three days a week.
Weekly food budget: US$250
1. What's a favourite or commonly prepared meal in your house?
Roasted chicken with a roasted veg (favorites include kale, brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes)
2. How would you describe your diet?
Seasonal and omnivore. Emphasis on local and leaning toward vegetarian.
3. How often do you shop for groceries?
I do one big weekly shop and usually have to go a couple more times during the week.
4. What does your grocery shopping routine look like?
I have a loop where I hit Whole Foods, Costco, HEB (local supermarket chain), Trader Joe’s, then home. My favorite, though, is Central Market, which is HEB’s 'foodie' supermarket. Which supermarkets I go to depends on what I’m making that week. There are also some local Latin, Asian, and Mediterranean/Middle Eastern smaller stores I’ll go to if that’s on the menu. At Costco, we buy a lot of fruit and veg in bulk (I love that I can get organic berries there in the spring and summer and organic apples in the fall) because we eat a lot of it and it’s cheaper there.
5. Do you meal plan?
Yes!! I usually plan on Friday evenings. I have a planning pad with a section on one side for the menu and the other side for the list, so I can just take the list with me to the supermarket. Then I usually reorganize the list by where it is in the store. I can picture Central Market in my mind and so I set up the list according to the layout: produce, meat/seafood, wine, dairy, bread, cheese, then aisles and bulk. I don’t buy a lot from aisles, but there are some basics. I love bulk sections! I buy flours, grains, nuts, and spices in bulk.
I have a big cookbook collection, collected recipes from magazines in big binders, and recipes saved on my phone. I usually get inspired for something and tend to have a theme, although sometimes I just grab a cookbook and a binder and sit down and figure out what I want to make. Now that spring is here in Texas, I just want to make fresh vegetables!
6. How much time do you spend cooking each day?
On Sundays I make something that takes more time, but during the week I usually try to have something that takes less than one hour. Lately my daughter has been asking to help, which I want! She likes to chop vegetables, but her enthusiasm usually means the veg flies all over the kitchen! I have kid-friendly knives, which aren’t that sharp, so I've had to let go of my perfectionism in the kitchen, but it’s worth it to have her participate. She loves to help me bake too. Recently I made lemon curd from our Meyer lemon tree and I had some stem ginger my friend made, so we made gingerbread (as a vehicle for the curd!), and she was a great helper, even decorating it with sprinkles when it was done.
7. How do you handle leftovers?
We love leftovers! I use only glass containers to store leftovers and I have a range of sizes, including some big ones. I tend to make things that will make lots of leftovers. Adam likes to take leftovers for lunch at work.
8. How many dinners per week do you cook at home vs. eat out or take out?
I cook three times per week. Sunday I make something more complicated or something that takes a long time. Monday and Tuesday I work from home so I can start cooking right when the work day is done or set up the slow cooker in the morning. Wednesday and Thursday I go into the office and so get home later and we eat leftovers one night and usually a big salad the other night.
My six-year old does not like salad, but I give her the components of the salad. This time of year we have lettuce from the garden (which she helped plant) and she’ll eat those leaves (she also likes raw spinach leaves), and I usually put nuts and a fruit or veg in there, so she’ll get those too.
Our Friday evening ritual is family dinner out. We have several favorites: some local pizza places, Chinese, Middle Eastern. Sometimes we try a new restaurant that has a happy hour menu. Saturdays are 'Baby Daddy Days' (set up when she was a baby, so we kept the name) where they spend the whole day together and I get a day to myself. This is usually when I do my grocery shopping after a long run. I get something to grill Saturday night, usually a grass-fed steak or wild salmon along with a veg to grill (except in winter when we roast veggies). Those are our favorites, but if the butcher/fish monger at Central Market has a special, I may get that, especially if it’s something in season.
9. What are the biggest challenges in feeding yourself and your family?
Getting my six-year old to eat it! She has to try at least one bite of everything. I want to expose her to different flavors, but I know she won’t like everything (or most things lately!). Adam and I will eat almost anything and I want to create an environment where she is curious about food. Usually she has a bento-box style dinner with one portion of whatever we’re having (unless she likes what we’re having, then that’s her whole plate too) and others made up of different fruits, olives (Kalamata and green), raw veggies. Sometimes she'll have something like sweet potato crackers or nuts (her favorite is pistachios).
I wish she were more adventurous. I see friends whose kids eat everything in front of them, including salads, but I don’t say anything to her because I don’t want to set up an issue around food. So the only rule is she has to try what’s on her plate. The only exception is when I make something spicy. She can eat mildly spicy, but if we want something spicier, I’ll make her some pasta with olive oil and Parmesan. But generally, I don’t make her a separate meal.
Sometimes I am just tired and don’t want to cook, so we’ll do something easy or Adam will grill. Full-time work and then full-time momming is exhausting. Especially towards the end of winter before spring arrives, I just get tired of the seasonal options. Living in a hot place, summer can be a challenge. Farmers' markets don’t usually have much to offer in the summer and having a stove or oven on is hard.
10. Any other information you’d like to add?
When she was 2-3, my New Year’s resolution was to cook food from 50 countries. I wanted a challenge for myself but also to expose her to lots of different kinds of foods. I finished it on October 2nd, our anniversary, and I made Portuguese food (where we honeymooned). I made a duck risotto with orange, roasted kale, and pasteis de nata (little egg custards). She ate three bowls of the risotto!
It was a fun challenge, but it also forced me to overcome some intimidation I had about certain aspects of cooking, like making pasta or shopping at Asian markets. And I loved seeing how much different cultures have in common through food. Each night that we ate from a different country, we turned it into a game that included her, learning a word or two of the language and talking about the country, usually the kinds of animals that lived there. I also took her with me shopping, and her curiosity helped me. When I took her to the big Chinese supermarket, she had so much fun! And it was a good reminder to see it through her eyes and not feel intimidated by 40 different kinds of soy sauce!
I lived in Italy for a year when I was 30, and it changed my approach to cooking and eating. They eat very locally and care a lot about the ingredients. There is also an emphasis about enjoying the food, not eating on the run, and spending time with people you care about during a meal. Preparing a meal is showing your love for the people you’re feeding and then giving respect to the food while you eat it. We sit at the table every night together and have dinner and we light candles and do a blessing that she learned at school: "Earth who gives us all our food, sun that makes it ripe and good, dearest Earth and dearest sun, we thank you for what you have done. Buen provecho!" and blow out the candles. It sets the tone for our meal.
We'd love to hear from YOU! Please get in touch if you'd like to answer these same questions about your family's meal-prepping and grocery shopping habits. Even if you don't feel like you have it all together, that's OK. We're striving for a glimpse into different households and how everyone does feeds themselves. Send us a message on Instagram. For more stories in this series, see How to feed a family.