The older I get the more I realize that I need to be eating more healthfully [not "healthy" which is incorrect, thanks Mom] and that includes not eating what I call Fake Food. Why? Well, not because I have advanced intelligence, I must admit. Not even because I am fat. No, I have simply learned that I just feel better if I eat Real Food. [More energy. Less indigestion. Better skin. Etc.]
Now, I am very guilty of eating Fake Food. When I was in grad school, particularly, I lived on canned tuna and Campbell's soups and hot dogs. Cheap, fast to cook, and I liked them. Between work and school I never had more than 10 minutes to spend on meal preparation. [I actually lost weight on that diet, but it was because I was walking all over UT campus and trying to eat fruit instead of sweets.]
Michael discovered the joys of Jello salad recently and made himself some. I had a spoonfull of what he made -- cherry jello with a can of fruit cocktail mixed in -- a "congealed salad" that was a staple around my house when I was growing up. It was yummy but too sweet.
But Fake Food is something certain kids only get because their parents don't cook real food, which is really sad.
Exhibit #1: Kraft Mac & Cheese
"Kraft Foods Group announced Monday that Original Kraft Macaroni & Cheese sold in the United States will be made without artificial preservatives or synthetic colors starting in January 2016. Kraft says it will replace synthetic colors — including Yellow 5 and Yellow 6 — with colors derived from natural sources such as paprika, annatto and turmeric."
I don't know what "annatto" is but I bet it's more tasty than chemicals. Kudos to Kraft, but I think they only took this step because of public pressure..
When I was a kid, my grandmother and mother made macaroni and cheese from scratch. It involved boiling elbow macaroni 3 times longer than the package directions, until it was really soft. [To this day, I hate "al dente" pasta, ugh.] Then you make a basic white sauce and add lots of cheese, salt, pepper, onion powder, paprika, etc. Finally, you add in a couple of beaten eggs as you mix the cheese and pasta mixture. This was the BEST mac & cheese EVER. It was not lowfat, but things that are really tasty often are filled with fat because as any chef will tell you, Fat = Flavor.
Of course, that mac & cheese was not a staple around our house because it is some trouble to make. Mom made it on special occasions. [Most people who don't cook, of course, are puzzled by the term "basic white sauce" -- which I learned to make around age 10...]
You don't have to buy the boxed crap to give your kids something quick and pasta filled. Keep reading.
Exhibit #2: Give Kids Real Cake
Mom was telling me a story of when my brother was in about 4th grade and she made a homemade pound cake with homemade chocolate icing. Bruce brought a little boy home from school to play, and Mother gave both boys big pieces of cake and glasses of milk. The boy loved the cake. He went home and told his mother how wonderful it was -- and I'm sure it was; Mother made fantastic cakes. The next day, Mom went to school to pick up Bruce and saw the child's mother, who came rushing over. "My son just loved that cake you made yesterday! He can't stop talking about it. What kind of cake did you make?" the woman asked.
Mother said "Well, it's just the old 1,2,3,4 pound cake with boiled chocolate icing."
The woman instantly realized Mother had made the cake from scratch instead of a boxed mix. Her demeanor instantly changed. She said something dismissive and stormed off, furious. She never spoke to Mother again!
Mother had shown her up. That boy probably grew up to be a chef...
My point is simply this: once kids eat real food, they like it. They usually don't want to return to Fake Food. And real food isn't that difficult or time-consuming to make. If you don't want to spend a lot of time making traditional mac & cheese, just make pasta salad. Use whole wheat or veggie pasta and olive oil and fresh garlic and parmesan cheese. Takes a little longer to fix than the boxed stuff but it's SO much better. Throw in some diced up peppers or zucchini and it's much more healthful.
I figured out a tasty spinach recipe the other day. I just sauteed some bacon in olive oil and threw in my spinach with some garlic powder and balsamic vinegar and sauteed it for a few minutes. You can also leave off the bacon and just use olive oil and fresh garlic, which I tried too, the next night -- the taste sensation is the balsamic vinegar. The sweetness of it cuts the bitterness of the spinach. Now, I must admit something -- I hate to see spinach stems on my plate. I don't know why. I just don't like stems. So I sit and pull off the stems while watching TV, so I just get the leaves. Still healthful. Very yummy. If you have a child who won't eat fresh spinach try pulling off the stems. If he still won't eat it tell him it came out of Shrek's swamp... Be Creative!
Think your kids just would never touch spinach? Try fresh asparagus -- easy and tasty.
Don't have time to make a cake from scratch? Try my brownies -- very easy to make if you have the ingredients on hand.
I know how hard it is to work full time and come home tired. You don't want to start in making some elaborate dinner, especially when the kids need homework help, the dog has to be walked, the kitchen is a mess. etc. BTDT Single moms especially have it hard. There are alternatives, though, if you are creative.
I had a friend at work years ago who raised her own two kids and her husband's 7 kids - 9 kids! She worked full time, too, and they had to live on a strict budget. I asked her how she managed. She said on Sundays she made 3 things, usually a roast, a pot of something like chili or spaghetti sauce, and something else. They ate on those as main dishes the rest of the week.
Another friend of mine told me recently she likes to get together with a buddy once a month or so and they spend all day cooking casseroles they can freeze to eat on days when they don't feel like cooking. Very clever idea.
An employer of mine some years ago said his kids' after school babysitter was paid to fix dinner for the family Monday through Thursday nights. She wasn't a great cook but she cooked decent, healthful foods. Of course, he and his wife weren't hurting financially...
So there are alternatives out there to Fake Food. Even if you don't like to cook, try not to feed your kids a steady diet of takeout food and pizza... They will thank you one day.