Last year Virginia Heffernan wrote an article "What if you just hate making dinner?" for New York Times Magazine in reaction to all the new books coming out about family dinner. It was a new twist on the mommy wars -- cooking moms versus non-cooking moms. Her words have stuck with me.
Why is food such a big part of rearing children? Why me? And why can't I just crack open a half-dozen Clif bars and keep playing with my children? Cooking! Aren't we past that?
No one warns you about cooking for a family when you are pregnant. If you are like me, you may have thought dinner just happens, the whole family shows up, and everyone eats it. But as you've likely experienced, it doesn't just happen, whether the cause be broccoli or Little League.
I remember so clearly being in a warm, rug covered basement attending a birthing class 12 years ago when I was pregnant with my first child. At the time, I didn't look much beyond the day I was to give birth, unless it had to do with strollers or booties.
There was another woman in the class who epitomized what it would be like to loose your life to motherhood. She had not even birthed her baby and she talked constantly about this week's fresh baked bread, stews cooked and veggies pickled.
She became known as "Bread Girl". And all I knew was that motherhood was not going to cause me to lose my edge. I was never going to spend Sunday baking bread!
You see, my husband and I were foodies. I loved our city life and a big part of that was the myriad of amazing restaurants just a walk away. I didn't even know how to cook an egg and was pretty scared of the veggie section of the grocery store. And if I am honest, losing myself to the tasks of motherhood was one of my biggest fears.
Well, during that pregnancy, I did not lose my edge, but I did gain close to 100 pounds! The next 6 years were filled with surviving city life and babies. We had 3, and at the end of a five-year whirlwind, my edge, my husband and our three kids conceded to moving out of the city to the "burbs".
So here I was with 65 extra pounds and a "white picket fence." It no longer made sense to eat out. And with three young kids, waiting for my husband to get home to make dinner was quickly becoming ridiculous. I did the best I could with what I knew, which was not much. I visited the frozen food aisle often and was happy that kids are "supposed" to eat mac and cheese.
I was exhausted. The burbs were different. Having 3 kids was intense. I knew I needed something to change. I decided to change the thing that I knew I could, which was my weight.
I dove head first into vegan and gluten-free cuisine. I very quickly lost the weight, and rid myself of seasonal allergies. I got my period for the first time ever without medication. My skin glowed.
I had no idea that food had this kind of power.
I became a healthy, happy mom and all I did was change what I ate!
Then I started to ask myself "What was food doing to my kids?"
At the same time my 4-year old daughter was suffering from what felt like incurable eczema, and she was not thriving at school. It was bad. One day, her preschool teacher asked if I ever tried taking dairy out of her diet. Three months before, I would not have been able to imagine life without dairy, but since I had all these new tricks, I went with it. Her eczema was gone in less than a week and her attitude improved almost overnight.
When I first read Virginia Heffernan's article last year, I could not figure out why it haunted me, but then I got it. Her words took me back to those fears I had had in the early stages of motherhood, of not wanting to fall victim to the daily tasks. But her focus (and mine back then) was simply on the ACT of cooking. Both her and I had ignored the nutritional value, the importance for health, the real purpose of THE FOOD.
Putting my apron on doesn't take away my edge. Dinner is not just about the fact that at 6:00pm we are supposed to eat. DINNER is very much about nurturing our bodies. The FOOD we eat can change us.
Our surroundings are stacked against us. After school activities go late. Bosses don't always let us go home at the right time. And we have been programmed to think that macaroni and cheese and chicken fingers are an appropriate dinner for children.
We have to start putting food first, one meal at a time.
So, Virginia, what was missing from your article was the food. As I wrote my book this summer about planning simple meals, I worried that I was adding one more book to the mix that intimidates the mothers who don't want to lose their edge -- mothers like me (and maybe you). But when the food stayed at the center, when health-giving food became the purpose, it turned into less of a cookbook and more of a book to empower those mothers who fear the apron ties.
We have to make nourishing, home-cooked, veggie-centered meals a priority.
I am not always in the mood to pull together dinner. Sometimes I wish I could push a button like Judy Jetson! But by reframing the "motherly duty of making dinner" to "head chef and super mama, taking on the future of those she loves," everything about my time in the kitchen changes.