The frenetic pace of work, school, and daily after-school activities — combined with the finicky whims of kids — makes mealtime a constant challenge.
I aspire to perfection. I never even come close, but it gives me a goal. I sometimes read other bloggers who write about natural living and they sound so self righteous that I want to puke.
Nobody can do it all, just right, all the time. Nobody. No matter what they say. Life is challenging. It throws stuff at you, sometimes, I think, just to see how high you can jump.
I would love to have a completely local, organic, homegrown meal on the table, three times everyday. I’d love to have the time to do all the work it takes to make that into a reality.
I’d love for my kids to come home from school each afternoon, with minimal homework, a smile on their faces, and a block full of kids to play with outside.
The reality is that four weeknights out of five, we run out of the door within an hour of walking in, onward to some class or lesson. Homework is done while we shove food down our throats. My husband is gone for two of the four nights, working late in Queens. We rush through life and fall into bed exhausted.
Since this is our first year of school, I’m not sure if this is normal. Based on my observations though, it seems that this is life.
I’ve had to compromise. I buy bananas that are grown in Costa Rico. In January, my apples are being shipped from Washington state. On Tuesday night, when we have a mere 45 minutes between school and ballet, we eat sandwiches at 4 and when we get home at 7, I peel carrots or throw lettuce in a bowl. Hardly gourmet, I assure you.
My kids have totally different tastes. Though they both would happily eat pizza every night, after some consideration, I’ve decided that’s not healthy.
So I keep trying to make quality meals. On occasion, I make macaroni and cheese from scratch. The recipe I have involves constant stirring of the white sauce, lest the milk burn, until it thickens and boils. It takes about 15 minutes or so for this portion of the recipe. Last week, my son informed me that my mac and cheese is gritty. In deference to the young prince, I switched my spoon for a whisk, to better process the flour.
The response? “This is great!” Umm, so then why aren’t you eating? “I’m not really that hungry. Can I just have a pear?”
My daughter tends towards the vegetarian. She loves bean dishes and has been begging me to make lentil soup. It’s such a simple dish, but totally delicious and full of vegetables. There’s quite a bit of chopping and peeling involved, by how could I say no? So after an hour, I put (what I thought was) an excellent pot of lentil soup on the table (after making a separate dish for my son, who feels beans of any kind are a personal affront). Two bites. What’s wrong? “I’m so full, Mommy.”
But I still try to put something home cooked on the table most nights. Those two are among a plethora of recipes that I can throw together in about an hour. That leaves us 40 minutes to eat, usually.
I’ve also developed an affinity for leftovers. There’s something inherently beautiful about a home made meal that’s already in the fridge. In my house, leftovers are no longer the neglected step child of yesteryear, but the savior of week nights.
On Thursday afternoons, when we go directly to swimming from school, come home for one hour and then head out to guitar lessons, leftovers are the norm. And pizza too, (I figure once a week is okay. I am making it myself and all). This Thursday, it’ll be lentil soup and macaroni and cheese. I seem to have quite a bit on hand.
As long as life keeps getting in the way of my perfect, utopian world that exists only in my dreams, we’ll keep being human. We’ll have tropical fruit in our northeast kitchen. Sometimes, we’ll eat waffles for dinner and we’ll use the car when we should ride our bikes. We’ll buy pre-cut, frozen vegetables. And on occasion, I’ll even put my clothes in the dryer because there’s no time to get out to the clothes line.
And that’s the best I can do for now. I hope you understand that this blog sometimes represents my aspirations and not always my reality (we never got around to coloring our Easter eggs this year. OK, we never even got around to hard boiling the eggs). I hope you find a way to live naturally and that maybe my blog gives you some ideas. I hope that when life gets in the way, you have a backup plan. Maybe we can figure some of it out together. I invite you to send me any questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Until then, how about some lentil soup?
4 carrots, peeled and sliced
5 stalks of celery, chopped
2 onions, chopped
3 large cloves of garlic
1 1/4 cup lentils, rinsed and drained
32 ounces chicken broth
14 ounces diced tomatoes, with liquid
2 tablespoons oil
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper to taste
Saute vegetables in oil until starting to brown, about 10-15 minutes. Add lentils, broth and tomatoes. Bring to a boil and then lower heat to medium low. Simmer for about 30 minutes, or until vegetables and lentils are soft. Working in batches, blend about 3/4 of the soup in a food processor. Return to the pot and add salt and pepper. Remove from heat, stir in balsamic and serve.
What’s your favorite weeknight, quick and healthy meal? Let me know at email@example.com.
Laurie Nigro, a mother of two, is passionate about natural living. Laurie resides in downtown Riverhead and is co-founder of the River and Roots Community Garden on West Main Street. Contact her by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.