I’m really excited for you to read this post; if you do I’m almost certain it will motivate you to do your best – most of the time – to take care of your family by feeding them real food with real nutritional value.
Let me introduce you to Kristen Tull, mother of five, and former Preschool Director but currently stay-at-home mom. Kristen is also a member of WOOT, and a good friend of mine who agreed to let me interview her for this post. Having spent time with Kristen and her family, both in and outside of her home, it didn’t take me long to observe that eating healthy is a daily priority for them. Putting this post together was somehow important to me because I understand how frustrating it is for busy moms who want to serve their families healthy meals, but struggle to do so.
Please take from this post whatever tips you think may work for you; the intent in sharing Kristen’s success as a “healthy home cook,” is not to highlight others’ weaknesses, but to offer practical and simple solutions to those who also desire to feed their families healthy meals.
Interview Q & A
1. How often do you grocery shop? Is healthy eating affordable, or are you willing to spend more for the sake of good health?
I grocery shop every couple of days, usually off base. I make a commissary “run” about once every other week, usually for things like paper plates, toilet paper, etc. I find that quick grocery runs are so much easier, even if they are more frequent, than a big long one. On longer shopping excursions, my kids are done by the second aisle; by the time we hit the checkout line I’m so exhausted from keeping them in line that I don’t feel like going home and cooking.
For me, healthy eating is cheaper than eating all of the over-processed, pre-packaged food. As a matter of fact, I found that out first-hand last week. My husband was gone for most of the summer, and I took the kids camping. Usually I cut up a ton of fruits and veggies and throw them into disposable tupperware containers. I’ll pick up some fresh meat and charcoal along the way, but this last time I just didn’t have it in me and out of desperation I went to the commissary and bought a bunch of junk. It was super expensive and I realized it really wasn’t that much easier. I had to take so many bags of “food,” clean up so many containers, and I felt terrible about feeding my kids food that had no nutritional value. I learned two lessons: 1. it’s not cheaper and 2. it’s not easier. I’d rather pay whatever it takes to give my children the best possible start at a healthy life.
2. How many meals would you say you prepare a week? And when you don’t have time, what do you typically feed the family?
I typically prepare meals 5-6 times a week. We used to go out to eat more often when we had 2 or 3 kids, but once we added the 4th and 5th, that had to stop. Being in Japan however, that is sometimes hard for me because I know there are lots of yummy, healthy places to eat.
When I don’t have time to cook, I will usually stop at a Japanese grocery store and purchase a quick meal to go. My children are keen on eating healthy so they usually ask for an onigiri (rice ball), or a salad with fruit and a tofu pudding for dessert. My oldest often asks for noodles, but I limit her intake and when she does have noodles, I make sure she also has some type of protein as well as a fruit and/or veggie.
3. How do you manage your time; for example, what does a typical week day look like for you?
I manage my time by prepping early. I usually work-out in the morning before my husband goes to work, and if I am lucky I may even get my shower in! Once my older children are off to school (or in the summer they just go with me), I will plan what I am going to cook for dinner, then head out to the Japanese markets as soon as they open. If I know I am going to be busy the following morning, I will purchase enough food for two evening meals. If the stars align right, I can get at least one of my younger kids down for a nap and I’ll drink some coffee then start prepping for dinner.
Sometimes I get everything done by noon, in which case I just have to heat it up in the evening; when that happens I have the rest of the day to play with my babies or do something I want to do. I feel that getting up and going early really helps me get the day started right and allows me to manage my time efficiently. I also do laundry every day; I put a load in before I work-out, switch it over before I shower, then fold before I go to the market. I have my children put their clothes away as an evening chore! That also gives me more time to spend in the kitchen.
When my children get home from school, I have time to help them with homework. If they have a sporting event, we will have an early dinner and I’ll cut up some fruit or make them a protein shake afterward (as a snack) since we ate so early. If they don’t have a sporting event, I will usually give them an afternoon snack and we’ll eat dinner around 6pm.
4. Where do you get your ideas for meals from? A lot of moms give up because they don’t know what to buy and cook. How do you overcome this challenge?
I cook very simple meals most of the time – grilled chicken, baked fish, sauteed beef, etc (I rarely look for recipes but if I do, I use Pinterest and search for “quick and healthy”). I will always have a fresh veggie, fresh fruit and some type of carbohydrate, usually rice (I have a Japanese rice cooker that allows rice to be kept for about 3 days). Sometimes I’ll boil sweet potatoes or have a whole grain pasta. Most of the time my veggies are raw. On the weekend, I will make a big batch of hummus and salsa, as well as boil two dozen eggs. I will cut up all the veggies I have and whatever fruit is on hand. Again, I’ll put them in tupperware containers and my children can snack freely on them.
For breakfast I always do something hot and it’s usually a big meal. I will give them oatmeal with chia seeds and hemp seeds, sweetened with honey. I might also give them something I made ahead and froze. Another of my kids’ favorite breakfast meals is scrambled eggs with rice and salad (my children love that in the morning). If for some reason I don’t have time, I will throw something together in the Vitamix – some type of smoothie to fill their bellies. To me, that’s just as quick as pouring four bowls of cereal, plus it’s healthier and it will keep their bellies full for a longer period of time. For snacks at school, I will send them with fresh fruits and veggies. Sometimes a homemade protein bar (super simple, three ingredients, oats, coconut cream and peanut butter), or some type of muffin that I have packed with nutrients (flax seeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds, dates).
5. What’s the most challenging aspect of trying to serve healthy meals to a large family like yours?
The most challenging aspect for me, feeding a large family the way I do, is DISHES! We don’t have a dishwasher, and although I have my daughter help when she can, I like to do them throughout the day (again, leaving me more family time in the evening). So, to overcome this, I use paper plates and cups. I do feel bad for the environment, but I also feel that by not purchasing all the pre-packaged foods, I am helping even more. If we move into a house with a dishwasher, I will do away with that, but that is what I do for now.
6. What advice do you have for busy moms who struggle to feed their families healthy meals?
My best advice is to clean out your pantries and your fridge and start fresh. Purchase only enough for a couple of days. I also don’t have a lot of kitchen gadgets; no microwave, no fancy apple cutter, just a knife for everything. I listen to music while I cook and have the baby in a bouncy near me so she isn’t left alone. I’ll have my 2-year old color or build blocks on the floor in the kitchen. My children are very healthy and they like what I cook. Sometimes they complain when their friends have goldfish for a snack while I send them to school with an orange that they have to peel and a hardboiled egg, but they also understand why they are eating those things. I will allow them to eat “unhealthy” stuff on occasion, but again, it gives me such peace of mind to know that I am doing the absolute best I can for them.
I also go by the philosophy that if they are hungry enough they will eat it, so I don’t buy into the idea that my child will starve if I don’t feed them what they like or what society says they should like. Obviously I’m not going to intentionally make something I know they don’t like and make them eat it, but if I know they like carrots, then carrots it is – not the shrimp chips the neighbors have that may seem more appealing to them. If they choose not to eat the carrots, they will go hungry. This doesn’t usually happen, but I feel that I am teaching them some responsibility for their food choices, even at a young age. My two year old for example, is happy to walk around and snack on an entire carrot, half of an apple, and an entire cucumber! Less cutting, very little mess, it keeps her little hands and mouth busy, and she’s eating snacks that are good for her (she will even snack on half of a red bell pepper)!
A couple more things……. I order what I can online! Hemp seeds, chia seeds, flax seeds, coconut oil, pure aloe gel, organic honey, protein powder; I have these on auto ship from Amazon. It helps to reduce time spent at the supermarket or commissary. And finally, I use the Cozi App to help me manage my shopping lists and daily “to-do” list. My husband has access to the shopping list as well, so if I need him to pick any items up on his way home from work, he just needs to sign in to our Cozi account and see what I need.
I think society has made healthy eating seem so unattainable for a busy family, but for me, it’s so much easier – if you just keep things simple.
A final thought from me: Olympic Marathon medalist Deena Kastor, believes in making choices – not sacrifices. I tend to agree, and I think I can safely say that Kristen’s efforts to make healthy eating a way of life for her family is less of a sacrifice than it is a positive choice.