Part I: From frozen dinner queen to healthy weeknight cook

As I promised yesterday, here is the story of the first part of my journey from someone who relied heavily on packaged goods, frozen dinners, and take out to someone who cooked healthy dinners from scratch at least 6 nights a week.

Phase I: Fits & Starts

Of course I started strong out of the gates.

On January 1st, I think I pored over the 10 cookbooks in my stash for about two hours while I made a detailed menu and shopping list. I carefully printed or copied recipes for the week and organized them in a plastic sleeve that I boldly labeled “Recipes” and kept on the countertop. I dragged the family shopping at Whole Foods, embracing my new Mother Earth image with aplomb. Dinner the first night took me a full 3 hours to get on the table, half of it hands-on prep. I made an absolutely delicious vegetarian lasagna from the delightful cookbook The Healthy Kitchen by Andrew Weil & Rosie Daley.

My husband, a meat lover, thought it was delicious. My oldest shouted, “THANKS FOR MAKING SUCH A BAWICIOUS BRAZAGNA MOMMAY!” My youngest slurped it up too, occasionally grinning at me from across the table between fistfuls of spinach and noodles.

Lights twinkled and the angels sang. My chest swelled with pride.

I can DO this!

And then the weekday hit. I got something resembling the dinner from scratch I had planned on the table the second night. But by the third, my usual chaos was back. Conference calls, immovable deadlines, and revisions, revisions, revisions kept me in a frenzy until 5:55pm. Oops. Thank heavens I still had some frozen Bertolli dinners in the freezer. Three more days like that and my pride-filled chest was nothing more than a deflated sac.

Who am I kidding?!

The image of my mom was a powerful motivator though. The next Sunday morning I got right back in the saddle, poring over the cookbooks, making my menu and shopping lists, although this time I shopped at my local Stop & Shop. The second week went much like the first: three real meals, four quazi-ones.

And around and around I went in fits and starts through most of January and February. I can DO this! Who am I kidding?! I can DO this! Who am I kidding?!

Fortunately, I had done two things right when I framed my resolution. 1) I had given myself plenty of runway to figure this out – 12 whole months. Even though I was technically “failing” in this stage, December still felt far enough in the future that I believed I could crack it if I stuck with it. And (2) I had tied one hell of an emotional motivator to my resolution. How could I not want to carry my mom’s legacy forward for my boys?

I cannot understate the importance of having a massively important emotional reason to keep you going when you want to give up.

Suggested Reading

As my interest in healthy foods/cooking grew, so did my appetite for books on the topic. There were two books I read during this period that made a lasting impression – and strengthened my resolve to make this resolution stick.

The first, Eating Animals, by Jonathan Safran Foer, the acclaimed novelist and author of Everything Is Illuminated.

The author was motivated to explore the topic by the arrival of his own son. As an on-again, off-again vegetarian his whole life, he felt he needed to come to terms with the issue as he would be making dietary choices on behalf of his child – a responsibility he took very seriously. Just that notion alone reminded me that I hadn’t been making the best dietary choices for my boys (because I was “too busy”). It made me want to redouble my efforts.

Mr. Foer is a wonderful storyteller, so even though this is very much a non-fiction book, it reads more like a fast-paced novel. For me, by far the most compelling portions of his book involved his dive into the horrifying world of factory farming. I honestly had never really thought much about how the animals that I ate and fed my family were raised, slaughtered, and brought to market. But his chilling accounts of the mass cruelty as well as the biological and ecological ramifications stopped me in my tracks. His findings have been reinforced by other books and articles I have read since, so I don’t think anything is fabricated or exaggerated. The book provided a wake up call that has profoundly affected how we think about and consume meat and dairy products. We’re still omnivores, but we only consume meat and dairy products that have been pasture-raised and we made the shift right away. Yes, it’s more expensive, but you offset that by eating less of it, which is healthier anyway.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough for anyone who is in the process of making a transition to eating healthier.

The second book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michal Pollan brought me even deeper into the world of agriculture.

This book posed exactly the same questions that I was seeking, which is what compelled me to pick it up in the first place, namely: what exactly am I eating? Where does it come from? Why should I care?

Much has been written about this book, so I won’t bore you with another book report. Yet, I feel compelled to say, his analysis of the various elements that create our modern food chain has profoundly and permanently changed how I purchase the ingredients that go into our meals. For example, I no longer equate organic with sustainability and I buy almost exclusively from the Farmer’s Market when it is in season.

Literally, not a day goes by where I don’t think about something I learned in this book.

Have you read any compelling books about food? If so, please share them! Have you read either of the books I mentioned here? If so, what did you think about them?

Continue on to read Part 2 here.

PS – I just love this poster. Even though I no longer AM that woman, it still makes me crack a smile. You can buy one on