I genuinely enjoy cooking. You know, searching the web for new recipes, the experience of tasting new foods from different cultures, getting to express my creativity by cooking meals that are not only satisfying but also nourishing. And once upon a time, you’d see me in the kitchens for hours per day. I was a meal prepping pro, spent my downtime roaming the isles of the grocery store, and almost would never miss a week of meal planning.
Fast forward to today, I have a 3-year-old and a 5-month-old, so as you might imagine, cooking often feels like more of a chore than a hobby.
I still usually make a weekly meal plan and research recipes, but my recipe search is limited to meals that can be prepared in 20 minutes or less, and my weekly meal plan always includes take-out food because of their convenience. Most of the time the meals are balanced, and sometimes they’re not.
Can anyone else relate?
Luckily, my training and experience as a dietitian has taught me that the way I meal prep today and feed my kids isn’t something I need to stress over. Honestly, it doesn’t really matter if we eat take-out every week, or use ingredients from the prepared foods section of the grocery store on a regular basis.
What matters is that meals get put on the table in a consistent and structured way, that they include a variety of foods with different flavors and textures on a fairly regular basis, and that they include some balance in the form of protein, carbohydrate, fat, and produce.
Of course, there are always going to be days when dinner is late, rushed, or even lacking in a few food groups. And to let you in on a secret… That’s ok!
I’ve never met anyone who developed a nutrient deficiency by enjoying a bowl of cereal or sharing a tray of cheese and crackers for dinner on occasion. It’s important to recognize that allowing for, and embracing those types of dinners, are part of a balanced approach to eating too.
Constantly stressing about trying to make meals that you don’t have time to make, or feeling guilty that last night’s dinner came out of the freezer instead of from scratch isn’t health-promoting. There is SO much more to health and well-being than food! We have to let go of the idea that all meals have to be perfectly nutritionally balanced, and instead focusing on the structure in which you provide those meals. This is one of the keys to fostering eating competence in kids and adults alike.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with the idea of eating competence, much of it comes from the work of Ellyn Satter, a therapist, and dietitian whose feeding philosophy is rooted in the idea that the way you feed is much more important than what you feed.
Her well-researched feeding and eating models have shown that children who have regular access to meals and snacks become competent eaters who enjoy a variety of foods, learn to trust their bodies, and can self-regulate their food intake without adult intervention.
In one of her books, Satter explains that it is better to have “nutritionally reprehensible” meals given at consistent times than nutritionally “perfect” meals that are inconsistent.
She’s not saying that nutrition doesn’t matter, but that the nutritional content of food is only one aspect of the meal. In the grand scheme of things, it’s not the most important piece of the puzzle when it comes to helping your child develop a healthy relationship with food and their bodies.
So let’s all let go of some of the expectations that exist around the best way to feed our families. If you’re providing meals and snacks on a regular basis, regardless of where they come from, you’re doing it right!