About Me

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My interests include veganism and vegetarianism, health, ethics, politics and culture, media, and the environment. I have three kids; I teach college part-time, study piano and attempt to garden. I knit. I blog on just about anything, but many posts are related to my somewhat pathetic quest to eat better, be more mindful of the environment, and be a more responsible news consumer. Sometimes I write about parenting, but, like so many Mommy bloggers, my kids have recently told me not to. :) Thanks for reading.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Cooking in An Almost Vegetarian Household with Three Kids

One of the challenges to becoming *totally* vegan, at least for me, boils down to one thing: cooking.

I've never been much of a cook. I *like* good food. I even *like* cooking, though I have absolutely no intuitive sense for it. I rely solely on recipes and pray like hell they've been written for non-cooks like me.

Cooking has never fit well with my life; left to my own devices, I'd probably eat a very monotonous diet and only cook twice a week. I love raw vegetables and fruit; I like bagels, brown rice and oatmeal just fine; I've been known to define microwaving a bocaburger as "cooking".

To cook really good meals takes time, and, especially in the evening, time is in short supply and kids' tempers are on a short fuse. (Admittedly, those tempers are generally dramatically improved by food.) I think the kids' diets (and mine) have suffered from my cooking (or lack thereof). This has been true for a long time, since before I went on this "vegan kick". I'm trying to correct that.

I have to remind myself, before I get going too far here, of what I have done right with the kids' diets: they have ALWAYS had fruit and vegetables every day. We've always limited sweets (though not as much as some parents). We don't drink soda except on special occasions. Juice is pretty much only served at breakfast. We've never encouraged milk drinking, figuring that they could do just fine with water and could just use milk on cereal. (That's still the case.)

I think I could have done a better job becoming vegan had I learned to cook BEFORE I had kids. Once I had kids, to be totally honest, cooking became what we did between 5 and 5:30 every evening in order to feed the kids SOMETHING that resembled dinner and in order to keep them on a kid-friendly schedule (i.e., in bed and bathed by 8 pm).

A typical meal here (then and now, since "almost veganism") is steamed brown rice and stir-fried vegetables (depending on who is eating it, with tofu or chicken or shrimp). Another typical dinner meal is tacos -- now we use fake ground beef, but the rest of the meal is what it always was (canned refries, chopped lettuce and tomatoes, hot sauce, avocado, hard shells, and for some, cheese). Neither meal takes more than 30 minutes to prepare.

I also admit that neither meal is very exciting and the kids are tired of both of those. So. Am. I.

Now that I work and two of my kids do sports, the evening meal is even more rushed and even more of a non-event. In theory, I think it's terribly important for a family to eat dinner together every night. But, for practical reasons, there are several nights a week where that does not happen. I also -- again, theoretically -- think that if you are driving your kid to soccer and getting McDonald's on the way home, that is, to quote Barbara Kingsolver, an "interesting" choice.

But I have to plead guilty to having done that every once in awhile (if you need statistics, I think once a month is honest). I've done this EVEN since becoming "almost vegan," even since having my consciousness raised as to the horrors of factory farming.

I have purchased "Happy Meals" for the kids on the busiest of our evenings, on days when the best laid plans have gone awry and I've already placated the kids with fruit and crackers and they are HUNGRY and it would be a form of cruelty to expect them to wait until 8 pm, when a homemade dinner would be available.

The irony of being almost vegan and doing this is not lost on me. But neither is the reality that fast food -- though overused by millions -- does exist for a reason. Alice doesn't live here. And neither does a homemaker. And, at least here, there is no vegan/vegetarian drive through that I know of (and the kids refuse to go for the salad options -- they're KIDS).

The slow food movement is an important one -- and one I like to think I'm now a part of -- but there are nights when I can't do slow food.

I regularly read several vegan blogs. Many of them emphasize how food, prepared with love and time, tastes better and is better for you. I don't doubt that. But it *seems* that many vegan writers are childless (or perhaps they never mention their children). It *seems* that they have lots of time to shop at a variety of farmers' markets and specialty grocery stores and that they have even more time to lovingly prepare their food.

I love days like that. I just don't have enough of them.

One of the vegan cookbooks I have even says that they (the writers) prefer "two hour recipes". (Admittedly, they do have many recipes marked with "45," indicating that, in theory, you should be able to prepare the whole thing in 45 minutes. The problem is that if you want to prepare two or three of these 45 minute recipes -- things that go together-- you're probably not going to get them all done in 45 minutes, and the next thing you know, you have been cooking for two hours and everybody is cranky as hell and SOMEBODY needs to be taken SOMEWHERE.)

I rarely have two hours to dedicate to dinner, at least not on school nights. I DEFINITELY don't have that time for breakfast or lunch.

Breakfast here is still frozen waffles and fruit, or boxed cereal and fruit, or oatmeal and fruit. Lunch here is still (for the kids) PB &J sandwiches or soup, and fruit or vegetables and crackers. An occasional yogurt finds its way into their lunches, too. (Sorry, vegan readers...)

We also eat a variety of frozen vegan things (various veggie burgers), and ramen noodles (are they vegan??). I worry, sometimes, that the vegan or vegetarian police will show up at my door and serve me some legal notice for giving my kids ramen, steamed broccoli, and cut up bananas and a fruit smoothie for dinner. Sure, the vegan lasagne with the homemade sauce, fake cheese and tofu ricotta would be better for them (if I could get them to eat it), but I only have time for that kind of recipe about twice a week.

I do think things are improving here. We all eat even more fruit and vegetables than we did before. Meat is served (to everyone else, not me) about three times a week (but only one meal a day). There's definitely less dairy consumption, though I suspect that won't disappear from this house entirely.

But slow cooking every day? I don't see that happening anytime soon.


  1. E: I hear you, loud and clear. This is all too familiar.

    I do have a word for you: crockpot.

  2. elaine! i don't know how families do it anymore. i think it's the biggest dilemma facing 21st century families - how to keep everyone healthy in a world that doesn't support the lifestyle. massive kudos to you for trying your best. you're right - cooking does take time and energy. my mom - bless her sacrificial heart - stayed home and made six kids 3 meals from scratch every single day. it's the thing i hated most as a kid and the thing i'm most grateful for now in my forties because my immune system is strong like ox. but moms of our generation were willing to give up everything for their kids. i couldn't do it. if i had kids, i honestly don't know how i'd feed them, except to say that i'd probably get them into the kitchen early and try my best to get them excited about food and cooking... make the family outings saturday markets or farm sanctuaries... but i'd probably be exactly like you and simply try my best in an imperfect world and not beat myself up when i failed.


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