Tuesday, July 10, 2007

The Nurturing Power of Food

I'm a foodie. Food snob. Lover of food. Call it what you will, I am a firm believer that good food is a part of enjoying our life. The way we define "good food" may vary from person to person--to some it's all about the taste, for others it's all about being nutritious. Environmentalists say that good food is organic, others claim that all raw food, unprocessed diets are the way to do. I try to strike a balance for myself and my family, preparing food as often as possible from unprocessed ingredients, using mostly whole grains, watching fat intake, buying organic when it's not outrageously priced (I do have a family of six, after all!), but taste does matter to me. If something doesn't taste good, it doesn't matter how good for me it is, I probably won't make it again.

In Weight Watchers we talk about how food often fills emotional needs and that we need to be mindful when we are eating. I wholeheartedly believe that is true. At the same time, food can be a effective way to express love, support, and to nurture those we love. It doesn't have to be bad-for-you food in order to do these things, but there is something powerful in fixing a meal for someone you love. Think of a time when you have been sick and wished that your mother was there, fixing some comfort food of your childhood for you.

When I had Bronwen a few months ago, several friends brought meals by in the first couple of weeks. I felt so loved and supported at a time when I really needed it. The same was true when my father passed away--there was little that people could do to help at first, but one thing they could do--and did--was feed our family. We felt their love and concern in every soup, pot roast, and lasagne that came our way.

That is one reason that I am so sad to see the disappearance of the homecooked family dinner in our society. We have all become busier, wealthier, and more independent from each other in the past 100 years, and family dinners are one of the casualties. But gathering together to eat a meal prepared with love does much more than merely feed our family members. It gives us a chance to connect with each other and talk about what is important to us. It teaches our children how to accept and tolerate different foods, even if they aren't their favorites (instead of ordering off a menu or choosing a frozen dinner). Often, members of the family cooperate together to prepare the meal as well, cooking, cleaning, and setting the table in anticipation. In addition, our families are generally eating healthier, more balanced meals if we are preparing them at home, especially if the chef keeps nutrition in mind. Here is a great article from an LDS magazine about nurturing through family meals.

We took our kids to see Ratatouille last month when it first came out. In the movie, the famous Chef Gustaeu inspires Remy the rat with his mantra, "Anyone can cook!" Now, I know that we all have different talents, and certainly some people will always be able to turn anything into amazing cuisine. However, anyone can cook! There's really not a big mystery to cooking; if you're not very comfortable in the kitchen, just challenge yourself to try a few meals and get more comfortable.

This family dinner doesn't have to be gourmet (but it's OK if it is). Choose a menu that is simple enough that it will not stress you out, that is healthy enough to meet your food values, whatever they may be, and pick a night to make it. Even if you don't enjoy cooking (which may be because you just aren't that good at it yet), think of this as a gift you are giving to your family. Then, either set a goal to make dinner one night a week for a month (if that's more than you are doing now) or a more aggressive one of four nights a week. Or just tell yourself that you are going to make dinner every night for a week and then assess from there. I promise that your family will love it and that the time and effort that you put into it will be worth it.

I remember that when I got married, my friend Erin shared her experience. She decided if she was going to cook for a family for the rest of her life, she was going to be good at it and learn to enjoy it. So she subscribed to Bon Appetit and started learning and trying recipes. I decided to do the same, and am so glad I did. I have since changed out my Bon Appetit subscription for Cooking Light because I just couldn't afford the calories of BA recipes on a daily basis and CL fits my food values better. I have really learned to enjoy the creative aspect of cooking, but mostly I enjoy loving people with good food. So take a chance to show the people that you love most that you value their health, their time with you, and the family dinner ritual.

Here's a summer favorite to get you started:
Grilled Vegetable Penne Salad
This is a great dish to take to a BBQ because it is good hot or cold. Or, pick up a Rotisserie chicken at Costco and serve it with this penne and some fresh fruit for a light summery meal!
  • 1 lb penne pasta (I don't like whole wheat for this recipe)
  • 2 T. extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 medium zucchini, cut in bite sized pieces
  • 2 medium crook neck squash, cut in bite sized pieces
  • 1 pint of grape, cherry, or other small tomatoes
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/2 fresh lemon
  • 1/4 c. fresh basil, cut in ribbons
  • 1/2 lb. (or so) skim milk mozzerella cheese, cut in 1 in. cubes
  • 3 T. shaved Parmesan cheese
  • coarse kosher salt and fresh ground pepper

Cook the pasta al dente--not more. While it is boiling, prepare the vegetables, tossed with garlic, to grill (or broil). Spray them liberally with olive oil spray and sprinkle with kosher salt, then grill on BBQ or roast under the broiler for about 10 minutes, until they begin to brown. Toss together the drained, cooked pasta, the hot grilled vegetables, olive oil, and the mozzerella. The cheese will melt and get gooey.

Squeeze the juice of 1/2 a lemon in, add the basil and Parmesan, and toss again. Season to taste with salt and pepper.


Erin said...

Thanks for the mention and the great post today. I'd love to try the featured recipe. I'll probably throw in some grilled eggplant and some zest from the lemon. There's another great lowfat cold noodle recipe on my friend's blog (familystylefood.com)
Check it out if you get a minute.

Michal said...

yes, do add the eggplant. i've done that before and it was fab. the zest would be a great touch as well. i loved karen's blog and some of the blogs that she's linked to, so thanks for the website!
i'm anxiously awaiting a cooking blog from you!

Anonymous said...

Hi Michal,
It's Michele here from Whittier...
How wonderful to see your blog...recipes, books. Fabulous.
I'll keep reading to find out how you all are...