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copping to feeling insecure at the coop, again…

Posted by on Mar 14, 2012 in Blog Posts | 29 comments

I was just at the coop and they were sampling what turned out to be a really yummy frozen bean and beef chili and a chicken stew. I normally don’t like frozen packaged meals (wish I did), so this was exciting. A woman passed by and the man said, “Would you like to try our chili and southwest chicken soup?” and she shouted as she walked past, “No way! I make mine from scratch!” without making eye contact or slowing down. I immediately felt sheepish for enjoying the sample. Was she judging? Was I judging myself? Feeling scolded for buying, or even thinking of buying a convenience food? Was it my insecurity? Did I imagine it? Why haven’t I checked out the “slow-food” movement yet? (Would the slow-food movement gain more converts if it wasn’t called, “slow?” I have to say I haven’t been too intrigued to learn about “slow” food since I have in my mind that I would have to be brining or soaking, or macerating, or stewing a dish for twelve hours, and I can cook plenty of fast, yummy and healthy meals thank you very much, and even THAT feels like a burden some days…)

(My post about coop cops from  last year got some good comments.)

It made me think of all the judgment around food and moms and breastfeeding, or the guilt over not making home-made organic baby food, or oh, no, not baby food, it has to be baby led weaning, or only organic milk, or, no, it must be soy, or who has the most elaborate bento box at lunch…

I was just interviewing a mom for my book who said she felt like a “bad mom” when she let her then-foster son eat chicken nuggets (he has extreme sensory issues and came to them eating chicken nuggets.) Did I mention this “bad mom” has three lovely grown biological children and two teens she adopted with severe fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, and she cooks most food from scratch, following gluten and casein free for the last year, which has happened to help her teens? This mom who lovingly worried more about building a relationship with her son than what he was eating (beyond meeting his basic nutritional needs) and making him feel safe, who as another adoptive mom put it, “took care of the heart needs first?” She’s a bad mom?

There is so much scrutiny and judgment about food these days, and it’s so not helpful. So, let’s realize we do the best we can, or if not, let’s not beat ourselves up over it, and think honestly about how we could do better, because that’s what we do as mothers.

Do I try to cook from scratch as much as I can? Yes, mostly because it tastes so darn good and is cheaper,  but also because I can support good variety and nutrition that way. Do I use convenience foods? When they taste good, aren’t too pricey and can fit in with a balanced meal- a frozen pizza with a cucumber salad and left-over squash soup maybe. Do I eat fast food? Occasionally. I had an In-n-Out Burger yesterday as a matter of fact, and it tasted great, and M had her first one, and she liked it too.

All the judgment from others, and perhaps the harshest, from ourselves, doesn’t help us get down to the business of feeding our families well.

Do you beat yourself up over food choices? Does the guilt help motivate you or make you feel more paralyzed and defeated? Where is your favorite fast-food burger (had to lighten this up…) #1 for me is Smash burger, #2 is In-N-Out

Let go of the guilt, use convenience foods if it helps you get to the family table, and happy eating!

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29 Comments

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  1. Ellie

    If it were legal, my husband would totally leave me and marry a Smashburger.

    (I am all about the Hardee’s Frisco Burger. Yum yum.)

  2. EngineerMom

    We don’t do many “convenience” foods, mostly due to cost! I make my own – cook a whole pound of spaghetti, then freeze 2-3 sandwich bags full for future meals; cook a 4 cups of brown rice at a time, freeze for future use, etc. Frozen mixed vegetables are probably the closest we come to store-bought convenience foods, unless you also count store-bought spaghetti sauce. :-)

    Things I make ahead and freeze: chicken breasts baked and cut into strips or chunks, sliced peppers (they’re great from the freezer – cook really fast!), cook a pound or two of black beans and freeze in 2-cup servings, bake several loaves of bread (I really don’t like sweet whole wheat bread, and I haven’t found a store-bought bread yet that doesn’t add honey or sugar or something to their whole wheat bread, so I make my own) and freeze a couple, etc.

    It really bugs me when people make judgmental comments about what someone else is buying at the store. It’s my shopping cart, my family, my money, my life. You have no idea that I’m buying those three huge pre-made pizzas because this weekend I invited my burly cousin and brother over to move several yards of gravel from our backyard to our front yard with shovels and wheelbarrows and I want an easy meal to serve four starving adults when we’re done with a day’s worth of hard manual labor, not because I’m planning to serve my kids nothing but pizza for a week (and honestly, with bread, sauce, veggies, and cheese, is there anything actually WRONG with that??).

  3. unscrambled

    Think about how many people that this judginess (or even perception of it, given the cultural stew of food we’re in) stops from even shopping at the co-op! I’m a former resident of Brooklyn–I used to be a member of the Park Slope Food Coop, where this sort of thing has become even more ridiculous than it was when I lived there, which was absurd even then.

    Look, I am totally a hippie food person, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to judge anyone else for not making the same decisions as I do. Judgy hippies, I do not want you on my team!

    I deal with this mostly with withering looks, and statements like ‘good for you’ delivered in total deadpan.

  4. Nicole

    Judgmental people suck. I think I would have wanted to say something like, “Gosh, I used to do all my cooking from scratch, but ever since I started shopping here, all my mental energy has gone into not being a judgmental jerkwad. Glad to hear you’re not troubled by such things.” 😉

    • katja

      :) I liked a commenter above who made the analogy about the fabric store and someone saying, “What? You don’t weave your own?” Not quite a perfect fit, but made me laugh!

  5. Ellyn Satter

    It seems to me that the way to resolve conflict and anxiety about food selection is to trust your appetite. Appetite is the normal and respectable part of you that seeks out good food and enjoys eating it. Along with hunger, appetite is a survival mechanism because it urges us to seek food. Food such as the tasty coop food Katja talks about tastes good because it is well-prepared. Being well-prepared, it has been respectfully prepared in a way that preserves nutrients. Surely, today’s foods have additives, preservatives, etc, but here is where appetite again comes into it. If you trust your appetite, you will find yourself tiring of even favorite foods and adding on others. You will eat a variety, which is the keystone of a nutritionally adequate diet as well as a safe diet. Eating a variety maximizes the good stuff and minimizes the questionable stuff.

  6. elizabeth

    Convenience food is a fact of fast-paced lives. So someone else brags at a guy handing out samples at a store. Feel intimidated or ignore it. Everyone thinks they are the cat’s meow about something.

    Food is your profession, Katja, so you are extra aware about it. Would you feel the same intimidation in a fabric store if someone walked by as you examined a piece of cloth and said “I weave my own,” or would you be fighting the urge to crack up? (And why aren’t you cooking up home made hand lotions and lip balms? Harumph!)

    My sense is that sometimes those who try the hardest to do “the right thing” are among the most susceptible to thinking they are being judged. Be happy you are not part of the raw food “community” in which people introduce themselves as being some percentage of “raw.” 100%, of course, is best.

    Next time you’re at a co-op, try the Sunrise Creative Gourmet frozen beef and pork pasties. We find the microwave method perfectly satisfactory. Add a bit of ketchup or A-1, salad, some steamed or nuked veg and it’s a fine meal.

    I think slow food just means not ultra-processed beyond recognition. Boiling pasta counts as slow food. So does using a crock-pot, one of the least labor-intensive cooking methods around.

  7. Camilla

    I have the frozen breaded chicken tenders from Costco as our “fallback” meal (the ones that come raw, and take about 18min in a convection oven to cook); sometimes I make gravy and mashed potatoes and a vegetable to go with it, more often if we’re all tired, it’s just oven fries and ketchup/vinegar/ranch. I’m quite limited in what prepared food I can use, as I have issues with garlic under many preparation methods.

    I would be in the everything-from-scratch trap, except that my husband maintains a lot of food independence, and if the food isn’t convenient, he’ll cheerfully go out for sandwiches or pizza (and bring me some). So I sell myself on the “whatever it is, it’s more economical to plan ahead to eat badly (sometimes) at home.” Ultimately, I am grateful to be able to leverage his lack of guilt about it.

  8. Bobbini

    We’d never get through winter without frozen vegetables! Aside from that, we don’t use a lot of prepared foods because my husband tends toward high blood pressure and watches his sodium intake. We’ll do delivered pizza every week or two, and on ballet/cub scout night, we each take one kid out to dinner.

    I cook a lot from basic ingredients, but I have one recipe I refer to as “Chicken of Shame”: boneless chicken with a smear of mayonnaise mixed with parmesan cheese, topped with panko bread crumbs seasoned with Italian spices. You bake them at 350 for 30 minutes. If there’s chicken in the fridge, I have the rest of the ingredients and everybody will eat it. It stirs guilt like I haven’t felt since I failed at breastfeeding! I try telling myself that mayonnaise is actually a swanky french sauce, but it doesn’t work.

    Today, I had a whopper for lunch and it was highly satisfying, with big rings of onions on it.

  9. katja

    I have fantasies about a “trader joes’ potluck party where everyone brings two frozen convenience foods, and parents and kids try them and rate them. Little cards and all. I have had pretty bad luck overall, picking things I really didn’t like and then being shy about trying again…

  10. Natasha

    We love the prepared foods from Trader Joes – frozen polenta dishes, mushroom risotto, thai pot stickers, etc. Generally their quality makes me feel pretty guilt-free about not cooking everything from scratch, and the convenience can’t be beat. I also love the frozen flatbread mushroom pizza there. They used to sell really tasty turkey meatballs, lasagna, and a few others in the fridge section, but then the supplier went out of business and they disappeared. We also get soups and pasta.

    I dislike canned soup, and used to get frozen soups by Tabatchnik brand, but they’ve disappeared from stores a couple years ago, to my dismay. Since then I haven’t seen any frozen soups sold, but they are much tastier and texture is better than canned ones.

    Sometimes we’ll cook from scratch, sometimes supplement a convenience food, like you mentioned, with a salad or veggies prepped from scratch. We always try to have frozen food (like fish sticks or a DiGiorno pizza) as an “emergency” supply, as they are often easier or faster to prepare, and for when our creativity or energy fails at the end of the work day.

  11. Michelle

    We rely a lot on frozen veggies, because I am terrible about letting vegetables go bad in the fridge, and I think the frozen ones taste very, very close to fresh – they also require less work, and when you take waste into account from what you’d have to throw away from the fresh item, they are a pretty good deal – sometimes cheaper than fresh.

    Every week, like clockwork, we have frozen pizza. There’s one brand we really like, and we know we’ll end up ordering pizza takeout anyway, which is much more expensive than the good-enough frozen version. So we plan ahead, buy the frozen ones on sale, and usually have them with a salad (and pop!) on Friday nights. It’s our night to eat like 7th graders.

    I like to cook from scratch, but I also like not feeling obligated to do anything I don’t want to do. We make dinner at home every night because we are cheap, but some days are more “from scratch” than others. I use jarred pasta sauce, canned tomatoes, dried pasta, frozen meat and vegetables, and pre-cut salads to keep me feeling reasonably sane in the kitchen.

    • katja

      What pizza brand? I love diGiorno! I grew up in a house, and my mother still scorns people who buy pre-washed lettuce, so perhaps this is all meshed up in my mother-daughter stuff. (Then I’m really in trouble!)

  12. jessidehl

    We have pizza and movie night every Friday night. I pick up a couple of take and bake pizzas from Papa Murphy’s or I buy a couple of frozen pizzas made locally. I serve pizza, fruit and milk and we call it good. Sometimes we even eat in front of the television! If the kids are sick of pizza, we sub in chicken nuggets or popcorn.
    We have that meal weekly and we usually end up having at least one other “fast” food meal during the week. We might get subs from Jimmy Johns or go to Pancheros (a local version of Chipotle). I’m in grad school full time, working part time, three kids (kindergarten, preschool, 1 year old)and my husband works overnights. We’d rather preserve our time together as a family.
    I live for the summertime when I don’t have school. I garden, can my own produce and do lots of “slow” cooking. I usually have a pretty good stock of frozen things on hand for the fall semester but I don’t have a chance to refill the freezer until spring break. That’s this week for me and I have a gigantic pot of chili on the stove right now ready to go in the freezer. Tomorrow is taco meat, refried beans and manicotti.
    Life happens. I accept that fact that sometimes supper is going to be mac and cheese with a bag of frozen veggies mixed in and apples dipped in peanut butter.

    My husband and my oldest daughter like the burgers from Culvers, my son is a chicken tender guy and I like grilled chicken burritos from Taco Johns.

    • katja

      I love my readers!! You rock! I feel very supported by you all, and I love that this feels like a safe, mom-friendly community. I also note that as a kid, if I got fast food, I had little control, I would eat A LOT. I see M, for whom it is not a rare occurance, once a week or so or Subway, or chinese, or vietnamese, and she can stop when she is full with half a single serving bag of chips. I LOVE pizza, but M doesn’t, so we don’t have it often :)

  13. Kate

    I absolutely use convenience foods. It’s so much more important to me how we eat than what we eat. I’d rather we eat together as a family with everybody having enough time to eat at their own pace than have somebody miss out. I mean, we get home 90 minutes before bedtime. The math just doesn’t work out to have scratch cooking every day. No guilt about it, either.

  14. Samantha C.

    I’m having a hell of a time trying to learn to cook for myself while I’m living with friends, but I know when I get my own kitchen, it’s going to be stocked with pre-made food. Hopefully, a lot of that will be large batches of homecooked that I can heat up and eat, but I love Buttonni pastas (best mushroom ravioli ever), and if I ever find brands I like, I would never feel guilt about having a frozen meal ready to go. I wish I had more avaliable right now, because I eat a lot better if I can quickly heat up something nutritious and filling instead of having to scrounge through the fridge, think about what I know how to cook, and how much time it would take, and give up and eat toast or chips instead.

    • katja

      Tough with friends for sure! I think pre-made foods are a great bridge, and will help your learning and learn what you like. If you ever find a family circle or similar magazine, they have lots of easy and quick recipes. Also, Ellyn SAtter’s Secrets of Feeding a Healthy Family has about the best learn to cook section I have ever seen. No shaming abut food choices, starts easy and gets harder. It’s the last half of the book. Uses not the priciest ingredients, and eases folks into cooking. If you check it out, I’d love to know what you think! Good luck! yes, a frozen meal is often a quicker, cheaper, healthier alternative than going out for fast food on a regular basis. I like that you are being kind with yourself, recognizing that your time will come. At various times in my life I have been more or less adventurous and willing to take the time to cook. Thanks for commenting. It helped me! I often blog in circles that are very much focused on scratch, all-organic etc, and I get sucked into feeling badly about not being “perfect.” Boo!

      • Samantha C.

        I actually really enjoy cooking, and I have a lot of good recipes. I just don’t have a lot of room in the fridge, or the freezer, since it’s full of two other peoples’ supplies and food. Plus it’s sometimes awkward to try to get in and cook while they’re making their own dinner, and just easier to eat with them than to try to do it on my own. I’m not worried about being able to feed myself when I have all the space and all the control. :) I also know that I’ll be the kind of person who makes a giant pot of something on the weekend and eats it all week, instead of counting on having the energy to make something all new every day.

  15. Heather

    We don’t buy that many convenience foods, either – we mostly cook from scratch. But sometimes dinner is packaged tortellini, or scrambled eggs and frozen waffles, and I don’t have guilt about that. Sometimes having shortcut foods means we can eat together as a family on a busy day, and the trade-off is worth it to me. We don’t go out for burgers, but our favorite quick restaurant is Chipotle.

    • katja

      Goog, guilt is bad! Tomorrow we are having cheese tortellini, with mushrooms, zucchinis and onion sauteed, with a little EVOO and parm. Yum! I’ll have to try Chipotle again. M is not a fan of Tex Mex in general yet…

      • Heather

        Oh, your tortellini sounds delicious. My son isn’t really a Tex Mex fan either, but he goes along willingly to Chipotle because he gets chocolate milk. He orders a kid’s taco with cheese, rice and lettuce. Maybe not the greatest nutritionally but eh, it’s two or three times per month.

        • katja

          Ooh, great idea! M recenly has liked tacos, we make them from kits at home sometimes. I’ll have to try it! If I know she doesn’t love the main dish, I too will round it out with a dessert or other choice. I’ve not made this tortellini before, but it looked quick and easy. Thanks to Family Circle mag I picked up in the airport! It was funny. I remarked to my husband, that two issues into Cooking Light, I have not wanted to cook a single dish. Don’t know why, but with the three mags I got from the airport, I found several recipes that looked good…

          • Elizabeth

            Katja, E likes Chipotle a lot – there are more kid-friendly choices now on their menu. Including a cheese quesadilla (can add meat if you like) and a build-your-own-taco kit, and the prices are affordable. I often buy her a side of guac or she asks for a scoop of fresh tomato (not spicy at all) salsa to mix in with her rice. Tiny bag of chips and chocolate milk/apple juice also makes it exciting :) We go there and to Noodles a lot. And thank you for speaking out about the “bad mom” issue. I have found that the more secure I’ve gotten in my own values as a parent, the less I care what other people (I don’t even respect or know) might think. I emulate the wise, more experienced mamas that I know. And I feel gratitude that I have the resources and access to choose such a wide variety of healthy and tasty foods for my family.

  16. cecile

    I usually don’t buy precooked packaged foods, because we don’t like them. I’m like you, I wish we did ! I cook mostly from scratch, like you again, fast. We try to buy organic as much as we can, and some times I feel trapped by that choice, especially here in Eau Claire where the choice is more narrow than in the Twin Cities or Boston, just to mention my experience ! Oh, and I love a good Mc Chicken 😉

    • katja

      Cecile, tell me about how the French use those famous frozen food grocery stores I used to see on visits there? It seems odd that they have these “convenience” foods in a culture that so values cooking… I usually dislike frozen food, Buitoni had a good pasta in marinara, but they discontinued it, and I don’t like most meats in convenience foods. These ones I sampled, were actually really good! (I really don’t like AMy’s frozen stuff, or most of the organic ones either, they seem to taste no better :)

      • cecile

        Oh, you mean Picard and Thiriet ! I miss those stores. They actually have a lot of foods that are not cooked: meats, fish, vegetables, fruits… and also breads, and of course ice cream and desserts. They have processed foods, and they are really good, actually. I used to love their “tomates farcies”, moussaka, pizzas… but that was when I was in med school, so it was easy and fast. Later, I mostly bought their frozen meats, vegetables or fruits and then used them to cook whatever.