Cooking Healthy For One and Changing Family Habits

This is something I’m getting more and more used to now. Nick has been getting back late from work (he does work and getting to his office when he has to involves lots of driving, something we’re going to have to look at in the near future) and my son has been so busy with extra curricular things at school and band practice and music lessons and football that he rarely makes it home to eat before 8pm.

I stopped being the only healthy eater in the house a while back. I announced that the days of my healthy meal plus other options for additional diners was no longer going to be a feature of meal times in this house. I figured that what I eat is not calorie controlled or rationed, it is healthy food, low in fat, low in sugar, low in carbs mostly organic, always freshly prepared and a riot of colour including vegetables, fruits, oily fish, lean meat, nuts, pulses, grains, seeds, herbs and spices and a smattering of dairy. So it’s good for everyone and as a mother and homemaker I should be setting the example to everyone to eat healthy and so that’s it, there are no other options for the kid or the man. There is always plenty so they can eat lots if they are hungry but they will be eating lots of good stuff that will do their bodies good and limit harm and correct the effects of pollutants and bad stuff they take in when they are not at home.

Sometimes my son craves a burger or a pizza or fried chicken and he’s a kid, he’s healthy and fit and growing fast so I let him go for it in moderation and I’m pleased that he ups his exercise to compensate and always flushes it all through with lots of water and fruit or raw veg. I don’t want him to be obsessional but then I do want him to think and adjust and make the right choices and compensate for bad stuff. I know my kids have a tendency to gain weight fast like I do and so knowing they are really thinking about their health and fitness and keeping fat at bay as a natural part of their life is really reassuring for me. I don’t want them dieting EVER and I don’t want them getting ridiculously overweight EVER so if some of what I’ve experienced and some of the good lessons I’m teaching them rubs off and eradicates the bad lessons I’ve taught them by example then I am happy for them.

It’s important to consider if you are the only one in the house following a healthy lifestyle if you are in a position to enforce it onto others in your household. I am not for forcing anyone to do anything but when it comes to this stuff, we can’t be sitting with our healthy food and doing our exercise and buying crap for our kids and watching them eat it and letting them be sedentary, we have the power to make them eat healthy (or to at least limit their choices of bad stuff) and to encourage them to move more. Don’t be the parent who in ten, fifteen, twenty years time gets blamed for not instilling healthy eating habits in your kid when it’s a 300lb adult in counselling for obesity related depression. You can make changes and I started subtly at first by telling them I couldn’t bear to have chocolate or biscuits (cookies) in the house, I replaced snacks like potato crisps with healthier options and then stopped buying them altogether. Carbonated drinks are now not the norm but a treat. Ice cream has been replaced with sorbets and frozen yoghurts. They drink more water. My son always has a big bowl of fruit in his den and he chows through it fast but that’s the kind of snacking I don’t mind. He also has a pop corn maker which requires no oil or sugar to be added just the popping corn and he loves to make it and snack on that, much better than crisps.

My son is 15 and when I go for a walk I ask him to accompany me so I have someone to chat with and he invariably gets right up and comes with me. No excuses no embarrassed to be seen with mum. He sees it as doing me a favour and not as him being coerced into exercise. Incidentally we also have some fabulous discussions on our walks when we are away from everything and I know they bring us closer to one another. I ask him to come for a ride with me and he comes along to make sure I don’t fall off and end up in a gutter somewhere. Don’t mention exercise to them, just make them feel like you need them to help you to do what you are going to do and they are more likely to come along. I challenge him to swimming competitions and all kinds of things to keep him moving. He does lots of exercise already but more doesn’t hurt and it’s really working to make him a big strong healthy guy, he’s glowing and his physique is turning the girls’ eyes. He isn’t complaining. Besides he loves that I’m turning into a new person in front of his eyes and he will do anything to keep that going, he remembers old miserable mum and he likes this new one much better. Try it, you’ll be surprised at how easy it is to influence them.

But having said all of that I am missing having company for dinner. It’s the one meal that has always been a sociable meal for me, breakfast has always been a rushed free for all and lunch is something that happened at work. Family breakfasts and lunches are the treasured events of weekends and holidays not the norm. Dinner though was always the one meal we all sat and ate together, prepared together too for a long time, since the kids were big enough to step up and help stir a bowl or chop a mushroom with a blunt knife. Nowadays I find myself preparing and eating it alone most weekdays and I don’t like it. I am loathe to delay my dinner time to past 8pm as that is too late for me, I don’t snack at all these days and so I am hungry by meal times and I like it that way, it makes sure I enjoy my food more and because I’m  hungry I feel full sooner. I’ll explain that phenomenon some time but it’s true for me. I also can’t cook twice, I don’t do two sittings for the simple reason that if I cooked for myself at 6 and then again for the guys at 8 I would eat some more at 8, I just would. I’m a glutton in training remember? This isn’t a won battle, it’s a forever fight.

So anyway here are some ways I combat this:

  • I do a lot of one pot cooking – casseroles, stews, soups even curries and Italian pasta based dishes. That way I can take mine and it’s easy for late comers to warm some up for themselves without my intervention. I also get the feeling that I’ve cooked for more than just myself which satisfies my empty nesting syndrome. Using the slow cooker also helps with this as food can be kept nicely warm on the real low setting long after it’s ‘ready’ without over cooking. I do like my veg crunchy and my meat rare so this suits me to take mine out a couple of hours earlier. This also means that if I’m dining alone for more than one night I can portion up and refrigerate or freeze for another night or I can do the same with left overs.
  • I use the steamer a lot, I’ll fill it with my food, fish, meat or whatever and vegetables and will prepare the same for the others but will only cook my  own and then pop theirs into the compartments so that when they are on the way home I can flick it on or they can do it themselves. Again I get to prepare the food but I don’t have to stand cooking it or supervise its cooking.
  • I let them fend for themselves completely and only cook for myself.
  • I save my dessert and sit and eat that at the table with them while they eat dinner so I get the social element of the dinner without eating twice or eating my main meal too late. If I do this I usually make sure desert is a light sorbet or some fruits and yoghurt.
  • I prepare big mixed salads and dish mine up in the kitchen and eat in the dining room so that I don’t just keep on eating and leave nothing for the guys when they get in.
  • If I’m going to be eating alone for a few nights and know nobody else is coming for dinner (Nick might be staying over in London and my son with a friend nearer school) I’ll make myself real fancy things that I have to faff with and don’t eat routinely. This makes it feel like a real treat, I get the time spent on preparation kick and I get to try out new recipes too which I can then share (or not) with the family at a later date. This also gives me a chance to buy more expensive things and be a bit more extravagant. More expensive fish or meat, rarer fruits and veggies. Having the treat stops me from feeling sad about dining alone.
  • I keep going on about planning but planning your menus a week or two weeks ahead helps keep you on track so you can identify where you will or might be dining alone, for me I identify that as a danger zone, because it is, and I make sure that I always have things in the freezer that are individually portioned so I can thaw one chicken breast or one fish fillet when those days crop up, planned or otherwise.
  • Also if I know I’m going to be dining alone I might invite a friend or two over for dinner. It gives me a good opportunity to have a good chatter with friends and an excuse to indulge in a glass of wine or a cocktail. Make an occasion of it.
  • I never skip dinner in favour of TV snacks, that never ends well for me and I find the discipline of three meals a day really has impacted on my weight loss but also contributed to gains in other areas of my life including my digestion (and expulsion of waste), sleeping and also with gastro-intestinal problems. I always eat at the table and always eat a proper meal. Some things I just have to be disciplined about or else this is never going to work long term and long term is the way it has to work or else I may as well not bother. If I eat in front of the television I don’t even register eating the food and feel hungry afterwards because I’ve not clocked up the ritualistic consumption of the food. Again I’ll blog about this some time, my mind works in strange ways and I’ve learned that identifying how my brain works against my stomach really helps in getting on top of this.

So there we have it a few tips for healthy eating for one so that it doesn’t become an excuse. We obese folk are great at making excuses for why we can’t eat healthy or why we can’t exercise and one I’ve heard a lot is this problem of doing it on our own. At the end of the day we are doing this for ourselves and we are on our own in that sense and we have to take responsibility for ourselves and stop making excuses. There are ways to get around the solitude of dining alone without falling into unhealthy habits, it just takes some discipline and a little effort.

Also we really do need to take the upper hand and set the pace for others in our household and that’s why eating healthy and moving more is really far better than dieting because we should want to promote that to our families and they should want to embrace it. It takes a while to break some of their bad habits and they may resist at first but I remember my son looking at a plate of vegetables last year and turning up his nose at them, tonight he sat and munched through an allotment’s worth and at the end said “That cabbage was delicious mum, was it organic? Did you grow it? Can we have more of that tomorrow?” Come on, what mother doesn’t love that smug smile of knowing that they’ve made a change for the better in their kids? Even if it is just getting them to become a connoisseur of fine cabbage?

If your family are not supporting you make them understand the enormity and severity of the problem, sit them down and tell them to listen, tell them how being fat and out of shape makes you feel, lay it on the line, tell them if you worry you will die younger, tell them you don’t want to leave them too soon, tell them you are not enjoying your life, tell them the truth warts and all and tell them how much you need to do this for yourself.  Let them know it’s not about looks, they will say they love you as you are but tell them you don’t love you as you are and that it’s not about how you look it’s about how you feel. Don’t hold back tears if they want to come, let them see how unhappy you are and let them know how worried you are and let them know that you need their support. Tell them you won’t deny them anything but there will be changes and you don’t need them to kick up a fuss about them, they need to go along with things and try things. Tell them how you worry about them and their health not just now but in the future and how you feel you’ve let them down by not being the example you should have been and how you want to make a difference for you all. Tell them that loving you as you are is great but you can promise them they’ll love you even more and for longer if they help you with this. I know families can be the worst when it comes to supporting or understanding an addiction but if you don’t try to explain honestly they can’t begin to help you.

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