Food at Home.
There are six of us. One of us is a toddler, one is almost a teenager, and two of us are in the smack dab middle of our tired thirties. Everything is in overdrive, all the time.
Between all of us, we have two full time jobs, one part time job, one doctorate program complete with research and dissertation writing, competitive dance, music lessons, baseball, soccer, scouts, and a church we dearly love and want to give our time and energy to.
Last week, we didn’t make it home before 8 PM one night.
I have to remind myself often that we signed up for all this because it’s good and worth it. We kept on having babies when other people stopped because we wanted to build something big. Now we have lots of big, busy kids.
We could go round and round about the pros and cons of kids and organized sports and activities. We have to revisit our priorities and limitations every time a sign up comes around. For now, we are kind of a yes family, as much as we can be. Childhood is short. Too many video games and YouTube videos are a big temptation for families and one way we combat the call of the screen is keeping our kids busy. Maybe it’s not the best or most sustainable solution. It’s a fine line we are walking between controlled chaos and pandemonium and I can’t really come up with a better idea. I know some families operate well with a simpler schedule, and maybe one day we will too.
Sometimes the pace of life can get so hard to maintain that I am tempted to not just drop a spinning plate but throw a couple. At someone.
One tricky part of living busy like this is food. My kids don’t really handle processed food all that well. I can’t throw a frozen pizza in the oven and call it dinner, as much as I would like to sometimes. Their tummies, skin, sleep, and all of our moods are negatively impacted by gluten, soy, and dairy, as well as other weird ingredients and additives which means we really need to eat most of our meals at home. If we do eat out, we can’t do it cheaply or easily. And even when we do decide to drop a chunk of our paycheck on a meal out at a “safe” restaurant, we often suffer from accidentally eating something that we shouldn’t. It’s a whole thing. And this spring we have eaten out more than in and we are feeling it in every way. Dysregulated kids, uncomfortable britches, and a depressing bank statement are all we have to show for our season of failing to plan our meals realistically according to the actual calendar, which we haven’t even written on this spring.
Last weekend, I took some steps toward a better routine. We have got to get off this ridiculous Ferris wheel of exhaustion and excuses, and not just because food matters. We desperately need an injection of joy and connection and the practice of looking into each other's faces at the end of a busy day. We need to get back together as badly as we need to get back to eating well.
A few nights ago, we all finally made our way home from different corners of the county around eight. I sent 4 kids up the stairs to take baths and threw together a meal as quickly as I could.
Thirty minutes later, we were all sitting around the table and it felt like a miracle. I realized as I watched my sleepy, pajama-wearing children eating their supper that I should really stop convincing myself that a $60 trip to God’s Chicken Restaurant is actually not easier than just eating the simple food we already have at home. Taking a litter of children into a restaurant is not usually fun, especially when everyone is already overtired and running on empty. Washing a skillet and six bowls and forks actually doesn’t take longer than waiting in a drive through, and no one likes cold waffle fries anyway. We are educators and we are lying to ourselves every time we convince each other that we can squeeze an expensive restaurant meal out of our budget because it’s Thursday and it’s late and we are tired.
I have learned a few tricks over the last few years that make throwing together simple suppers quickly a little easier. On Sunday, we cooked two chickens all day in the crock pot and Kyle pulled the tender meat off the bones while I put the little kids to bed. He threw the skin and bones back into the same crock pot, added veggies and a few glugs of apple cider vinegar and turned it back up to high so it could cook for twenty-four hours and make a nutritious, flavorful base for us to use all week. On Monday, when we got home late and were tempted to drop three days worth of grocery money on nuggets again, I had cooked chicken in the fridge and bone broth in the crock pot that was ready to use. I added 6 cups of nutritious stock to my biggest stainless skillet, brought it to a boil and added a bag of frozen veggies, cooked shredded chicken, some salt, pepper, and dried herbs, and 4 cups of uncooked jasmine rice, and stirred while it came back to boiling. I turned the heat down to low, set the table, diapered a baby and in 20 minutes we were all around our own table, eating simple food at home.
It has taken us a decade to fall into a rhythm of front loading some of the prep work for wholesome meals, and I know that for someone trying to take baby steps toward more home cooking, this chicken and rice may sound complicated. This simple supper could easily be adapted using store bought stock and grocery store rotisserie chickens, which are often less expensive than their uncooked cousins.
The point is not the food, exactly. The point is that as I was sitting around my table with my people Monday night, it felt like holy ground. Don’t get me wrong, we were tired and even a little grumpy. It wasn’t everyone’s favorite dish and no one even bothered to wipe down the table after we were finished and that usually sends me over the edge.
It felt holy because I heard a quiet voice telling me to look, to notice, and to listen. I sensed that Monday night needed to be the beginning of something.
Emily P. Freeman just released a sweet book entitled The Next Right Thing and it’s sitting half read on my nightstand. She is calling me forward with each page, helping me to discern my one next right thing. And as much as I resist commitment and promises, I know that my next right thing is to plant my feet in my kitchen for the next few months and create some new habits. I feel a deep need to put my family in the way of connection and peace, even in the midst of this busy season, even when wisdom might say next month might be a better time to start something new. I don’t know why, but I know it has to be now. We have to figure out how to get consistent about cooking and eating good food at home.
So, here it is, my promise to you. Lord willing and the creek don’t rise, we are going to eat at home together every day through the rest of spring and summer. Of course, there’ll be celebrations and trips and date nights sprinkled throughout, but my commitment stands. We will use our best dishes and our dining room. This will be our little rebellion against a culture that seems to be speeding up and spinning faster every day. This will be our place of reconnection, our place for inviting people we love and people we don’t know yet into our story.
I have a feeling that some of you, like me, are weary and worn from a busy Spring that came on the heels of a terribly wet and cold winter. I wonder if some of you might like to join me in this little experiment?
I am going to try to document at least a few dinners a week and share them on Instagram, tagged #thefoodathome. Follow me @BethanySpraginsLutz and I'll try to share some recipes, tips, photos and some stories of how this all plays out for us. I hope you’ll join me! If you do, I hope you’ll share some photos and use the same hashtag so I can watch you build a healthier rhythm, too.