The Enemies of Health

 Since this summer, when I read Michael Pollan's book
on the banks of Lake George, I've been closely following his articles on food. Indeed, I've been able to drastically change our eating and exercise habits in the past few months. (Thank you, Mr. Unemployment Check.)

I've been meaning to do a post on the two degrees of separation between Pollan and my folks. One of his interviewees was part of my parent's earthy/crunchy group from Rockland County. Maybe next week.

In yesterday's Times, Jane Brody highlights some of rules for eating well  from Pollan's new book, Food Rules. His rules are perfectly fine. We should cook more, eat more vegetables, and eat less processed food. Absolutely true. 

The problem with Pollan and Brody and others in that group is that they have a very poor understanding of why people eat crappy food. The solution isn't to tell people that they should eat their lima beans. People know that. They often just can't do it. 

The biggest enemies to healthy eating are kids, suburbs, and two jobs.

It's really, really hard to find the time to figure out recipes and shop for fresh vegetables when there are two people working stressful jobs with long hours. Then throw kids into the mix, and it's even tougher. Shopping with a three year kid isn't for the faint of heart.

Kids are picky. I decided to make sausages and rice pilaf for dinner tonight. Jonah doesn't like sausage with the seeds in it. Got to remember that when I go the store this afternoon. Neither kid will eat the rice pilaf, because it has spinach and feta in it and because there are too many things touching each other. So, the kids will have plain rice and peas with their sausage. That took some thought to figure all that out. I still have to go to the store.

DSC_0003_3 This was a meal that I made a few months ago. By the way, taking appetizing pictures of food is very hard, especially when the meal is finished after dark and you can't use natural light. Hats off to Pioneer Woman who styles her food so nicely. But I'm showing you this picture, because I had to make two meals that night for dinner. Jonah and Steve got the shrimp scampi. Ian only likes pasta with marinara sauce and won't eat shrimp. It's twice as hard to cook like this. 

Tuesdays are very complicated, because Ian has a social skills class from 5:45 to 6:45, which means that dinner has to be on the table by 5:00. Sometimes Jonah has soccer practice on Tuesdays as well, which really makes things insane. 

I really need to buy food on Tuesdays with multiple activities, but there are no good options. The only fast and affordable options are Wendy's, Boston Market, KFC, or Burger King. There are some good restaurants around, but they are Saturday night places, not racing to soccer practice places.

This is why people end up at the fast food counter. 

If you're childless living in Manhattan, there are a ton of options for a quick, affordable, healthy meal outside your apartment. Not so much out here.

I think we could use a little less Food Rules. We need more ideas about how to eat well given these massive restrictions. For example, plan out menus on the weekends or freeze things for later in the week. We also have to figure out how to have healthy life styles that include socializing and exercise, given these same restrictions.

56 thoughts on “The Enemies of Health

  1. Shopping with a three year kid isn’t for the faint of heart.
    It’s kind of fun if you don’t do it on a regular basis and are not in a hurry. Also, I feel much less self-conscious about buying marshmallows when the three year old is with me. My wife gets nervous because ours has a habit of delivering monologues to strangers, but I kind of enjoy that.

  2. So, when did kids get to order their meals? That’s the modus operandi around here, too. My older one will also only eat plain pasta (with marinara sauce on the side, if its the right kind). She rejects pasta with butter on it at restaurants if we forgot to ask about that. She complained about the milk in France (and even in Canada). Apparently it tastes different.
    We’re trying, rather unsuccessfully, not to have this too strongly influence my younger kid’s behavior — though we discovered that he’ll eat Ethiopian food, if his sister is not around.
    (And, mind you, she’s supposed to be neurotypical so I can’t attribute this to official sensory issues).
    Did folks here get to order their meals when they were little? I myself am pretty picky for a grown up. So, around here, we find that preparing food is a huge ordeal, since it basically means preparing individual meals for everyone. So, we end up eating out or ordering in a lot. And, that’s simply not healthy food.

  3. “Did folks here get to order their meals when they were little?”
    No, but aside from the occasional casserole, dinner was generally separate food items, rather than a bunch of foods mixed together.
    I ate my canned green beans as a kid, but today I doubt there was much value to doing that.

  4. “Did folks here get to order their meals when they were little?”
    No. But I did successfully refuse to eat nearly every vegetable except corn. There was no fast food restuarant in town when I was little. We ate roast beef with potatoes, roast chicken with potatoes, or pasta with meatballs and sausage about 75% of the time.

  5. “No, but aside from the occasional casserole, dinner was generally separate food items, rather than a bunch of foods mixed together. ”
    Is that like saying, yes, I ate the food that was offered, but it was what we think of as kid’s food today (i.e. un-spiced meat & starch & veg)?
    I’m trying to think how my mom handled kid-feeding — it wasn’t through un-spiced food, since all our food had spices. I know she worried a lot about getting us enough protein (we were vegetarian). But I don’t remember her making separate meals for everyone. I remember modified meals (i.e. the dish couldn’t have lima beans or peas, since I wouldn’t eat those). But, she certainly spent a lot of time cooking.

  6. “Did folks here get to order their meals when they were little?”
    No, but dinner was generally Spaghetti-os or TV dinners, in other words, frozen (or canned) fast food. Kids will still eat that sort of stuff. On the other hand, if beans were served, I usually ended up getting sent to my room for refusing to clean my plate. My parents didn’t usually have the energy for that kind of fight, and I never do.
    On the other hand, kids don’t demand variety. Figure out three or four healthy things they will eat, and serve them endlessly. With luck, you will find something for them (e.g., plain pasta with butter, rice and/or peas separately) that can be a side dish to what the adults are eating (e.g., the same pasta with a sauce that the kids won’t touch, rice and peas with sole meuniere).

  7. My kids also prefer the food to be on the brown, white, and green pattern (meat starch vegetable), so I will make an extra vegetable for us, or sometimes I serve them a dinner that is basically fruit, cheese and bread. Substituting something easy and uncooked like grapes or carrots or sliced cucumbers for the veg works pretty well in avoiding extra cooking.

  8. I don’t mean to challenge you on your family’s reasons but I think some of it too is that the concept of “a meal” has ratcheted up, thanks to the Food Network.
    What our 2-income, 1-4-yr-old family would eat on your 5 pm nights would be something like a crockpot soup, stew, or like lentil sloppy joes/something-on-bread, along with a raw vegetable tray (we pre-wash/chop on weekends) and, if not the sloppy joes then bread with it.
    Basically walk in, serve. If we had to be on the road we’d sometimes do homemade sandwiches in a cooler instead, and the raw veggies pack pretty nicely, perhaps with additional soup once we got back.
    Sometimes we’d hit the counter though. Our rule is once a month is the max. I don’t short-order cook; if my son doesn’t like something there’s always peanut butter. We make our own bread in the breadmaker so the bread’s reasonably high-quality.
    Some people would put their noses up at the raw vegetables, or consider soup and bread or a tuna sandwich not a good enough dinner, but I personally think that’s crazy talk.
    Our other superpower is leftovers &/or cooking ahead. So for example I might make two quiches and serve one the first night with a chickpea, tomato, and olive salad and the second with a soup, again from the crockpot and even leftover too from before that.
    Also my mother served the same two-week rotation for about four years. People want variety now and nutritional variety is good, but reusing meal plans can be really helpful; you get good at all the recipes and so it doesn’t take as much energy or even time.
    In other words I agree that a lot of the challenge is coordinating the meal plan but I also think there is a streak of perfectionism that sort of goes like “if I can’t have the lemon aioli topped green beans and bulgur pilaf with the salmon then I give up.”

  9. Pollan’s reflexive anti-corporate stand makes me a little crazy, but his practical suggestions for eating are fine enough. The trouble with folks like him and Mark Bittman, whom I really quite like, is that they don’t take into account the clean-up time for home-cooked meals. Yes, you can put together a simple, from-scratch meal quite quickly—almost as quickly as taking something out of the freezer or out of a can—but from-scratch creates significantly more mess that then must be cleaned up afterward.
    Not that that should be a determining deterrent, but I do wish it were acknowledged.
    I have four kids, and even though I’m a SAHM there’s still no possible way I can field six separate orders. The kids eat some combination of what’s on the table, and it is generally from-scratch and healthy. (I’ll use shortcuts like a jarred marinara or canned beans occasionally.) My kids will eat most legumes, including lentils and chickpeas, and I’m only a little kidding when I say that’s one of my proudest parental accomplishments.🙂

  10. Oh, and Laura, we have the 5:30 pm weeknight activities, too—soccer on Monday for the 6yo, ballet Tuesday for the 4yo, piano lesson Wednesday for the 8 yo, etc. I have to get dinner on the table a little before five, and it is a real struggle. I would SO prefer afternoon times for extra-curriculars, but that obviously doesn’t work for working parents so they’re all scheduled in the evening.

  11. I’m sort of with JennG on this one. With a lowering of gourmet standards/openness to repetitive menus and a crock pot we have managed to be a two-job family that eats cooked meals most nights. n.b. I have neurotypical kids and live in the city.
    In our house the innovation that really changed our ways was the Weekly Menu and Shopping List. Once we started making a menu for the week and getting all the groceries in the house beforehand, life totally changed. It forces you to think about the entire week ahead and plan for it, including who will eat school lunch on what days, who needs a snack or has a meeting or an extra class, blah blah blah.
    Question for the group: how many times a week are you at the grocery store?

  12. Agreed. Standards are too high. I blame my husband who gets whiny without fancy cheese and spice.
    But you know, Pollan’s idea of healthy is really different from mass definitions of healthy. Okay, the suggestion for sandwiches was perfectly sensible. But Pollan would say that lunch meat is really bad for you. If you are going to use it, then you have to get the kind without additives. 3 days expiration date. Also with bread. He writes that bread should only have three ingredients. That means no standard supermarket brands. We actually do this. Bread last three days in our house, before the green spots show up.
    No Chips Ahoy in the lunch box. You have to make fresh cookies twice a week. Anybody here doing that? And forget about school lunches. They’re all really bad for the kids. Packed with chemicals and corn syrup. So, if you’re packing your kids sandwiches five days a week (we are), you feel bad giving them sandwiches for dinner, too.
    If you are going to follow Pollan’s suggestions, then you MUST go to the supermarket every three days.

  13. “In our house the innovation that really changed our ways was the Weekly Menu and Shopping List. ”
    When do you do it, the weekly menu and shopping list? And, does it involve the whole family, or one parent in charge? Do you swap parents?
    We tried this, with the whole family planning, and it helped when we did, but we’ve let life interfere, and now gone back to our old wicked ways.

  14. No Chips Ahoy in the lunch box. You have to make fresh cookies twice a week. Anybody here doing that?
    We did that when I was a kid. One week was your week to make chocolate chip cookies. Of course, we used Crisco, but it was probably still healthier than the Double-Stuffed Oreos we ate before.

  15. “Is that like saying, yes, I ate the food that was offered, but it was what we think of as kid’s food today (i.e. un-spiced meat & starch & veg)?”
    Yep.
    “I don’t mean to challenge you on your family’s reasons but I think some of it too is that the concept of “a meal” has ratcheted up, thanks to the Food Network.”
    Agreed, just as the concept of “home” has been ratcheted up.
    “The trouble with folks like him and Mark Bittman, whom I really quite like, is that they don’t take into account the clean-up time for home-cooked meals.”
    Agreed. My husband is getting to be a very competent baker, and he’s pretty economical about his use of implements, but if he makes muffins (the wholewheat blueberry pecan ones are especially nice), we need to run the dishwasher twice instead of our usual single daily run. That’s even more true if we cook dinner at home. You have pan, spatula, spoons, rice cooker to clean up, knives, cutting board, etc.
    I’ve noticed that the gravitational pull is for a child’s every meal to turn into dessert. C has trouble getting out of bed for school in the morning unless she knows that a bowl of Cinnamon Toast Crunch is waiting for her. (There was a more innocent time when she was content with unsweetened oatmeal or unsweetened yogurt, but that’s long over.) School lunch is either something fast food-like from the hot lunch menu (not the federal program) or a homemade peanut butter and jelly sandwich, also essentially a dessert. We generally go to the cafeteria for dinner, and she tends to prefer a waffle (you can make your own) or French toast, also sweets, especially after whipped cream and syrup are added. At dinner, we lay down the law and require her to eat a token bite of some green plant material (usually baby spinach) and either fruit or some yellow vegetable (sweet potatoes are popular). She’s also required to have a protein item at dinner. According to family rules, waffles and French toast qualify as a protein item, but cereal doesn’t (you have to draw a line somewhere). In some respects, the chicken tenders and Mexican fast food they serve at school are the nutritional bright spot in a sweet, starchy diet. I’m not saying that C doesn’t eat other stuff (the kids eat curry), but that’s what the path of least resistance looks like: sugary cereal, PBJ, French toast.

  16. “Question for the group: how many times a week are you at the grocery store?”
    1.5. One huge big shopping, plus a mid-week run for milk, fruit and whatever has run out. When we are actually cooking dinner every night (for instance over long college breaks), I go more often.
    What works very well when we do it is my husband makes a large batch of muffins (pumpkin, whole wheat blueberry, etc.) and then we freeze nearly all of them and dole them out slooowly during the week. My husband is a whole wheat fanatic and puts whole wheat into all baking projects, no matter what the recipe says (including Hershey’s chocolate cake for birthdays). Swapping out half the white flour for whole wheat is fairly safe and gives a nicely crunchy exterior and a nice heft.

  17. No Chips Ahoy in the lunch box. You have to make fresh cookies twice a week.
    When I was growing up, each kid above a certain age (8, maybe, though I can’t say for sure- no older than that) got one night a week when we got to stay up a bit later- a half hour or so- w/ our mother and do something. I always wanted to make cookies, and others sometimes did, too. So we regularly, if not always, had home-made cookies around because of this. It’s also where I learned the basics of cooking, and it was fun. I recommend such things, if people can work it out.

  18. Note on sandwiches: CHEESE. Agree that packaged lunch meat is frightening, and we can’t afford the fancy stuff from the deli counter. PBJ is mostly sugar. Cheese is a good solution for my kids, sometimes with lettuce or just with mayo. Breadmaker makes homemade whole wheat bread super easy (although the cycle does take time so it would be hard for working parents).
    I go to the store once a week. I have a basic list of items that I keep on hand, and mostly I cook from a stable of ten or twelve meals that can be made with what I always have. The problem for me with meal planning is that I don’t know ahead of time which produce is going to be cheap, what meat will be on sale, and the farmer’s market/grocery store where I shop doesn’t send out circulars. So I have to shop, and THEN plan meals, and then it’s frustrating because I didn’t pick up such and such to go with so and so. Haven’t figured out the perfect system yet.

  19. Just posted more about this on my blog, but just wanted to add my 2 cents here.
    We make our kids eat what’s on the table or make their own sandwich. This started when our youngest was about 6 or 7. I can’t even remember the last time that’s happened, though I’m sure it has within the last year.
    We buy supermarket bread. It has about 7 or 8 ingredients in it. It’s the best I could do. It doesn’t have high fructose corn syrup but it does have a preservative or two.
    I pack lunches–peanut butter and banana, fruit and chips or crackers. We’re totally violating the rules on the chips, but I buy the healthiest things I can. I have to have *some* sanity. I do bake cookies and muffins on occasion.
    I try to keep shopping to once a week, often a Tuesday, but I usually end up making a quick trip on the weekend to fill in.
    Leftovers are awesome. I eat them for lunch or we end up having a meal where each of us picks the leftovers they want from the last three meals or so. The way I’m cooking now, we usually end up with just one serving leftover.

  20. He writes that bread should only have three ingredients.
    That’s odd. Any good bread cookbook will tell you that to make bread last you (counterintuitively) add milk and/or butter.
    I can’t bring myself to have a huge freakout about nitrites-n-stuff in ham but you could make cheap rump roasts for about $2-$4 a pound and slice them for roast beef. Or make tuna sandwiches, or sprouts and cheese, or sardines, or egg salad.

  21. “You have to make fresh cookies twice a week. Anybody here doing that?”
    Actually, fresh baked goods is the one thing that isn’t a problem, since I like to bake and make something almost every weekend (a varying cycle of cookies, brownies, cake, pie). Cookies should last the whole week, if you keep them in a sealed tin. There is, to be sure, a lot of sugar in these foods, and usually a lot of fat, but there is nothing artificial.
    However, although my wife and I are sort of hippies manques, we don’t make our own bread. I never checked, but I am guessing that even Pepperidge Farm has more than three ingredients.

  22. Breads like rustic Italian bread have only flour, water, and yeast. But they aren’t good keepers.
    Challah stays fresh quite a while but it’s always eaten within two days.

  23. Another barrier to Pollan’s version of healthy eating is cost. If you’re on a budget, a box of mac n cheese is cheap compared to buying all of the ingredients for a real meal, especially the organic fruits and veggies… which don’t last very long. Which will then require another trip to the store to buy more pricey fruits and veggies. On the other hand, mac n “cheese” is quick and palatable for kids. If I were a single mom working two jobs I would buy it at least once a week. (Wait, that was *my* mom…sometimes we had cut up hot dogs in it at the beginning of the month.)
    I am always conscious that Pollan is a writer and can structure his day how he likes. As the other posters here have pointed out, the rest of us who bow to the pressures of bosses and kids’ activities have other constraints.
    We don’t have a dishwasher, so my kids don’t ever get a separate meal. I will leave out the sauce or something like that, and they can trade the spinach for a multivitamin but otherwise, they get what we get. When I was growing up, my mother did the same: you could leave the mushrooms off of your “fancy” hamburger. On the other hand, if we had eggplant casserole, I had to eat it. Sometimes I would sit there for three hours after the end of dinner in front of the plate. I still don’t like eggplant, so I’ve rejected this strategy for my own children.
    I also read — long before I had children, so I don’t recall where — that children’s tastebuds are much more sensitive than adults’, which explains how we can tolerate or enjoy onions, mushrooms and other tastes that kids usually hate. I liked this argument as it explains the general uphill battle parents face trying to get kids to eat a diversity of foods, but I was bothered by its ethnocentric aspect — children in other cultures don’t only eat pasta, fries and chicken nuggets, so why do American kids go only for the beige foods?
    My kids were also racing through dinner –eating three bites and declaring themselves “full” — in order to get dessert. An hour after dessert, and after we had cleaned the kitchen and put the dishes away, they were starving, so we are now a month into the New Way: we have dessert only on Sunday. Lucky for them, every day is someone’s birthday at school, so the sweets are still coming fast and furious, but we’ve noticed that they eat more of their dinner.
    My daughter’s preschool teacher was famous for saying: Kids don’t need to eat every meal. In other words: here’s dinner, eat it or don’t eat it. Unless it’s squid, they will come around if they go to bed hungry a couple of nights in a row.

  24. A poor immigrant family was interviewed on Food, Inc. about their fast food habit. They said fast food was often the only food they could afford that actually filled them up. You don’t feel full after eating a head of lettuce or raw carrots — and for far less money, you can get a big whopper meal.
    It’s really sad, but it’s true. Fast food is more filling and far cheaper than healthy food.

  25. When we cook dinner at home, if the kids don’t like it, I inform them that mommy and daddy are going to eat our dinners and then, once we’re all finished, I will take a la carte orders. That’s as old school as I get.

  26. Another barrier to Pollan’s version of healthy eating is cost.
    Yes, but if you cheat just a little bit and get frozen, vegetables are not that expensive. I like most vegetables cooked until soft, I haven’t noticed the difference with broccoli or peas (which constitute about 90% of the green vegetables we eat).

  27. Just as data points, I don’t find you have to shop every 3 days to eat fresh.
    We shop once a week, unless we run out of milk; we get the bulk of our summer/fall vegetables weekly from our farm CSA. Fruit we aim for local but in the winter that doesn’t happen.
    However you do have to eat the spinach first and eat the kale next and the cabbage & squash last, and so on. Zucchini, peppers, cauliflower, eggplant all fall sort of in the middle. Carrots and beets are good anytime. It’s the same with fruit – some lasts, most doesn’t.
    We don’t pack lunches (lunch is supplied by daycare) so I think that helps us a lot with some of the issue of snack-type food. I expect that will change when we move into public school.
    We aren’t big dessert eaters but when we do it tends to be fruit crisps or bread pudding (stale breadmaker bread).
    I’m happy to occasionally bring home a bag of Oreos. Life without Oreos is sad. We just aim for it not to be every week.
    The breadmaker is the only way we manage not to buy the highly processed bread. I load it in the morning and it runs for 4 hrs and comes out okay at the end even if it really should be popped out of the pan earlier. However my usual recipe has flour, sugar, yeast, salt, and olive oil, so that’s 5. Plus water.
    For sandwiches we usually use leftover chicken or beef, hummus & roasted red pepper, roast vegetables & cheese (I roast a batch on the weekend for that), cheese and cucumber, cream cheese and tomato, tuna and salmon (minding the mercury), and then various nut and seed butters (but obviously that is not school-ok). We grownup-ify them with fresh basil or other herbs.
    I anticipate this will also change when we hit the real lunchroom years.
    For cost, when we were really on a budget the biggest savings came in using frozen veggies – we could shop effectively on sale and there was hardly any waste at our end. But our CSA has brought organic produce at par with regular produce and now we can afford it. Our breadmaker bread would run about 80 cents a loaf but the breadmaker cost $300 so we’re still amortizing it.
    I’m such a food planning geek. I haven’t Google-doc’d my plans for a long time but here’s the one I started long ago (pre-breadmaker): http://spreadsheets.google.com/ccc?key=0Ag5z_kFNf_lXcExzcXd2UnJJZTZnc2dsM3RvRUkzTVE&hl=en

  28. “A poor immigrant family was interviewed on Food, Inc. about their fast food habit. They said fast food was often the only food they could afford that actually filled them up.”
    I think there’s a little confusion here, between healthy food versus home-made food without articifial ingredients. It’s true that a head of lettuce doesn’t fill you up, but onion rings that you slice yourself and fry in the bacon fat you saved from breakfast (i) fill you up, (ii) are much cheaper than pre-made food from a store or restaurant, and (iii) contain no artificial ingredients (which doesn’t make them health food, or anything). Likewise, if you add some salt and butter and sugar or fruit to that bread, it will fill you up.

  29. @bj, here’s how weekly shopping works at our house.
    On Friday night I clean out the fridge/check cabinets, review the school lunch menu for the next week, and see if there’s anything else pending that requires snacks etc. Then I say, “Is anyone hungry from anything this week?” and people start shouting requests. This results in a dinner menu, posted on the fridge. Both kids and adults are able to veto anything they truly hate, or request an alternative. Sometimes we will override my 8YO, who is still on her vegetarian kick.
    From this menu I make a big shopping list and I do all the shopping alone, early on Saturday mornings.
    Saturday and Sunday I spend large chunks of time cooking, because I enjoy it. These meals generate plenty of leftovers which become lunches throughout the week. I also keep a few fallback items always available for extra lunches or rejected dinners. If you reject dinner at our house you will most likely be eating canned kidney beans, carrot sticks, and crackers or bread/butter.
    I often make a small list for my husband to fetch mid-week, usually for dairy products and some fruit. In the summer we go to the store more frequently because there’s more good stuff to get, but in the summer we’re also typically more up for the walk and don’t have homework to worry about.
    FWIW, I don’t think I could make this system work without a large pantry and freezer.

  30. When we cook dinner at home, if the kids don’t like it, I inform them that mommy and daddy are going to eat our dinners and then, once we’re all finished, I will take a la carte orders. That’s as old school as I get.
    No. For really old school, I often fantasize about the “All Of A Kind Family” book series that I read to my daughters.
    In the first book, one of the girls simply refuses to eat her dinner. The whole family is SHOCKED that she refuses to eat what is offered. Mother doesn’t yell, though. She simply wraps up the meal and puts it away, and it is served to her for breakfast. — No new meal until you finish everything on your plate from the last one.
    Oh yes. I have this dream often.

  31. Personally, I get a bit irritated when people get dogmatic about fresh over frozen or otherwise preserved. Yes, there are arguments for prioritizing fresh and local–but when people don’t recognize even the potential nutritional benefits (particularly traditionally) about preservation, I think that’s a bit blind of them. (Preservatives I’ll leave out of this, but sometimes I think it can be fear mongering like GM food. But clearly I’m also a lot more sanguine about GM than a lot of people.)
    So of course I liked this http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NehDRpVjQ3M
    (One of Pollan’s interviews had him poopooing food scientists and nutritionists in favor of folk wisdom. But that’s cherry-picking on his part, I’d think. Or perhaps I should have taken that “step on a crack, break your momma’s back” thing more seriously?)

  32. It seems like there’s a pendulum between the proponents of scientific nutrition and the proponents of “natural goodness.” Everyone should read the insanely entertaining Perfection Salad on this subject.

  33. “No Chips Ahoy in the lunch box. You have to make fresh cookies twice a week. ”
    Oh thanks. Now you made me go bake some chocolate chip cookies.
    If I gave up the Intertubes, I could fit in baking, cooking and exercise. Na gudda happen.

  34. I’ve found the “Debbie Meyer BreadBags (as seen on TV)” actually do help bread stay fresh longer. Three ingredients, though? Flour, water, yeast?
    I recommend the book, “Houseworks” by Cynthia Ewer. The book is full of good advice, including the weekly shopping list, and menu plan.
    Then, there’s the advice which is heresy for the parents of my generation, but maybe it should be said: Do fewer activities. If you can’t eat dinner together, are not sleeping enough, and don’t have the time to cook dinner, simplify the family’s schedule. This is easier as the kids get older, and focus on what they really want to do. I’ve found the periods when I haven’t signed the kids up for the Suburban Ideal, the entire family is happier.

  35. Cosign to that “shopping every three days”; out here in the midwest the veggies in the store just don’t last—three days and they’re going bad. Sometimes they’re even bad while still at the store. (and I at least live in a neighborhood that does have one grocery store. I don’t often go to that one, because it doesn’t have a bakery and I’m one of those old-school Sicilian food snobs that doesn’t eat Wonderbread, but doeesn’t often find the time to bake bread.) Pollan needs to note that many working class and almost all poor neighborhoods do not have a grocery store, period. Just a little “convenience store” where one banana costs $1.25—yeah, fresh fruit my ass.)
    Ahem. Anyway, my biggest obstacle is extracurricular activities like karate class (for me as well as my daughter), swim class, stuff like that. Not enough time between when I get off work and when we have to be wherever to cook a real meal. Sometimes heating up leftovers is an option, and grilling some meat is pretty quick…but heating a frozen pizza or burritos is also quick.
    And I don’t live in the suburbs. It’s not the travel time home that’s the problem. It’s the travel time to the suburbs where the karate classes are that’s the problem (I can’t afford the suburbs, no way no how.) In flyover country, the cities are doughnuts; nothing in the middle except people who can’t afford to move where the businesses are.
    I love, love, love to cook, and I’m damn good at it. (Hell, in Illinois they revoke your Italian card if you can’t cook!) I know all the tricks. I know how to create healthy, cheap meals. But having to have it both cooked and crammed into you within 40 minutes is still not easy, especially if there wasn’t time to do dishes the night before (no dishwasher, either).
    Pollan doesn’t know how good he has it. CSAs exist here, but you have to drive out into the country to pick up your package—and during a weeknight. For me (as a single parent) that interferes with school and cooking. When the CSA I used to subscribe to switched to pick-up at the farm only, I wrote back and explained why they’d lose me—that a mandatory one-night a week for fast food ran counter to why I wanted to subscribe to a CSA to begin with (not to mention the price of gas—we’re talking a forty mile round trip).

  36. For whatever it’s worth, this is how it works in our house, which has been on an on-and-off Pollan crusade for about a decade:
    One trip to the grocery store and/or the farmer’s market per week (unless emergencies come up: someone is throwing up and needs Jello and soda, kids need to make brownies for a church activity and forgot to tell us, that sort of thing).
    Plan six main meals on Saturday morning; for meals with large meat portions, plan them some weeks in advance, so to order stuff at the farmer’s market.
    Go to the local Dillon’s, drop about $150, fill up the car with bags, bring it all home.
    Eat fresh fruit and veggies on Saturday through about Tuesday or Wednesday; it’ll be frozen or canned stuff thereafter. Fortunately, we have a lot of home-canned tomatoes, cucumbers, and the like, though they are mostly gone by February (i.e., right now).
    February through May is when we eat and feed the kids most poorly. From May through the winter, we do pretty well.
    This will probably explode in our faces once our growing teen-agers start insisting on being gone in the evenings. But for now, we’re all still around to sit down for one big meal a day. Melissa and I usually refuse to make additional dinners in the kids turn up their noses at something; they can eat quesadillas or yogurt or toast (and go without desert), if they insist. Mostly, so far, they’ve come around to eating what we make.

  37. “Flour, water, yeast?”
    You’ve got to have sugar to feed your yeast, so is he not counting the water? I was flipping through my breadmachine cookbook, and even the simplest recipes have about half a dozen ingredients, and the whole wheat recipes are if anything longer. Betty Crocker’s Best Breadmachine Cookbook says “Salt enhances the flavor of bread and strengthens the dough by tightening and improving the gluten. It also controls yeast growth, so the flavors have time to develop.” “A salt-free loaf will be high and light with a coarser texture, but it will lack in flavor.”
    “out here in the midwest the veggies in the store just don’t last—three days and they’re going bad. Sometimes they’re even bad while still at the store.”
    Likewise, I’ve discovered that there is a huge difference between the freshness of meat from our city HEB (in a mixed student/poor folk neighborhood) and the suburban HEB that we have to drive way out to. The city meat has to be used up within a day or two or it is slimy and has an off odor (even if it hasn’t expired yet), while the suburban meat lasts much longer.
    “And I don’t live in the suburbs. It’s not the travel time home that’s the problem. It’s the travel time to the suburbs where the karate classes are that’s the problem (I can’t afford the suburbs, no way no how.) In flyover country, the cities are doughnuts; nothing in the middle except people who can’t afford to move where the businesses are.”
    Indeed. We live a 5-minute walking commute from my husband’s work and a 10-minute drive from the kids’ school downtown, but activities tend to be scattered through the suburbs, which is also where our dentists, doctors, and the hospitals are (it’s not a major city). The driving involved (along with the expense) is one of the reasons that I have been pretty conservative about signing kids up for activities.

  38. I’m with jen on the weekly menu. I’ve posted before about how we alternate whose week it is to cook, but the weekly thing really helps you out with the issue of picky eaters and 5PM nights. When planning the week’s menu, if I’m going to be cooking something I know my daughter will hate, I try to make sure it follows an extra-large meal of something that she’ll like. That way there’ll just happen to be Monday’s leftover chicken pesto penne in the fridge when I’m serving Friday’s split pea soup.
    You also get some chance to plan for the compressed night — in our case it’s Wednesday, when there’s exactly 30 minutes to cook and eat between getting home and schlepping the daughter to CCD. I’ve only found two things to work well then: something from the deep-freeze you can microwave, or omlettes.
    We’re still trying to solve the vegetable issue, though. My daughter has inherited my taste for meat, salt, rice and gravy. I halfway expect a nutrition PSA to show the two of us reenacting the old 80’s anti-drug ads: “I learned it from you, Dad!”

  39. “Bread with no salt at all? Uugh.”
    Yeah, pretty much. But the Tuscans are a proud people. And, you can’t really complain too much about the unsalted bread when you’re sitting on a hilltop, overlooking vinyards, and eating prosciutto e melone

  40. “Pollan needs to note that many working class and almost all poor neighborhoods do not have a grocery store, period. Just a little “convenience store” where one banana costs $1.25—yeah, fresh fruit my ass.” – La Lubu
    “a huge difference between the freshness of meat from our city HEB (in a mixed student/poor folk neighborhood) and the suburban HEB that we have to drive way out to. The city meat has to be used up within a day or two or it is slimy and has an off odor (even if it hasn’t expired yet), while the suburban meat lasts much longer.” – Amy P
    Yes, yes, yes to both of these. What a difference a mile-and-a-quarter made: between the “salsa” Safeway in Adams Morgan, which was then 1/3 black, 1/3 Hispanic and 1/3 white, none very prosperous, and the “social” Safeway in Georgetown.

  41. I was in the midwest visiting family (I’m in the Northeast, in a middle-class/working class mixed neighborhood) and had to make a meal. I was shocked at what passed for a grocery store. Barely a produce section to speak of. The apples weren’t labeled because an apple’s an apple, right? At one store, the produce could only be bought in bulk–giant bags of lemons, limes, apples, etc. It was weird. And, of course, plenty of convenience foods. We need to drag the Michael Pollan’s of the world to these places.

  42. Weekly menu planning seems to be a common strategy of many commenters. I’ve never been able to do it. When we were working tons and tons, we just didn’t have the time or the brain power for it. Now, there’s too much randomness in our lives. Mom might invite us over for dinner at the last minute or one of Jonah’s friends decided to stay over and will only eat pizza.
    I try to plan out three day chunks, while sticking to the same ethnic theme, so we can reuse ingredients and fresh herbs.
    “prosciutto e melone” mmmmmm

  43. Speaking of the suburban/urban divide, my husband reports that at the really good suburban HEB, the cashiers disinfect the conveyor belt every time a package of meat is placed on it. I’ve never heard of that before, but it sounds like an awfully good idea.
    I’ll add that for me, buying produce at Walmart is like going to the promised land–the fruit quality is so much better than at our neighborhood HEB.

  44. I live in Chicago and was a little surprised to hear so many folks describing awful grocery stores in Chicago. And then I realized, oh that’s right, I really don’t shop at Jewel any more. These folks are probably talking about Jewel or Dominick’s.
    I broke up with Jewel years ago and began a wonderful relationship with the local Mexican fruit market. It’s made all the difference. BTW it’s also improved my skill at cooking Mexican foods, which are big crowd-pleasers with the kids and typically inexpensive and filling.

  45. Weekly menu planning seems to be a common strategy of many commenters. I’ve never been able to do it.
    I don’t know if we’d be doing it if 1) Pollan and other like-minded writers hadn’t convinced us to organize our lives to make sure we–on our low budgets and one automobile–could pull it off, and much more importantly 2) we hadn’t come from families which presented clear alternatives: Melissa’s, where they’d been canning food and planning meals weekly since the 70s, and mine, where buying and finding food was a constant free-for-all. The comparisons made the choice somewhat easy, which I suppose simply underscores the crunchy-hippie-counter-cultural conservatism that Pollan’s arguments cross over with, though he sometimes appears reluctant to admit it.
    My husband reports that at the really good suburban HEB, the cashiers disinfect the conveyor belt every time a package of meat is placed on it. I’ve never heard of that before, but it sounds like an awfully good idea.
    Our Dillon’s does that. It’s nice.
    I’ll add that for me, buying produce at Walmart is like going to the promised land–the fruit quality is so much better than at our neighborhood HEB.
    Totally different experience for me; produce is the one thing I loath having to buy at Wal-Mart sometimes, as I find their selection and quality pretty poor. Whereas I don’t have any problem with their meat selection; if you’re not getting beef or chicken from the producer, why not buy the cheapest packaged stuff you can get?

  46. Our HEB is of the sort popularly referred to as a “ghetto HEB.” It’s OK for your basic bananas and apples and oranges and such, but the mangoes never look very happy, and the papayas are basically rotting on the shelf. So yes, Walmart is a big step up.

  47. PS: regarding the pictures of the food. Get in close with your camera, and turn all the lights on in the area. The warmish look (i.e. tungsten lights) works OK for food (even if it makes people look orange).
    I don’t know what to do for you if you’re lighting your house with industrial fluorescents.

  48. Well–we don’t plan meals for the week. What we do is cook ahead, things that keep in the fridge and the children will eat. Then whenever we don’t have time to cook, we heat up something. So it’s a lot like planning for the week, but without the planning.
    My rule for bread is “no ingredients I don’t have in my kitchen.” That will get you up to a week or so.

  49. These folks are probably talking about Jewel or Dominick’s.
    Heh. Jen, I live downstate. I wish we still had a Jewel here! Jewel was good for both produce and meat; the County Market that replaced it on the south side is “downscale”—very little selection, poorer quality stuff; the “upscale” County Market on the west side has better selection and quality than the one on the south side—but less selection (especially in the bakery) and much higher prices than the Jewel. I shop at five different stores, four of which aren’t anywhere near my neighborhood.
    Pollan is preaching to a particular choir. Life in flyover country really doesn’t resemble life on the coasts in terms of options available. We really do have fewer options. And I’m getting increasingly irritated at the preaching of individual solutions to systemic, community-based problems, whether it’s coming from Pollan or anyone else.

  50. “And I’m getting increasingly irritated at the preaching of individual solutions to systemic, community-based problems, whether it’s coming from Pollan or anyone else.”
    How about get some do-gooders (a local church or something) to run a Saturday shuttle to Walmart or the nearest good grocery (perhaps with the expectation of a contribution of a couple dollars for gas)? A lot of churches have nice big vans that aren’t necessarily busy every day of the week.

  51. Thinking about the bread bit a bit more, I can’t help but think it’s really dumb. It would rule out nearly all Russian bread, for example, as almost all of it has significantly more than 3 ingredients (even if we don’t count water as one.) But that bread can often be wonderful and fresh and not full of preservatives. It’s not even good as a rule of thumb about bread. One has to hope he didn’t really mean it and was just inadvertently being silly.

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