The Perfect Meal: A Family Argument

When I run into a client of mine (a wonderful regular occurrence in our Brooklyn neighborhood) with my husband, Gary, he will often introduce himself and then joke that he’s the “before” picture of any of my clients. He does get to the gym a couple of times every week and has dramatically improved his eating habits since we started dating, but we’re still miles apart on the definition of a great meal.

So how do we eat peacefully? Before kids, it was super easy. We’d each bring in what we wanted to eat and that was that. I do remember some early dates of Caesar salad and pizza, but sadly those days are over for me (wheat and dairy free these days). Since kiddo arrived and my job description expanded to include “care and feeding of offspring,” I’ve started cooking for our family. Sometimes. Every Monday and Wednesday night, to be exact. And occasionally on the weekends. When I first took on this endeavor, it was tough. I wanted zucchini noodles with peanut sauce and tempeh and he wanted ribs and mashed potatoes. I don’t really like ribs and he really does not like zucchini noodles. Or tempeh. I’m certain of it, I’ve tried.

What works for us is a schedule and routine that satisfies us both. In our house, I cook chicken on Mondays and red meat on Wednesdays.  Every single week. I always make roasted sweet potatoes (in french fry shape to appease the preschooler) and a non starchy veggie side and he and I simply take different proportions of each. Sometimes the veggies are a big green salad, sometimes it’s heated frozen broccoli with some oil and spice. He’s game to eat certain greens, so I just make sure those are the ones I make. Wednesdays the whole family splits a grass-fed steak or I’ll make organic grass fed burgers. He eats 2 burgers with buns, I have a patty on top of a pile of greens. If it’s steak night, I’ll often sautee some zucchini noodles and tempeh up, too; I  usually only want a little bit of steak but am still hungry. Tuesdays we’re home at different times and he prepares mac & cheese & peas for Eliza and I’ll usually fry some eggs over veggies when I get home from clients and teaching. Thursdays he’ll take Eliza for pizza or make hot dogs and I’ll have leftovers. Or If he’s making hot dogs, I’ll get out a ton of lacto-fermented saurkraut and bell peppers and use romaine instead of a bun. Eliza eats somewhere in the middle. She loves bread but also loves the saurkraut. Weekends are what Eliza calls “dinner dates” and in theory should be the easiest to handle. But even choosing a restaurant can be tough for us. I really don’t like eating non-organic meat and not eating wheat or dairy on top of that limits my options. He isn’t as infatuated as I with the deli across the street that makes amazing broccoli sandwiches on gluten-free bread and I’m increasingly weary of mass produced chicken atop flimsy greens.

So we do that annoying thing that’s essential to all functional relationships: we compromise. I can usually finagle a Whole Foods dinner once a week or so (our Whole Foods has a top floor with a kids’ play area, a restaurant AND a bar) even though it’s not his favorite by a long shot. I’ll suck up a BBQ joint, or Chinese restaurant or our neighborhood Italian place where they call Eliza “princess” and have exactly one option I’m happy with (sausage and broccoli rabe with lots of garlic). I think the key to happy eating is to live and let live. Gary constantly forgets that I’m gluten-free and I constantly “forget” that he doesn’t really like those zucchini noodles. But I don’t flip him shit about his fried chicken and he doesn’t flip me shit about my roasted brussels sprouts obsession.

It’s also key to remember to take care of yourself. So many of my clients struggle because they also eat differently from their partners and/or children. While I get the reluctance to make several versions of a meal each day, the bottom line is that you deserve to eat happily. If you cook most nights, have one night each week be someone’s favorite. Including yours! If you order in most meals, choose the most nutrient dense and yummy option. If you’re not into splitting meals or sharing an appetizer, don’t do it. If you don’t want to eat meat, don’t eat it. If your partner is craving something that sounds awful to you, let them go alone and make yourself something appealing to you. If your kids are fighting you at every meal, see where you can give yourself and them some grace and forgiveness (and maybe some mac & cheese & peas).

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