When Eating Homemade isn’t Possible

Talk about a gorgeous weekend, right?! I think this past weekend may have made it into the top 5 nicest weekends all summer. Sunny, no humidity, and warm temps made it the perfect weekend to get outside.

We’ve had family visiting/moving into town and a friend in town, so we’ve hit up all the favorite spots like Concerts on the Square, the Memorial Union Terrace for the famous Babcock ice cream, and our annual trip to the American Players Theatre. Between all of that, I managed to soak in even more of the sun with a run around the lake on Saturday morning. You just can’t beat these views!

Sunday was low-key, but I enjoyed a relaxing afternoon stationed out on our porch, searching for cooking classes for our upcoming trip to Italy. I’m pretty much giddy with excitement now just thinking about the one I eventually discovered and booked. Seriously, if only that could be my kitchen and dining room in real life… Our trip is so close I can almost taste the olive oil and wine now! ;)

With all these outdoor activities this past weekend, we’ve been loving our summer picnic meals that we’ve taken along to the events. Our latest CSA box gave us pretty much a whole plant of basil. Which immediately got made into a whole bunch of pesto! It’s come in handy on these picnics—fresh bakery bread topped with pesto, tomatoes, and fresh mozzarella has been so, so good. (Think we’re ready for Italy or what?!)

On this blog, I showcase all the tasty meals and food I make at home, including the pesto I just made. Inadvertently, it may portray the false impression that I make everything “from scratch.” With a busy life, I’d love to spend my days in the kitchen making homemade bread and everything in between, but in reality, work and my other hobbies (ahem, running around the lake takes some time… ;)), keep me from doing that. I’m sharing with you today my perspective on how to find a balance in the busy lives we all lead. Enjoy! 

The childhood favorites I grew up with like Kool-Aid, Lunchables, and the bright pink Nesquik strawberry milk seem to have lost their popularity to whole grain bunnies, homemade fruit leathers, and kale chips. “Whole foods,” “no artificial flavors or colors,” and “preservative-free” are hot marketing phrases right now.

It’s true, we should all be striving for whole, natural foods more often, less processed foods with ingredients we can’t pronounce, and a balance of all the food groups in our day.

But does that mean there’s no more room for a frozen meal or boxed muffin mix? Not necessarily, but the pressure to make things “from scratch” or eat only “clean ingredients” is high.

Once August rolls around, the lazy days of summer slowly change to gearing up for the start of another school year, a more regular schedule, and the return of packed lunches and structured meals. Getting any kind of meal on the table with the whole family in attendance can be an accomplishment, let alone a homemade meal.

When days are filled to the brim—if not overflowing—how do we find the balance between processed foods, convenience, and the health of our family?

As a dietitian, I struggle with this as well. I love to cook and bake. It’s partly because I care about what my husband and I eat and my desire to nourish our bodies well, but I also get a sense of satisfaction from turning humble, individual ingredients into a meal that we can enjoy together at the table.

But to make everything from scratch? That’s just not possible for me right now.

For me, it may look like homemade granola bars for a snack one day, yet having a bag of pretzels in the pantry for another snack.

Or eating homemade banana “ice cream” as a dessert one evening, but then having store-bought ice cream the very next night.

I typically make my own homemade pizza dough, yet top it with store bought pepperoni slices.

It’s all about finding a middle ground and acknowledging what works best for your family. Rather than stressing about what you’re currently not doing, think about the positive changes you’ve already made and work from there.

For example, perhaps the few extra minutes it takes to make your own macaroni and cheese rather than from a box is one commitment you’re ready to make for your family. Or maybe it’s finding a cereal or granola bar that doesn’t have any preservatives or artificial colors in it. Maybe you’re ready to grind your own nut butter to reduce the ingredient list to just one or two ingredients (peanuts and salt). Other times, the change is as simple as forgoing the chips or crackers and opting for a piece of fruit or veggies and dip to snack on.

Not all processed foods are the enemy either. Anything that isn’t in its original state is technically “processed.” Think whole grain pasta, canned fruit in its own juice, or even canned beans. These are budget-friendly foods that add healthy convenience to any busy week night for your family.

Buying packaged foods doesn’t mean you have admitted to failure or have a lack of concern for your health. Making small changes and reading the food labels to find the best frozen French fries means you’re just as committed to your health as someone who makes homemade pesto and hummus.

Aim for a balance of fitting whole foods in more often, limiting the processed foods like boxed meals or bags of chips, and making room for flexibility. With that in mind, you’ll be ready to take on the new school year and all the meals and snacks that go with it.