It seems like many people are really responding to hearing about my friend “Babs,” whose family is undergoing a gradual improvement in their eating habits, and for whom I’m offering some support and advice in navigating the process.  Although I didn’t get a chance to catch you up with Babs and her gang last week, I’ve now happily got plenty of updates from the family to share. 

When I last wrote about Babs, her husband, and their daughters, ages 5 and 2, things were improving quickly.  Although not every dinner had been a raving success, Babs had observed that the girls were eating better meals at the family table, and that the elder child and her husband (both relatively selective eaters before) were both trying and enjoying new healthy foods.  Right after I wrote that post, Babs contacted me and let me know that not EVERYTHING in life was going as smoothly as our dinner planning.

Babs is a stay-at-home mother, so the family is totally dependent upon her husband’s income.  He was notified recently that his job will be eliminated in a few months; in a sad twist of fate, the family’s housing situation, as I understand it, is tied to his job, so they have also been instructed to pack up and move.  With their only family thousands of miles away, and a “vacate-by” date that seems to be shifting, but could be as soon as 2 weeks from now, they’re understandably feeling some pressure.  He’s spending every spare second job-hunting; she’s trying to keep things as normal as possible for the kids while planning whatever can be planned in the midst of such uncertainty.

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I think I would have completely understood if the Week 3 and 4 updates from Babs about dinner went something like this: “Screw it!  Can’t figure life out right now and have bigger fish to fry.  Ate pizza every night.”  Astonishingly, however, Babs not only stuck to her guns; she did incredibly well.  Her only comment about the family’s up-in-the-air status was “Figuring out what the menu will be like for next month has started to creep into my mind, which is a little daunting. I don’t know whether I’m packing up my house next week or if I’m staying for another few months. ”  Of course I reassured her that we’d figure it out either way, and that I’ll be more than happy to help her get the meal planning organized for the big move when the time comes, but she’s showing incredible resiliency in some very challenging circumstances.

On to the results of the meal plans: Babs remarked to me that she feels like she’s really “hitting her stride” with an organized menu.  She’s finding it easier to plan the family’s afternoon activities because, with a menu plan to consult, she now knows exactly how much time she’ll need to get a healthy dinner on the table by the appointed hour.  (YESSSS!!!!  This is a point I think I’ve glossed over a bit, but it’s an important one: Meal plans are not just about the meals.  Their usefulness ripples out to many other areas of life, like organizing schedules, simplifying grocery shopping, and keeping the budget in line.)

The biggest successes I think I see, in looking over Babs’ reports of what the family ate and how they enjoyed it all, are really major triumphs, from the perspective of an advocate for real-food family dinners.  The menu I suggested for the first week of the two-week period went like this:
Monday: Pasta salad with ham and broccoli, fruit, cheese.
Tuesday: Bean and cheese nachos with salsa, guacamole, corn and rice on the side.  Fruit salad.
Wednesday: Grilled chicken, carrots, salad, leftover pasta tossed with garlic butter
Thursday: Slow cooker meatball sandwiches, salad, fruit
Friday: Fend
Saturday: Honey-mustard turkey bacon bites, mac and cheese, veggie of your choice
Sunday: Spaghetti and meatballs (with leftover meatballs from Thursday), salad, garlic bread

Of the slow-cooker meatball subs, Babs wrote a rave review.  Her husband ate two of them in a sitting, and her elder daughter — the family’s most selective eater — asked if she could make them again sometime.  (Nothing makes me happier, as a mother and cook, than hearing my kids request that we repeat a certain dinner.   I’m thrilled that I could help Babs find something to please her kids!)  As an added bonus, the spaghetti and meatballs night — which I designed to be as easy as possible, with only pasta to cook and meatballs to reheat — came at the perfect time.  Babs told me, “This meal was a life saver. The sun finally came out in the afternoon and (younger daughter) wanted to go to the beach. It was about 3:50 when we left the house. It was 5:25 when we got back in the car. Dinner was on the table by 5:55, (hubby) gave the kids their bath while I was making it. SUCCESS!!!! Past alternatives to this kind of timing problem have been McDonalds or Subway.

Yes, that’s right.  Just by making a slow cooker full of meatballs, Babs not only fed her family a wholesome, real-food dinner two nights out of the week; she also AVOIDED having to give them fast food.  She could relax at the beach with her kids, knowing that the dinner rush was accounted for, and that a home-cooked meal could be on the table in less time than it would take to drive to the fast-food place, order, bring it all home, and serve it. 

I don’t think I quite anticipated when I started this project with Babs that the change would be quite so profound, or that I’d be able to report such concrete results to you all so quickly.  But she and her family have embraced the change in an amazingly committed fashion, and her willingness to keep trying to stick with meal planning has proved to me that it’s not just a coincidence, the extent to which a well thought-out menu helps my household function.  It’s possible to replicate our successes, and we have, by transplanting some of my thinking to Babs and her family.  New vegetables, enjoyed by all; a new favorite dinner for the kids and hubby; and a newfound confidence in avoiding the drive-thru, all in less than a month?  It’s almost too much to take in.

I’m so proud of what they’ve accomplished, and proud to have been able to help Babs get to this point.  There are even more triumphs I want to share with you all from Babs and her family, but I’ll save them for next week.  In the meantime, let’s all keep thinking good thoughts to help them through this rough transition.  I know they’d appreciate the support.