I know I said that my next post was going to be on the benefits of nutrition and how it really helps with a lot of the “symptoms” of pregnancy (you know, the whole morning sickness, swelling, food aversions, etc etc etc). And with that being said, my pants are totally on fire. But I promise that my next post will be on the importance of nutrition, I swear! In the meantime, I’m going to address something that seems to come up a lot: how do I keep my family eating as cleanly as possible? The answer: I can’t and I don’t.
The reason why I can’t keep my family eating as cleanly as I’d like is purely for the sake of keeping my sanity. Believe me, as someone who NEVER follows the latest diet crazes, to come across Paleo made SO much sense to me. Probably because as a scientist, I understood the reasoning for why our bodies worked the way that they did using the materials that our bodies absolutely need. Materials like fat, because Lord knows, after so many years of staying away from the stuff, who knew that it was essential for basic things like hormone regulation? Okay, so maybe Loren Cordain and Robb Wolf. My husband (a chiropractor) had always been on my case to eat less gluten but I never listened to him, but then again, if he actually worked out the biochemical reactions and reasons as to why I should avoid it, I probably would’ve (I’m THAT kind of person). Unfortunately, just because my husband told me I should eat less gluten didn’t mean that he was ready to jump on board the Paleo wagon. In fact, while he agreed it was the healthiest way to be eating, he absolutely refused to give up a lot of the unhealthy foods.
It’s hard when you’re a small cog in the big machine known as your “Family”. Most of my husband’s family live in the South Bay while most of my dad’s side of the family live in the East Bay. There’s at least one get-together per family per month. And these family get-togethers are always centered around food. Especially on my dad’s side, where my uncles and aunts owned their own Chinese restaurant (they’re all retired now) and still enjoy cooking a lot of the same foods they used to cook at the restaurant: green onion pancakes, barbecued ribs, roast pork, soy sauce chicken, chow mein, etc. While hanging with my in-laws is a bit better when it comes to more Paleo selections, there’s always the ever present crackers and chips with the appetizers, there’s the flour in the gravy, and there’s the Asian sauces that are used for marinades and vegetables (sauces that contain gluten and high fructose corn syrup).
My husband’s concern that we (or rather, I) would end up alienating ourselves from our very social families is a well-founded one. How can we eat healthier without making ourselves the outcasts of both families? In the beginning, I went the route of Whole9. Just by refusing to eat the foods that were present and letting the results speak for themselves, I would end up inspiring those around me to eat healthier and therefore BE healthier. Unfortunately, this didn’t work out. My husband and I were arguing a lot over things like common courtesy and manners on things like what my parents-in-law made for dinner one weekend and how it was rude that I didn’t eat much of anything there at all. The fact that I’d lost fat (bear in mind that I was considered to be a generally skinny person before) and that my seasonal allergies had completely gone away (or that I wasn’t going through the pains of my period anymore) wasn’t serving as much of an inspiration to anyone. Because really, how can one visually see on another person these effects? It wasn’t as if I was suffering from morbid obesity nor did I have any outwardly visible symptoms of other conditions (except for eczema, but that’s another post).
In addition to my not physically inspiring anybody to jump on board the Paleo wagon, I was myself going crazy trying to tell my in-laws and everyone else to NOT give my son any kind of gluten or “sweets”. It’s definitely hard when your parents don’t really understand English and your own fluency in your native tongue/dialect is questionable. I can tell you that I’ve pulled my hair at the countless times that my in-laws gave my son pizza from Costco or some of their sandwiches or even the stupid snacks they have laying around (like croissants, crackers, etc). I can’t begin to count the times I’ve gotten incredibly frustrated at finding out that my son’s lunch that day was just plain fried rice with an egg, without so much as any kind of vegetables or meat in there. And just like those times are innumerable, so are the times I’ve just dumped the bowl that my mother-in-law gave me to take home for my son to eat for dinner because of the simple fact that there was simply no nutritive value in that food whatsoever.
After going back and forth like this for almost a year, I thought that I had things worked out to the point where it was manageable. I had all the right foods in my pantry and in my fridge. We were bringing lots of goodies to family functions that were even Whole30-compliant! Then my husband and I moved into a bigger house in a better part of San Jose (the part where the public schools don’t have metal detectors) and with that, our house occupants also grew. We’ve always had my husband’s cousin living with us as our roommate, but with the new house, we’ve also brought on his (cousin’s) younger brother as our other roommate. And since my mother-in-law helps us with taking care of my son, she’s also moved in with us and currently stays with us Sundays through Saturdays.
I encountered a lot of problems in the beginning because of the kinds of foods I was buying. Of course the meats I bought was significantly more expensive than the ones you can get at Lucky’s, Safeway, or even Ranch99. And the way I cooked sometimes earns an upraised eyebrow because it’s not the traditional way of cooking our foods (slow-cooker and roasting as opposed to plain old stir-fry). It’s definitely hard trying to stay on the clean foods straight-and-narrow when four out of five adults in the household are still into eating instant noodles, croissants and breads, and all the other stuff that aren’t healthy. I’ve even tried making it so that I could come home early enough to prepare a completely clean dinner only to find that my mother-in-law generally beats me to the punch by having all the ingredients to dinner prepared by the time I get home (which is sometimes 3 in the afternoon). But in the end, I can’t fault her or anybody else in my household because she means well and she’s just trying to help take the load off of me. I’m not kidding when I say that it’s been incredibly taxing on my mental health.
In the end, I decided that the easiest way to go is to keep as gluten-free a household as possible. I’ve made it a point to pick out some sauces (like oyster sauce) that do not contain any HFCS or gluten that my mother-in-law can cook with. To sort-of prevent her (or the cousins) from picking up bread, I buy gluten-free bread (the best one we’ve gotten thus far is from Mariposa Baking) and other baked goods from Zest Bakery. And instead of pissing off my entire household on what I don’t want myself or my son to eat, I have to relax the rules a bit and say that a little bit of white rice is okay (as is pho and vermicelli and “fun”, the broad flat rice noodle). When my mother-in-law makes that fried rice with just egg and soy sauce (which I’ve swapped out for Tamari and coconut aminos), I’ll actually recook the whole thing and add in a crapload more meat (usually Aidell’s chicken apple sausages) and vegetables. At dinnertime, I make it a point that rice stays off his plate. And of course, whenever I get the chance, I’ll be the one to make the meals, whether it’s breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
With so many non-Paleo people helping me take care of my kid while I’m working, I know I’ll only drive myself totally batsh!t crazy thinking about all the stuff that he’s eating while I’m not there (ah, if only I could be a stay-at-home mom!). Preparing the foods for him ahead of time will not help because just as I’ve thrown stuff away as soon as we get home, the foods that I’ve prepared will also just sit… and sit… and sit until I have to throw it away. I have to take a page from my cousin and his wife who wrote up a really good post on what they do for their kids. Also, Stacy and Matt (of The Paleo Parents) wrote a good section in their book Eat Like a Dinosaur on how they and their kids deal with non-Paleo foods in the school and social environments. In the end, I just can’t prevent him from eating some grains and sugars here and there. Just as my husband pointed out, I can’t make myself or my son a pariah but I can definitely teach him as much as possible about what foods are healthy, what’s not, and why they make a difference.