Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Three-Week Mark

Week Three of No Restaurants is rapidly approaching, and I honor that anniversary with a quick rundown of important happenings.

1. When it comes to literature I have read about food, there are three that form My Power Triad:

"Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" by Barbara Kingsolver
"Omnivore's Dilemma" by Michael Pollan
"Food Rules" by Michael Pollan

So, I have recently purchased a new book, which I think I have mentioned here already: "What to Eat" by Marion Nestle.

And now, the Power Triad shall become the Power Quad.

Page twelve is when I came across this tidbit: "Nearly half of the typical family's food budget goes for foods prepared and eaten outside the home, where businesses with motives having nothing to with health are in control of content and amounts."

<---- That was me when I read that. We were about a week or so into the OOR Experiment, and talk about vindication! Never had I felt so justified about this project we're doing as when I read that.

2. Here's something else I realized this week: restaurants are an insanely significant part of our lives. This past Thursday was a pretty good day, and because of that, I thought we should celebrate the benevolent nature of the universe. My very first automatic thought: Let's go out for dinner! After recognizing (rather quickly) that was not an option, I was at a loss for how to observe the occasion. Then, Brent and I embarked on a Date Night last night...and we chose to enjoy drinks at a local eatery and engage in some karoake. This destination was selected after a process similar to Thursday's...once dining out was ruled out, it was very difficult to decide on a date plan.

It occurs to me that eating out goes very hand-in-hand with celebration and good news and good times. Why is that? I don't know - so I guess that means it's time for research.

3. I turned my husband on today to the wonders of the discount grocery chain Aldi's. He very nearly salivated (openly!) at the choices of goods and their prices. Twenty-five cents for a can of tomato sauce! Fifty-seven cents for a can of french-cut green beans! A $1.25 for a box of Corn Chex! Egads!

All off-brand, of course. But who cares?

My favorite deal is the low price on the bags of frozen cooked shrimp and salmon fillets. We love seafood around here, and are grateful to be able to enjoy eating more of it. In fact, one of our new favorite dishes is penne pasta tossed with basil-infused olive oil and shrimp and topped with freshly grated Parmesan. It's simple, you know? Thus, the basis of its appeal! It sure beats the tired spaghetti sauce topper we've known forever.

On deck this week is salmon burgers, broccoli-pesto pasta, cheese ravioli, minestrone and oyster soup, and pork chops and sweet potatoes....

Definitely one delicious week ahead!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Nostalgic Crisis Averted

Yesterday might have been, by far, the dark nadir of this whole desperate No Restaurants experience.

Ok, nah, scratch that. Not really...but a little.

Energy levels were running pretty low yesterday. Soccer practice, bowling league, and Opening Night were the key factors in this late-week exhaustion. Subway beckoned to us, ever so seductively...

But then I asked, what's in it for us? Sure, Subway is tasty food, but we could probably get that at home too, if we looked hard enough. It certainly wasn't going to be quicker than eating at home; not by the time we piled everyone (clad in various soccer or bowling or theater accoutrements) in the Sedona (this would probably be after several minutes of hassled shouting, “Hey, get your damn shoes on!”)

The point here is, there was no legitimate reason. So, why? In the town I live in, there are many chain restaurants and a few local joints – places I’ve eaten at several times. I wasn’t hankering for anything special. So, the question is, what exactly was I craving?

Here’s my answer: I crave feeling special. My family did not go out to eat very often when we were kids – very rarely, truly. But, I remember Pizza Hut more than any other meal my mom made…probably because it was the one time we were allowed to drink soda. It was the one time everyone behaved and was civil. It was the one time my mom was in a great mood (probably because she didn’t have to cook). It was a change of scenery; white earthenware plates, opaque plastic tumblers, bouncy vinyl booth seats.

I guess eating out brings back that for me – especially the change of scenery. Now that I’m older, I sometimes like being served (probably because I’m a slave to public education). However, it’s all fickle and fleeting. At some point, everything I wanted to escape at home will need to be addressed (laundry, dishes, checks for lunch money). I spend money on a reprieve from my everyday life (which I am not against), but what are my gains? Nothing monumental, really.

Anywho, back to the original story. Subway was out, instead we opted for another “Fend For Yourself” night, which always works out well; it clears the fridge and pantry. The kids ate roast beef sandwiches, cottage cheese, and applesauce, while Brent and I went for salads and chicken noodle soup. Everybody wins.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Opting Out of Restaurants (The Manifesto)

One week has passed since the Great Resolution of 2010.

And how have we been doing?

Twenty-one meals have been consumed either here at home or with food taken from our home. No restaurant meals!

It hasn't been as hard as I thought it would be. The kids have not complained, and Brent has been an oak, as well. Friday night was a bit of a weak moment, as I contemplated an end-of-the-week trip to the local sandwich shop (as a reward for completing the week, I guess??), but in the end, opted for a much more fun and interesting "Fend For Yourself" pantry scavenge at home.

Today was our first real challenge, as Kirby had a soccer game this afternoon in a town 20 minutes away. In the past, we probably would have headed straight from church to Subway (or similar) to grab something before we left town. Today, though, the kids packed their own lunches and drinks...to be eaten on the road. Nobody missed the turkey flatbread or meatball sub.

I'll admit, I've craved a Cheeseburger Chowder bread bowl or Garden Bagel sandwich over the last week. But I also know that once I scarf that food, the enjoyment will be gone. And I will have failed the challenge. So yeah, a little bit of guilt has helped me stay the course. But, I can't help feeling a little beatific when I think about what we're doing.

We've had a couple of people tell us "Good luck. I could never do that!" when we mention the experiment. And that makes me sad - how limited those people must feel? Their capacity for personal growth stunted when it comes to restaurants?

Because I haven't gotten around to it yet, I thought I'd quick-list the reasons we decided to live restaurant-free.

1. Costs - the two oldest don't want kids' meals anymore, and the prices are adding up quickly.

2. Stress - whether our kids would behave well in a restaurant on any given night was a crapshoot. Usually, I'd end up more stressed out because I was on constant misbehavior watch!

3. Pounds - portions served in eating establishments are larger than they should be and we couldn't help but finish everything on our plates (and maybe even the kids' plates too).

4. Traditions - food is an important part of our lives, whether we believe it or not, and what legacy was I handing down to my kids? ("My best childhood memories are of eating at Subway a lot; my mom only cooked once or twice a week!") Now, my hope is that when they think of me, they think of walking tacos and tater tot casserole.

5. Health - when I prepare every meal for my family, I control a lot. When my kids don't eat at McDonald's and I refuse to buy chicken nuggets at the grocery store, those infernal pieces of UnChicken reach their lips very, very infrequently.

6. Purpose - we could discern no substantial reason for going out to eat. It wasn't a special treat; it was habit - once or twice a week (maybe more). We went out because we were lazy, or didn't feel like eating spaghetti, or felt like we needed a break. We knew it was time to revolt when we'd get in the car to go out and the general attitude was "ho-hum" about where to eat. Why? Because we'd been everywhere in town! It was no longer special.

7. Creativity - without restaurant menus to ponder, I'd be free to consider new recipes like Spaghetti-Turkey Pie or Seafood Paella.

Pretty good reasons all, I think. And, naturally, we couldn't start the experiment without setting some parameters.

1. Breakfast, lunch, dinner were not to be purchased in a restaurant-type establishment.

2. However, drinks were exempt from this rule. I frequent a coffeehouse here in town, and I wanted to still be able to indulge in a Flavor Dujour every so often. The same could be said for trips to the local ice cream shop.

3. Any trips out of town require special planning and/or purchases...the goal is not to eat at restaurants AT ALL, regardless of ANY special circumstance that may arise.

4. The children would choose one meal a week for the family; this includes: helping to prepare and clean up.

5. Whenever possible, double servings of vegetables will be provided to help combat the "eight o'clock hungries".

There have been a myriad of positives to come from this: quality family meal times, children honing culinary skills, mama loving her kitchen, and weight loss (yours truly is down 2.5 pounds from last week). There is (and will be) more, I'm sure...but for now, we are feeling good for removing ourselves from the restaurant scene.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

One Full Day Of Opting Out

One day down, twenty-three days to go.

All quiet on the Nelson front...so far. I haven't heard any griping, pining, or salivating for a cheeseburger, quesadilla, or reuben.

Our first significant test comes this Saturday with kid soccer tournaments in a nearby town. We will most likely be done right around lunchtime - and previous tendencies would have been to hop on over to Subway. This time, though, Momma's thinking ahead and will be packing a cooler.

Nothing like sticking it to the Man on this lovely Wednesday morning.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Without Restaurants

...of eating in restaurants, that is...

...just for month of September...

You know, kids, me and the mister aren't getting any younger. We've hit what I call the "mid-thirties paradox". I mean, finally, we're wise enough to understand just exactly what "good health" means, and we're also financially stable enough to invest in the whole grain/fruits and vegetables/exercise hullabaloo that "good health" commands.

But...it's our bodies that betray us.

Ol Mr. Metabolism ain't what he used to be...and consequently, every donut, peanut butter cookie, or handful of Lucky Charms conspicuously shows up on the scale in the morning. It doesn't matter how ascetic our diet is during the week...all that self-flagellating hard work is wiped out in one Fantasy Football Draft weekend of burgers and beer.

Depressing, yes. But there are two things I know for sure...

1. I'm loath to give up those Fantasy Football weekends. The same goes for chocolate and butter. Hell, that goes for food, in general.

2. I am unwilling to exercise two hours a day. Thirty minutes a day - that's about all I'm willing to go right now.

Whoever said moderation is the key was damn right (Ben Frankin, maybe?). Common sense tells me I can have chocolate and butter in moderate amounts and I can exercise in moderate amounts...and I can be healthy and happy.

As it turns out, the husband and I have certain triggers...certain things that completely send us off the diving board of Moderation into the swimming pool of Total and Utter Decadence. That's why you'll not find a crumb of Lucky Charms, Froot Loops, Apple Jacks, etc. in my house. A handful here, a handful there added up to extra poundage and uber-tight jeans.

And now...the next to go...restaurants. Turns out it's a trigger...for both of us. I dunno, something about a Subway turkey flatbread or meatball on Italian that causes all food-decision-making sense to go bye-bye. And if it's chips and salsa at the local Mexican joint...well, it's off to hell in a carbohydrate-covered handbasket.

So...family experiment for the month of September...no restaurants. At all. No exceptions. Except...

Brent is going to a wedding in Illinois in September, and he'll have to eat at the reception. This doesn't count as a restaurant. Otherwise, we...

prepare food and eat it at home

and

pack food whenever we know we will not be near our house (i.e. upcoming soccer tourneys for a few fall Saturdays).

Corking good plan, yes? The children were certainly okay with it when we proposed it to them earlier tonight.

However...

I predict my husband will be the first one to crack under the pressure.