Sunday’s Soapbox: A look at Stuffed

Heather says:

Last week, the kids, dogs,  neighbors’ dogs, and phone plotted and flawlessly executed a brilliantly coordinated endeavor in which every hour, on the hour, someone or something was loud or in need of a potty break. Of course, I do believe Mr. Heather may be the brains behind these episodes as they only seem to occur when he has the rock solid alibi, “I was at work, why are you blaming me?” </shifty eyes> Likely story indeed. So Wednesday I threatened bodily harm* if I couldn’t escape from the lunatic asylum the Solos household had become.

*To the Internet Watchdogs Promoting Perfect Parenting, this statement was written with humorous intent and should be read with the understanding that Heather has license to exaggerate for comedic effect*

As my favorite flavor is free, I headed to the library. Typically my tastes run to lighter fare, fiction, sci-fi, and fantasy. This time a non-fiction book caught my attention:

Stuffed by Hank Cardello with Doug Garr.

I’m not sure why this book caught my eye, I suppose it was the tag line “an insider’s look at who’s {REALLY} making America fat.” As many of our regular readers know, I’m a little bit of a nutrition nut, so maybe that partially explains why I could not put this book down. I tortured Tim reading passages aloud. I suppose it’s always exciting when you find someone who shares your soapbox.  While I highly recommend this book to readers of Home Ec 101, I don’t necessarily agree with his proposed solutions, even if I am very intrigued by some.

One particular passage struck a chord with me. Hank Cardello described the creation of the Swanson’s TV Dinner as a turning point in the American diet:

Though Swanson did not invent the frozen food concept, its multiple compartments and use of leftover food changed the way the food industry made money and the way America ate its meals. Almost overnight, it seemed that millions of kids were plopped in front of the black-and-white televisions with the aluminum pan in front of them. A few slices of bland turkey in gravy with some cornbread stuffing, sweet potatoes, and perhaps the sorriest-tasting – certainly the sorriest-looking– peas on the planet. It wasn’t very appealing, but it was convenient, and the postwar generations quickly and steadily bought into this new concept of convenience foods. Mom and Dad had the evening out, and the babysitter stood in as cook and waitress. In its first full year, more than 25 million tins were served in living rooms and kitchens across the nation. A phenomenon was born, and in one single moment, the face of food in this country began to shift.

. . .the story of the Swanson TV dinner holds the real key to understanding why we’re so fat. The TV dinner marked a lot of firsts: the first time that we embraced en masse convenience over cuisine; the first time that it was better to be easy than to taste good; the first time that a prepared (frozen) meal was served ready to heat and eat at home.

This is a huge part of what I am fighting against with Home Ec 101. It’s been at least three generations since this shift occurred, and homemade food now seems to be the exception. (Before some of you interject and say that you cook healthily, think hard about your friends. Are you the crazy health nut of your circle? I am.) Many of my peers consider convenience meals to be cooking. The idea that meals can be prepared without opening a box or dumping in a can of Cream of Something is met with outright hostility, “That’s too much work, Heather.”

I am dismayed by the idea that most American households spend half of their food budget on restaurant fare.

That’s just insane. There is a cost to all of this perceived convenience. We have expanding waistlines, a decreasing life expectancy, and our debt is out of control.

Do I want restaurants to fail? Of course not, those people, like Mr. Ivy,  are working to feed their families and I want them to be succesful.

Before leaving the traditional work force, I spent ten years in the restaurant industry. I’ve worked in a variety of establishments from my first job waiting tables at Waffle House to my last cooking for  a high-end steakhouse with a few bars thrown in-between for good measure. I’ve had both the corporate and family owned experiences. I worked both front and back of house, sometimes in the same establishment. I don’t have all the answers, but I do know that when money is involved, it may be naive to believe that others always have our best interest at heart. There are many good people working for the corporations, but at the end of the day it’s revenue that drives decisions.

I believe a part of the solution lies in education and encouragement. If someone has spent much of their young life subsisting on boxed macaroni and cheese, Ramen noodles, and drive through fare, it is daunting to change, but regular people can prepare healthy food for their families. I have three small children and I know cooking for the family is not always fun, sometimes it is a giant pain in the ass*. I’m right there in the trenches with you, my friends.

*Oooh, Heather cussed, I’m telling.*

I don’t have the whole solution, but what Ivy and I have envisioned, here at Home Ec 101, is a forum where beginners are comfortable asking questions. I need your help, Home Eccers, don’t be shy. We love answering your questions and I guarantee someone else needs to know. Ask for them. Even the questions that don’t turn into posts help shape the direction of this site.

So tell me, what do you need to learn?

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Comments

  1. Alrighty – we do pretty good here, well, my husband cooks the dinners. Since he has a gluten allergy – it’s all pretty much home made. Here’s where I struggle – sending the kids to the babysitters with a lunch. It’s usually something frozen. And I cringe every time I pack it up, but it’s SO easy in the morning to just grab those boxes for the babysitter. Any lunch suggestions? My boys eat PB&J enough when we’re home or out and about having a picnic.

  2. Oh and I meant to say i really liked this post.

  3. Well, where to begin? I would have to say my cooking of baxed meals came from watching my mom slave in the kitchen and always kicking us out of her way. I did not want that. She was always too busy cooking, baking, watching daycare kids and working a part time job.
    I am now being forced to cook more. My youngest daughter is allergic to wheat and oats and I have time right now to slowly start cooking that way. (Heather more help with this would be great). This is the thing I need though to force me to see that it is not that hard, at least I hope so.
    Can somethings be substituted for others?
    How do you find out hidded names for things(as in gluten)?

  4. I love your blog’s mission.

    I’m disappointed to see even our homemade stalwarts–like Southern Living magazine–copping to convenience ingredients. It seems like every recipe of what used to be my favorite magazine now starts with crescent rolls, cream soup, and Kraft something-or-other.

    I have to go back and decode the recipe in order to make it without another trip to the store.

  5. Love your site and love your post. I have been following you since I saw an article on this blog in a local publication – love it! I need a few easy, “go to” dinners that are healthy and kid friendly (but my kids, 1 & 3 are really not picky). On the days I work, I whirl in the door at 4:00ish and I need to have dinner ready by 5:00 or my children turn into aliens! Yes, dinner ready by 5:00, but that includes also taking time for sending the older child to the potty, changing the baby’s diaper, loving on them and playing for a bit. I have found the crock pot works great…but I need more help in this area. Homemade freezer meals would also work great…any ideas? Also, I love sending my kids with leftovers in their lunch box. Unfortunately, I can not find a thermos for them….I have looked everywhere!
    Any suggestions would be appreciated! Thanks for all you do!

  6. I love you Heather.
    You rock. No, really. You do.

    This post was so right on target.

    If all the restaurants and convenience foods suddenly disappeared, how many people would have a clue how to feed their families? While that’s not likely to happen, what I HAVE seen is when someone is told by a doctor that they can’t eat certain ingredients for health reasons, and they start to read labels and realize it’s in EVERYTHING. They panic and feel like they’re going to starve because they never learned how to cook with real food.

    Several years ago I was involved with a community food pantry. Way too many of the people who came for food only wanted heat-and-eat stuff. Why? They had no idea how to cook with real food. Raw meat scared them. Bags of rice or beans left them shaking their heads. We tried giving them recipes, but they had no basic cooking skills, and only knew how to heat food in a microwave oven. So sad, because many of them had health problems as well, some of which I’m sure were related to the lack of healthy food in their diets.

    I’ve been trying to collect recipes that are insanely fast, or that I can make ahead, or at least start ahead, and have in the fridge or freezer that ALSO use real ingredients. Most of what I find gets rejected automatically because it calls for cream-of-something soup, which I just cannot use anymore. As I find (or make them up!) and test them to see if they meet with family approval, I’m slowly putting them on my Real Easy Food (with no funky stuff) blog.

    @Amy — Have you tried Alton Brown’s stove top macaroni and cheese? (You can google it.) It’s amazing, fast, and high protein REAL mac & cheese – and the only thing someone might find questionable would be the evaporated milk, which could probably be replaced with whole milk, cream or half & half if you wanted something fresher. (Or whole raw non-homogenized if you’re one of us radicals…)

  7. Cathy – Thank you. I can definitely start a lunch series.
    Angie – I’ll go through and tag more of the recipes I already have that are gluten free and put together a list of resources for you.
    Meredith – That is one of my huge frustrations at the moment. I really want to teach people to cook rather go from one crutch to another. Yes, prepared food has a use, but I am tired of cooking for beginners that rely totally on pre-somethings. I hate to be all anti-marketing, but I really question some of the motives. I used to love Taste of Home, but I’ve started to be underwhelmed and I don’t think I’ll renew my subscription. (It was the only magazine I subscription I had).
    Thanks Amy, I was so nervous when the photographer arrived. I thought they wanted just a normal, family shot. The photog was super friendly, but sprang the idea of making something from the article. The reason the dough is so sticky in the pics is I didn’t have time to actually let it rise, so I just let the kids run with it.
    LOL @ThatBobbieGirl The stove top mac and cheese on here is a tweaked version of Alton Brown’s. Like many geeks, I have a little bit of a crush on him. ;)

  8. thank you!!!! great article, i’m looking forward to more on this subject :) — i would also blame ‘wonder-bread’ — the glue that holds america together — horrible stuff, but yet when you deliver whole wheat bread to seniors who need groceries they turn their noses up at the stuff because it such an unfamiliar food, they want the ‘wonder-bread’ — but our food bank does the best it can with what it gets

    – i love to cook, but of course i hate to clean up — yup i always tend to be shooing children away if i can’t find something for them to help with — they don’t want to clean up either – lol

    – trying to incorporate more fresh veggies into our diet is proving hap-hazard

    – and i’m one of those folks that refuse to use a microwave — i find it’s just one more thing to clean and pile things on, and yup i’m still stuck on the fact that it does remove a little of the nutrition from the food — and for pregnant mom and growing baby — that little nutrition could mean the difference with autism/other things wrong or not — there’s a reason formula says not to microwave!!
    – ok that’s just my nutty hang up/soap-box — and no i have no science to back up my suspicions

  9. Gracie, I hope I can relieve a little bit of your concern about microwave ovens. There are a few reasons for not using microwaves to heat formula. The biggest concern is overheating. Have you ever used the ‘wave to boil a cup of water and then had it boil sooner than you expected? Well sometimes when a person is tired (and a person with a baby often is) they get distracted and it would be very easy to scald a baby with formula that is too hot.
    Some plastic bottles are not designed to withstand the heat from the microwave. The jury is out on chemical leaching and I’m not going to make a pronouncement either way, but I try to microwave only in glass or ceramic, it just keeps it from ever being a question.
    Formula companies have no control over what bottle is used so they play it extra safe to cover their butts. Formula companies rely on the idea that what they are selling is safe. If any ill-effects were traced back to formula, it could be the end of their brand whether or not they were truly the cause of the problem.
    As far as microwave ovens go, they can be very handy, but no I don’t use ours constantly. I use it to heat water, melt butter, and as a jump start for a few other items. It’s a tool, like any other kitchen appliance and how it is used has an effect on the quality of the food. To illustrate my point, you can certainly steam vegetables to the point of vitamin destruction with a counter top steamer, too.

  10. Heather-You are so right. Cooking is a delight and pleasure. Can’t imagine not knowing how. Like to cook a couple of big meals and then have leftovers remainder of the week. I’ve not been above using a can of cream of this every once in a while, but for the most part, do it all from scratch. I’ve developed a group of items that we can prepare quickly and from scratch that we like and are healthy. Learning to keep a stocked fridge & pantry are the keys to being prepared. That way I can make whatever my taste buds demand. Also, when things get low, I give in to ordered pizza. :)

  11. I’m on that soapbox with you. I have been slowly changing the way we eat. When I was working full-time, it was always convenience foods because I was too tired. Now that I stay at home, I feel very strongly about providing healthy meals made with whole foods.

    And I’d love to see some lunch ideas for kids too!

  12. Heather, thanks for the good rant. I agree with you. However, I also feel like I have to live in the real world, for me anyway, which involves short timelines sometimes. My solution has been, lately, to find convenient healthy foods to supplement the things I’m learning to make from scratch, thanks to you in large part. For example, we have a great market in CA called Trader Joe’s, that sells exclusively, or pretty much exclusively, affordable food without the crappy ingredients–no hydrogenated oils, high fructose corn syrup, preservatives, etc. This approach works for me, even on a budget.

    As for things I need to learn, I realize it’s not a dinner meal usually, but I have never mastered making eggs, other than scrambled that is. It’s the technique. I feel pretty lame because it seems like most people can do this well, but I have trouble with the type of pan, utensil, flipping technique, etc. I also, haven’t a clue how to make an omelet turn out right.

    Thanks for all your thoughts, help, and your great site!
    Stacy
    P.S. I made the baked breaded fish last night and it was good!

  13. I would love that gluten free info as well. We’re tracking down the cause of a “yuchy” tummy at our house and that’s next on my list.

    And I look forward to the lunch series. This year I’m just sending snacks to school and I’m doing ok. Although going dairy free last month (more yuchy tummy troubleshooting) really threw me for a loop on the protein part since my daughter’s classroom is peanut free. So some information on good kid-friendly, allergen-free, packable protein would be helpful. I know, I don’t ask for much, do I?

    I did find one thing that’s worked. I make a roll-up with a tortilla and refried beans. My daughter loves it and it’s very easy. I now freeze refried beans in mini-cups so I can thaw what I need in the morning.

  14. I’ve never been much of a whiz in the kitchen, and I’m fairly new to cooking for my family.

    I read a lot of frugal cooking sites for ideas, but so many of the recipes are based around casseroles and other things that take a long time to cook in the oven.

    Being that Summer is getting here, do you have any ideas for easy, frugal meals that won’t heat up my whole house? I’d love to be able to use the grill more, or even the stove top or crock pot.

    I am a big fan of your site and appreciate all the informative info for beginners!! THANKS!!

  15. *waves* another one here, who doesn’t use the microwave (no space for it) and doesn’t use cream-of-anything (intolerant).

    I need to learn how to make decent tasting vegetable broth.

    I need more ideas for leftover chicken …. one 7-lb bird can last us 3 meals, I need ideas for # 2 & 3.

  16. I’ve been thinking about this for a little bit now, since I wrote, above. I love your website, and I completely appreciate learning to cook from scratch. In fact, I do wish my mama taught me these things. I also agree with what you’re saying here. On the other hand, I guess I disagree with those who would take a purist approach–well, I don’t disagree with them doing it, but it’s not practical for me. I have a toddler and am only able to be home part time–I work part time as a teacher. So doing everything the longer way just doesn’t work for me. My focus has become health–is the food free of additives that are unhealthy, can I feel good about giving it to my son and husband, and is it made from food–not chemicals and such.

    Rather than saying to “only” do this or that, I say, “mostly” do the best things–it’s the big picture that matters in life, health, etc. Maybe the old motto, “All things in moderation,” is my guide rather than trying to be perfect.

    All that said, I’ve decided that there are exceptions when I choose not to worry about it much–like going out to restaurants. That is, what we eat there. We hardly ever go out anymore because we can’t afford it, and life’s too short to worry about it when we’re there.

    Sorry for the long post. I love your passion for ideas and your cause–you made me think this morning!

  17. Hmm, perhaps I should be a little more clear. I use convenience foods, just not every day. That’s the point that’s hard to communicate. I have plenty of prepared foods on hand, but they are not the bulk of our diet.
    The grocery store recently had a neat sale where if you bought one frozen meal desserts, bread sticks, a six pack of coke and something else came with it. Of course I took advantage of that sale and now I have a dinner for one of those nights that I just don’t have the wherewithal to deal. If that’s all I ever prepared, that’s a problem.
    When I grab the packaged items, I know it is a choice I have made. I understand the trade off and I know that I am sacrificing taste, nutrition, or both for ease.
    It’s hard to not sound like a purist because writing a post about a convenience meal isn’t helpful to the readers of Home Ec 101, even though they do happen. I try to live by a 90 10 rule, but sometimes we slip and it’s 80 20 or worse. What I mean by that guideline is I try to ensure 90% of our meals are fairly healthy and the other 10% I don’t worry about too much.

  18. Oh and as far as cooking eggs, I know I need to cover it, but I have yet to figure out how to cook eggs and photograph the process.
    Except for the videos I’m working on all the cooking tuts are a one man show.
    I think I’ll talk to my video dude (Hi Don!) and we’ll schedule that shoot. Thanks for the suggestion.

  19. I’m here. I love this post and all the comments, too.

    I need a genie in a bottle that only knows how to prepare ground meat.

    Please get on that. :P

    I’m kidding. You are so wonderful at getting your kids to eat things that amaze me. I had my first fresh blueberry at your house. Did you know that? *smile*

    I still can’t really make buttermilk pancakes. You and Mr. Heather made it look so easy.

    I’m also interested in recipes related to not heating up the kitchen. Home-made potted meat type salad type ideas.. (love YOUR tuna salad!) pimiento cheese.. home-made salad dressings.. home-made catsup.. condiments without the crap.

    I love you for being so honest and real!

  20. What a great post Heather. It’s so true and kind of scary what some kids today are growing up one. I raised my children on homemade food but my grandkids are being fed unchicken nuggets on a regular basis. My neighbors, who have 2 children, have at least 3 pizza boxes a week in their curbside trash every Thursday. Where is this all leading? It’s hard to get kids who are fed this way to eat anything else. How about some ideas for healthy kid friendly meals.

    As always, thanks for all you do!

  21. How about some ideas for healthy kid friendly meals.

    Heather has 4 kids. Trust me, there are recipes for healthy kid-friendly meals on this site. Take a look at the cook it tab!

  22. After tracking our spending and our feelings while we spent, I figured out we head out for fast food to get OUT OF THE HOUSE during winter. We homeschool and we don’t have a lot of extra money for things and $7-$9 doesn’t seem like much while we’re doing it. I’m working hard this summer to break the habit, because it is my last budget leak. New recipes that aren’t exotic but aren’t for toddlers would really float my boat.

  23. For Jenn….my son didn’t have a gluten problem, but he was unable to eat anything with sugar or starch for almost 2 years. So, without sugar or starch pretty much everything from a bag, box or jar is eliminated. My husband and I had to get really creative and really fast! So, some “packable” high protein ideas: soy nut butter (on bananas, celery, apples, etc.), rollups (cheese, sliced meat, mustard, mayo – be creative), yogurt with “sprinkles” (in our house that means wheat germ), tofu. We also made our own ketchup and dressings for him. Best of luck!

    • Concordo com vocea Camis, totalmente, achei que os dois episf3dios foram, bons, mas as mfasicas que a Rachel coatnu foram muito sofridas, foram verdadeiras cenas de vergonha alheia. E quero ressaltar a apresentae7e3o de Toxic, que para mim esta no meu top 5 de apresentae7f5es de Glee, ficou muito massa, ficou sexy, bem coreografada, bom figurino e excelente performance principalmente da Brittany, Mike, Mr. Schue e da Rachel. Adorei o terceiro episf3dio, eu particularmente adorei a mfasica do Kurt e amei a vere3o do Finn para a mfasica do REM ficou sensacional, E o final com a Tina cantando, foi para me acalmar, sempre amo quando a japinha canta, e estou adorando o novo casal de Glee Tina e Mike, e9 um dos casai que que mais gosto, prefiro ela com ele do que com o Artie. O prf3ximo episf3dio e9 para mim um dos mais aguardados, principalmente porque o Mike vai cantar com a Tia, e quero ver a verse3o de Lucky da Quinn e o Sam, que venha Duets.

  24. Amy, Thanks! I’m interested in hearing more of your story. If you’d like you can contact me at jbnz_ck at yahoo.com.

  25. I have lurked for a couple years and learned. Thank you for all your efforts.

    I am the cooking nut in my circle. I have been the cooking nut for many years. I have 6 children and 4 of them really hungry boys. Really.hungry.boys. The marketers have people convinced that they just cannot have time to cook. It is a decision that most people have to make whether it comes up to a health reason or a financial reason. I do spend more time cooking and cleaning but it is now becoming a group effort. You can shoo the children away but what are they learning? My sons (and daughters) are learning that we have to work to put a meal on the table together-from the setting, preparing and growing in the garden. That is one life skill many people underestimate. Yes, there are days I grit my teeth when working with them all. Yes, there are days when there is yelling.

    Getting healthy food on the table is important but building a family, that is really important. I know this comment doesn’t really go with the thread but I just wanted your readers to think a bit more about the big picture.

  26. Good post, Heather. Raised mine with your 90/10 or 80/20 rule and as much fresh food as I could manage given 4 kids, 2 jobs, and all the responsibilities (as well as taste preferences). We generally ate healthily …. so my kids remember with delight the time we went camping and ate s’mores for dinner! Lots of fresh fruits and veggies ….. but also some canned soups (which they no longer like; too salty) I wore out 2 crockpots; they were my fall-backs for meals on busy days.
    I STILL can’t seem to cook beef (steaks or roasts) right. Either under-done or over-done or grey or something. I’d love some help on grilling/ broiling/ roasting beef and pork (oh, my pork chops are ususally like leather! Yuck!)
    Thanks to you and Ivy for all your help in the past …. and future.

  27. Judith,

    Heather’s “fake and bake” pork chops are really good–I have never been able to get chops to come out tender, but these were great. That’s just one idea, anyway.

    Stacy

  28. Thanks, Stacy! I’ll give them a try.