Food: One of the Most Unifying Tools in the Hands of Homemaker

Every family has their own food culture. Favorite recipes and traditions passed down through generations, foods from an ethnic heritage, as well as lifestyle foods based on health, convenience, and economics all make up the circumference of foods a family regularly enjoys. Certain foods in each family are also traditional for certain holidays, and occasions.

My Food Heritage: My mother fed my family a diet of real food, very little sugar, a lot of vegetables, whole grains, venison my Daddy hunted and everything made from scratch. We ate out only a few times a year. My family also ate foods from my Dad’s Norwegian heritage. Lefse was a common evening treat. And for many years I requested fish soup for my birthday dinner. We also ate a lot of Mexican food. My Dad was raised in the Southwest, and my Mother met him while she was getting her degree in Spanish there. My mother has a lot of German in her heritage, so we also enjoyed plenty of meat and potato meals. My family gardened unfaithfully. I remember a couple of years of a good garden, but it wasn’t a huge part of my life. We bought most of our produce. My Dad is a hunter however, and we ate a lot of venison and wild turkey from what he killed. We also raised chickens for many years and we ate their eggs and sometimes we ate them.
My mother didn’t buy jello, cool whip, cake, frozen foods, processed foods, white bread, margarine, or pudding mixes. We never kept soda in the house. I only got pop on a very rare occasion…courtesy of my Daddy. I grew up enjoying a large variety of food. And to this day, I am always up for trying food. I especially like trying foods from other cultures. Korean food is one of my personal favorites.

My Husband’s Food Heritage: My husband has other cultivated tastes. His family had a garden throughout most of his childhood, and his mother canned, and canned, and canned. His family was also very restricted in their food budget due to income. So, he did not eat a huge variety of foods nor did he eat out much as a child. His mother is a phenomenal cook. Many of her recipes are my husband’s favorites to this day. She did use canned soups and a lot of prepared foods in her cooking, so my husband is accustomed to those flavors. My husband is still very content eating chocolate pudding from a mix, cool whip, or frozen french fries. My husband, being raised in southern states also LOVES sweet tea. It is a huge part of his life. He isn’t opposed to drinking a can of Pepsi on occasion either. My husband is not necessarily health conscious, he would tell you that is my job. Jim is particular about the taste and texture of his food, so the quality of cooking and the methods food is cooked are important to him. He would probably say that classic American fair is his favorite food genre…hamburgers, hot-dogs, meatloaf, fried chicken, and a hearty steak; all served with fries…. Although Italian foods would not be far behind.

Our family’s Food Culture: As a newlywed, I did my best to learn how to cook the foods my husband grew up eating. I had fun experimenting on him with some new recipes too, but I admit I also had a good share of failures, even though I was a home-economics major. My biggest challenge was in choosing what foods to cook. My husband and I both have a different food heritage. We both have different likes and dislikes. We are also both genetically different and were born with different dispositions toward food.

For a while, I simply tried to adapt to the foods my husband was raised eating. I stuck to a lot of his mother’s recipes. But, as children came along, my pursuit of healthier foods increased. I was also more restricted in my budget the larger our family grew. I could not afford the amount of beef and leaned heavily on meatless dishes and poultry. I don’t care what anyone says, as soon as one is buying anything prepared, the grocery bill goes up. Even a pack of taco seasoning or gravy mix is more expensive than mixes ones own spices. And additives and sugars in those packets are not healthy to intake. Eating healthy is far more budget friendly than unhealthy food. I gradually began adding whole wheat pasta to our white pasta, whole grain rice to our white rice, and making my own mixes and such. Eventually we had a diet whole grain. Other than making play-dough, it has been seven years since I have purchased white flour. I even learned how to make my own whole wheat bread, and quit buying store-bought foods as much as possible.

The change was not quick. But over time, our family has morphed into eating foods that are normal for us. How we eat is not like my family ate when I was growing up, and it is not like how my husband ate growing up. In fact, I cannot say it is even a combination of the two. It is simply a culture of food unique to our family. As my menu guide explains, I have a workable pattern for buying and cooking meals for our family.

I remember making my first pack of instant pudding. I used hot water instead of cold and ruined it. I continually failed in making my husband’s favorite chicken and rice casserole. The rice was always crunchy. Apparently instant rice was the key. I didn’t know there was such a thing. I never ate a box of mac ‘n cheese until I was married and cooking in my own. I got nervous cooking up my first batch from the box. I think it turned out okay.

What determines how we eat?

My budget dictates the majority of the food we eat. I try to have at least one meal a week without meat to save money. Other than a steak my husband will pick up on occasion, I rarely buy beef. We eat chicken a couple of times a week, ground turkey in place of ground beef, occasionally pork roast if I can get it for .99 a pound, and if we are lucky some venison from my Dad. Meatless dishes often play a role for dinner. Tonight, we had loaded baked potatoes for dinner. Another night we might have, home-made Mac ‘n cheese, or even breakfast for dinner, like waffles or eggs.

Nutrition is also something I consider valuable when planning meals. I rely heavily on whole, real foods. I try to get foods that do not have labels. So most of our food is in its truest form. I buy organic when it is reasonable, but I don’t sweat it if I can’t afford that. Honestly, I am not entirely convinced it isn’t a marketing scam. Quality is of most importance, and organic produce is often the best looking with the truest flavors. A farmer’s stand or market is ideal, but not currently most practical for our family. I buy whole grain flours, rice, and pasta. I am also careful not to incorporate much sugar into our diet. We don’t eat dessert, and I substitute coconut sugar or raw honey in most of my baking. My goal in food for our family is simply to make it as real and nutrient dense as I am able to afford. The book: Real Food: What to Eat and Why by Nina Plank is probably the most influential book on healthy eating that I have read. Nina also has a blog with some great recipes that we enjoy

Affection and comfort also are important in the food choices of our home. I save my experimentation for lunchtime with me and the children. My husband does not need the stress of trying new foods at the end of a crazy day. So, I will have seaweed and sticky rice with kimchi for lunch with the children, but never for dinner. I often will make something that is a favorite of my husband to cheer him during a stressful time or to simply show I love him. I also do the same for my children. I like to use food as a tool to bring comfort and show love during certain times.

Sharing the food our family eats with others is also an important way to minister. Since we often have people eat with us, it is a great opportunity to share the culture of our family through the venue of food. It allows a person to become a part of our family in a way, while they eat dinner with us. If I were going to Africa and sat with a family for dinner there, I would be taking part of their culture and family through the meal they served me. It is the same in the states from family to family. We each can allow someone to enter into our zone, but sharing a meal our family would normally eat with them.

Food is for celebration. I was recently reminded of the children of Israel and how God set aside special days for them to celebrate and feast. There are days that we set aside for celebration. Generally I do not insist on healthy eating during those days of celebration. There are special seasons for feasting and being grateful. And I do not tag those times with health concerns.

Food should unify not separate. Overall, my point in creating a certain food culture for my family is that it brings people together in unity.  I use food as a tool to build my family and bring others into the dynamics of our home. Food is a method to help my family be healthy and strong, but it is not my reliance as my article on nutrition points out. And I don’t argue with my husband about food. Yes, I tend to be more health conscious than my husband, but our relationship is more important than if he eats his vegetables or not. And I make a batch of sweet tea with real sugar for him every weekend. I bring people together in our home around food. I bless my family and guests with wholesome meals for my family and guests. I use food to create warm feelings and memories. Who doesn’t cherish the morning waking up to the smell of freshly baked cinnamon rolls smothered in cream cheese frosting? We gather together nearly every evening for dinner in our home. It is the point in the day we can be together. I serve dinner on time and I am usually well planned in my menu and ingredients that making dinner is stress free. Food is such a great method to bring people together. Even taking a batch of freshly baked cookies to a new neighbor can help breech any divides and begin to build a relationship. Food opens doors of building relationships with people. I truly believe that food is a very important tool in the hand of a homemaker. A wise homemaker will study how to use food for the advantage of the gospel and the blessing of her family.