Guiding Our Household to Better Eating

I didn’t mean for this to be so long, but I couldn’t figure out how to cut it down! I hope you’ll take the time to read it if you feel like you’re struggling with how to feed your spouse the same things you feed yourself (which is what inspired me to write this little essay). Our changes were gradual, which helped, but I think you can find something that works for your household!

Did anyone watch the first episode of Extreme Makeover Weight Loss Edition? As someone who is trying to lose a significant amount of weight I’m a sucker for shows about heavy people changing their habits and shedding the excess. The first episode featured Rachel, who did a fantastic job losing a whole lot of weight while continuing to live her normal life. Based on what they showed though, her weight loss seemed to be hindered a little bit due to resistance from her family regarding the changes to her diet that would be necessary for extensive weight loss. I’ve talked before about locking up the junk food, because I just can’t take having it around, and it seems like that’s what Rachel needed too! A lot of it was probably added drama to make the show more exciting, but I think Rachel stood in as an example for what a lot of individuals in the US are trying to figure out each day. How do I eat better when the people I live with aren’t eating the way I do?

This seems to be a common problem that women face (maybe men too, but I mostly interact with women online and that’s where I’m getting the questions from). How did we, an American girl with a typical American diet, and a meat-loving Polish husband become near-vegetarians (compassionavores 🙂 ) who eat little meat and buy/eat almost exclusively in season?

To tell this story, I think we need to go back in time, to when I first started dating That Husband. Here we are.

That Husband had horrible eating habits. He ate out for every single meal, and most of it was fast-food. Before he worked at Company X (where he was treated to many of the finer things in life) his palate was anything but refined, and so he didn’t understand what the difference between a grass fed burger on whole wheat bun with raw milk cheese and heirloom tomatoes, and a whopper from Burger King could be. Both are made with meat and cheese and bread, but one costs much less than the other. Why wouldn’t he eat at BK every day?

Then we started dating, and I happened to live in the basement of a house where I had an entire kitchen to myself. I started cooking for him, and introduced him to the difference between fast food and home cooked meals. It was nothing like the way I eat now, but I was trying to lose weight so the focus was staying away from large amounts of fat and carbs. I think he started to realize that eating a little bit healthier made him feel better overall.

We dated for about a year and a half, and then we got married. Suddenly, he was supporting two people instead of one, and eating out became a luxury he couldn’t afford. For about a year after we were first married we ate a slightly healthier version of the American diet. I kept a steady supply of crackers/corn chips in the pantry, all of our dinners were meat focused with rice/bread/potatoes on the side and me forcing myself to add some microwaved frozen vegetables on the side, and our freezer was stocked with Kashi frozen pizzas and Lean Cuisine boxes. He wasn’t excited about packing a lunch and so he ate out for all of his lunches, while I fixed myself something at home.

Then I read Real Food by Nina Planck and a whole new world view was introduced to me. I could drink whole milk and eat whole dairy? And I could throw out the Annie’s mac n’ cheese and crackers and chips and Lean Cuisine and somehow survive? Unfortunately in the beginning the only thing we really changed was switching from fat free milk and margarine to whole milk and butter. I was still shopping exclusively at the grocery store, buying the same old boring veggies (bananas and mealy fresh tomatoes, and those variety packs from the frozen vegetable aisle), and I didn’t let go of our processed foods yet. I knew Nina said she did it, but I just didn’t get how it worked for people. That Husband watched my weight balloon due to the switch to whole dairy combined with high intake of processed foods and he openly mocked Nina because he didn’t buy into her ways of thinking. I don’t blame him because I don’t think I was the best example of what the real food philosophy could be.


Mmmmmm. Hot dogs. 

After T1 was born I spent a lot of time sitting around feeding him, and finally picked up a copy of In Defense of Food and BOOM. I finally got it and I could see how we could make things work. TH thought I had found another Nina and he wasn’t impressed with the passages I was reading him, until I handed him a copy of Food Rules and things clicked for him as well. We bought the audio book for In Defense of Food so he could listen to it and hear the science behind the real food movement, and I started throwing out our packaged foods en masse. I was overwhelmed by it at first, but I started visiting the Farmer’s Market. I bought my vegetables and dairy at the market, and went to the grocery store for staples and meat, and I thought we’d made all the changes we needed to make.

Previously, every single dinner dish I prepared had meat in it, most of it bought on clearance from the old meat section of the grocery store (and thus was never very good). We were reading in Genesis and I felt like the scriptures were telling us a message (respect the animals, eat less meat) that didn’t jive with the way we were living our lives. This was a mutual decision that we came to, not something I forced on TH. I knew we would cut back, but I figured that meant we would make one vegetarian meal per week. It was last May that I posted about wanting to cut back on meat but I didn’t have any idea how to do it. I remember feeling like it was a really novel thing to be doing, and then SO many of you chimed in and said you’d been eating meat-free or almost-meatless for a long time. I was behind the times!

Cristin sent me a copy of Eating Animals and another BOOM. I decided to exclusively put my funds toward meat sourced in ways I agree with. This means no eggs or meat from the grocery store (the way that chickens are raised in these industrial settings is absolutely deplorable and it pains me to think that I contribute to that whenever I eat eggs that aren’t purchased directly from a farmer who uses methods I agree with), I use a guide from the Chicago aquarium to help me understand what fish is sustainably raised/caught, and I eat as a vegetarian when I eat out of the house.

This is the stage where That Husband and I diverged the most, at first. In the beginning I was still cooking with meat several times per week, and I would just give him a much bigger portion of meat than I would give myself. Over the summer of 2010 I cooked with meat once or twice a month, but that number went up to most nights of the week over the winter. We bought a share in a meat CSA and I felt pressure to make a dent in our monthly share before the next delivery came because we were running out of room in our freezer! A month or so ago That Husband asked me to stop cooking so much meat. Specifically he said that he didn’t feel like he really appreciated it the way he used to, and that he’d like to cut back even farther. What the what?!?!? I guess all of those juicy heirloom tomatoes, summer squash chips, and crisp cucumbers had won and we could now declare ourselves almost-vegetarians.


We’ve experienced this shift in preferences once before. When I started seriously trying to lose my baby weight we locked up anything and everything in the house that acted as a temptation for me (like cheese, we kept the cheese locked up in a bag in the fridge). He didn’t want to feel deprived though, so he kept a bag of candy (most of it Polish candy that his parents sent him), some Sunchips from Costco, and other assorted things to snack on. Over time, he started turning to his stash less and less, and eventually he realized that he felt better without it. Eating it didn’t make him want it less, it made him want it more! The same thing happens for me with cheese, actually. So of his own accord the bag of candy was emptied out, he discovered that Sunchips are really just corn chips and lost the desire to eat them, and now there are no more snacks hidden away just for him. We both also learned over time that vegetables and whole grains can be the star of the show, not the back-up singers to a huge slab of meat bleeding all over our plate.

It was only last week that we had yet another major breakthrough. We were having the missionaries over for dinner, and previously we had provided meat for every single guest (except our lovely vegetarian friend!) who came into our house. I said that I didn’t want to cook any meat, that I felt I could prepare a meatless dinner that they could enjoy, and that from now on I didn’t think there was any reason to specifically be preparing meat when we have people over unless it was winter and we would be eating it anyway. We argued about it at first, but before we went to bed I calmed down and explained my position more rationally, and he agreed with me. Even now, we’re still making progress when it comes to the way we eat! The missionaries ate the vegetarian meal with no complaint whatsoever, and future guests in our home will be treated the same way.

We still don’t approach things in exactly the same way. When he eats out, he eats whatever he pleases, whereas I won’t order anything with meat/fish in it if I don’t know where it came from and try to avoid any egg heavy dishes. But I do all of the grocery shopping and the cooking, so when we’re home he eats what I make. I don’t ever make something separate meal for him or myself, and I don’t plan to with any of our kids either.

My reasons for eating the way I do are because of my religious beliefs, my beliefs about what is best for our health, and beliefs about what is best for the environment/society. We sit down and discuss these positions, and though we might not agree on every tiny detail, our thinking has merged in all of the key places. This isn’t about winning over the other person to your side, it’s about doing your research and figuring out what you really believe in, and then taking that information to your spouse and saying “This is why I think this approach is best. Tell me more about your approach and let’s figure out how we can do all of this together.”

If you want to make similar changes but your spouse is digging in their heels, find out why. Communicate with each other! It’s possible that you’ll never come to a place where you both see eye to eye, and if that’s the case you’re going to be living life very differently than I do. I urge couples to sit down and talk things through, because I just can’t imagine cooking two separate meals every night, one for me and one for him.

This post didn’t even touch on feeding your kids, because for me it’s a non-issue. T1 eats what we eat, period, and he always will. He doesn’t know anything about hot dogs or macaraoni and cheese or gummi candies or chicken nuggets because we don’t keep them in the house and we don’t eat them ourselves. If you suspect your husband is picky because of the way he was raised, don’t do the same thing to your children! Be adventurous with your food choices and work hard to educate yourself and you can lead by example.

There is a part of me that wonders if maybe I’ll be writing another post in the future that details becoming a vegan. I don’t think it will happen, but a few years ago I never would have considered myself a (near) vegetarian, excitedly telling people about the new world I’ve discovered, but a lot has changed for me in a really short period of time. I just hope that whatever changes I make in the future continue to make me better!

69 thoughts on “Guiding Our Household to Better Eating

  1. Loved this post and I admire the way you’ve changed your eating habits. I would love to try and change my diet to be more vegetable based. I find however, that it’s difficult for my husband and I to do, mostly because we have crazy work schedules. I know you prepare all your meals at home since you’re a SAHM and I wish I had the time to prepare everything at home but I just don’t have it. Are there any recipes/tips that you could provide that might make it easier to eat more veggie meals when I’m short on time? I’ve tried but all I come up with is salad!! LOL

    Janssen Reply:

    Erika, I find that cooking vegetarian meals is actually FAR faster than cooking with meat. With meat, I usually have to defrost it (which takes forever) and then cook it. Also, I have to be so careful about my cutting boards and knives and counters to avoid cross contamination. If I’m cooking a vegetarian dinner, I can throw everything together in thirty minutes.

    I highly highly recommend the cookbook Cook 1.0 by Heidi Swanson (it’s out of print, but my library had a copy). I feel like it’s really changed how I look at vegetarian food. Also, everything I’ve tried from that cookbook has been really good.

    Katie Reply:

    I make lots of slow cooker recipes. I just made this black bean soup, which is AWESOME:

    I try to make big batches of everything, so it can serve as lunch and leftovers for the following couple of days, and freeze any extra.

    Jackie Reply:

    Check out the Moosewood cookbooks. They are vegetarian and have some great recipes!

    Ellie Reply:

    Like others have said, crockpot meals are great – I love Fresh from the Vegetarian Slow Cooker and 125 best Vegetarian Slow Cooker – both emphasize healthy cooking, lots of whole grains and vegetables, and have a bunch of pretty easy recipes that can be prepped beforehand.

    I like to cook fish when I need an easy source of protein, as long as I’ve remembered to thaw it, because it’s ready in about 12-15 minutes. Combined with cous-cous and vegetables, its a simple but delicious meal.

    I also have gotten into the habit of making cold quinoa salads at the beginning of the week to have in our refrigerator for times when we don’t feel like cooking. Because I make the quinoa in the rice cooker, it doesn’t heat up our apartment, and I just add in vegetables and beans to create a delicious and hearty balanced meal.

    molly Reply:

    I second the Moosewood cookbooks! I was raised mostly vegetarian and tend to only really cook occasionally with chicken now. These books are great! And can you send me the squash chip recipe? Mmmm!

    Carrie Reply:

    Oh man, do I love this topic. My husband and I both work too so I feel your pain! We’ve always been “healthy” eaters but it took some figuring out to get healthy weeknight meals down to a science. I apologize in advance for the essay but I am super passionate about this.

    Janssen is right, taking meat out of the equation is much, much easier for many reasons. We did keep bacon & precooked organic sausage on hand to toss into meals but recently stopped for similar reasons as Jenna. We are also gluten free.

    What has helped me in preparing dinners is thinking in terms of formulas:

    veggies + protein + flavor + grain + 1 pan

    From there I keep lists (in my head, but writing it out could be helpful) of foods in each group that I love to cook with and are easy. Some examples of my most frequent lists:

    broccoli,spinach, bell peppers, asparagus
    eggs, black beans, quinoa (grain & a protein!)
    curry powder, cumin, oregano, red chili flakes,s&p, and real garlic (so much better than powdered or even in a jar)
    quinoa, gluten free pasta, corn tortillas, rice, toast

    Every day I think about what veggies I will be making tonight, and then as I am cooking I ask myself “can I throw any more veggies into this?” Usually I can. For example, throw fresh spinach into my tomato sauce, or grill mushrooms to top my rice. This is the easiest way (I think) to get more in. Besides, salads get boring FAST. Also, if you are grilling food, grill everything. If you are roasting veggies, roast everything. It makes it so much easier from a timing/cleanup perspective.

    Finally, we make double when we make certain things like risotto or quinoa. Easy to reheat and reuse. I’ve never been able to really “plan ahead” but its super helpful to have a bowl of good quinoa in the fridge!

    Super quick ways to prepare your veggies:

    Roasted: 425 degrees, olive oil, some quick seasoning, and I love balsamic on mine (which I learned from Jenna!). Takes about 15-30 minutes depending.
    Sauteed: olive oil in pan, throw in garlic & onion for flavor, then veggies. toss around. season with S&P.
    Grilled: easy, flavorful. Use olive oil and S&P
    Raw: not my favorite but great in salad or with hummus.
    Added to 1 pot meals: throw spinach in your tomato sauce, mushrooms in your eggs, arugula on your pizza, etc.

    here are some examples of recent meals we’ve had using these:

    1. frittata with all the veggies in our fridge (seriously takes 20 minutes start to finish and is great for leftovers).
    2. Quinoa (made with broth is waaay better) with grilled/roasted/sauteed veggies. Sometimes I will add a fried egg or beans.
    3. “Tacos” with corn tortillas to wrap sauteed veggies and black beans. Tossing a little salad dressing with the veggies can sass it up, or make a curry sauce or peanut sauce.
    4. Pasta tossed with veggies: instead of with meat, we toss in our sauteed veggies and top with tomato sauce.

    finally, if you don’t already, make your own salad dressing. This will COMPLETELY change the way your food tastes when dressed (I can’t even look at fake italian dressing anymore). Good luck! And sorry this is so long! I love to cook even with my limited time.

    Carrie Reply:

    oh, man you thought I was done but I thought of one more thing! You don’t always have to have a “meal” like you would at a restaurant. Letting yourself free up a bit on that is so great. For example, a few nights ago we had: homemade guacamole, pico de gallo, corn chips, some goat cheese, and pan sauteed asparagus. Random, yes. Well rounded and delicious, of course! Only took 10 minutes.

    Paula Reply:

    Carrie – we are also gluten (and fructose) free – I love the way you’ve simplifed thinking of meals. It gets complicated easily, so I appreciate your keeping it simple method.

  2. Beautifully written post, Jenna. I especially love the part at the end about raising your children differently if you think the way your spouse was raised plays a direct role in his eating habits — I agree 100%. I was raised in a very healthy household where everything was homemade and my parents stuffed me full of vegetables once I decided to stop eating meat (they too refused to cook anything different for me, so when I decided I just didn’t like meat, I was left with just doubling my vegetable side dishes).

    My husband grew up completely on takeout and, as a result, has a very hard time giving it up. He’s adapted in ways — I cook meat for him sometimes, but not every meal, and he’s never happy with a vegetable-only option (requires some sort of pasta/polenta/rice etc) and really just has no interest in changing his dietary habits. I’m not going to force a change in him if he isn’t interested, but I sure am going to raise any future children to be more open-minded and less reliant on processed foods and meat!

  3. My fiance NEVER wants to eat dinner at dinner time these days. He says he’s not hungry then. So I usually eat by myself (boo!) and he’ll eat way later on in the evening – like right before he goes to bed. It drives me crazy! Sometimes I cook a full meal with multiple servings, but other times I’ll just cook something I like (i.e. light/vegetarian) and whenever he’s ready to eat, he can put something together for himself.

    I’d really appreciate any advice from you or your readers about how to get back to eating dinner at a normal time, together.

    Sarah for Real Reply:

    Does he eat lunch very late? Or maybe a huge lunch? Does he come home hungry so he has a snack and then isn’t hungry for dinner?

    If he’s hungry when he gets home, maybe you could eat dinner right away or offer him a small snack and remind him you’ll have dinner ready soon. I’d let him know that morning or the day before that you’ve planned a nice dinner for him so he should make sure he’s hungry!

    Just letting him know you’d really like to sit down and have dinner with him at least a couple times a week might make him see how nice it is and maybe you could work your way up to every day slowly.

    Paula Reply:

    Oh man, we have the same issue. Dinner is often served so late at our house! I feel like I’m going to bed on a full belly. And, frankly, I’m hungry when I get home from work, so I have a snack. To be clear, I want to eat dinner when I get home and often start it, but then I’m pulled away to take care of the baby or something else and there’s not a lot of help with either dinner or chores from the man of the house.

    The problem is I really think that snacking, and then eating late, is actually making it much harder to lose any weight. It’s almost like adding a meal to the day. He doesn’t have a problem with it, and that’s really the problem.

    I’ve started insisting we cook some re-heatable dinners over the weekend so we have easy meals to warm up during the week. Otherwise we were getting into a terrible take out habit which isn’t smart. Way too much stress about what dinner will be and who is cooking…

    Carrie Reply:

    Maybe start thinking about dinners as opportunity for finger foods? Just portion it out so you don’t keep snacking: hummus & veggies + some good bread + a slice of good meat or something. The blog “Dinner: A Love Story” has some great “one paragraph” dinners as well.

    Paula Reply:

    Thanks for the suggestion for the blog – I’ll check it out. 🙂

  4. Lovely post! I can relate to your transition so much. Just a few years ago, I lived off of Morningstar frozen foods and had a very calories in/calories out view. I couldn’t get over whole foods having more calories until I tried it for awhile. The feeling that I get from real food is so much more satisfying – I actually feel contentedly full – and I don’t get that awful, gnawing hunger a few hours after being mind-blowingly full.

    As for whether you ever go vegan or not, at this point I would say just keep doing what you’re doing, and if that means incorporating less dairy and meat, that’s awesome! I don’t think that it’s best for your health 100% of the time with our society the way it is. For me, there is definitely an ethical component and a very personal health one – dairy was really messing with me physically. I’m not sure if I was fully lactose intolerant, but I certainly got a nasty stomachache every time I ate dairy towards the end there. If we lived in a perfect world where more restaurants were geared towards fresh, balanced meals though, it’d be a different story. Or if we could all afford to go to four star restaurants, where the chefs always whip up the most amazing non-menu vegan alternatives!

    So I know that you say TH is very logical, do you know exactly when the money switch came about re: justifying the healthier food? Was it just that he started feeling better with it? I know we’ve talked about my FFIL’s eating, and your Burger King-grass fed thought process is him, exactly.

  5. Love this post. While we don’t really cut back on meat (my husband loves it) the meat we do eat is almost all “organic”. My husband is a huge hunting fan, so we get a lot of all-natural venison and pork, and he’ll bring home his own catch of fish. We currently have our freezer stocked full of wild game. The difference in quality from wild game to store-bought is almost laughable, it’s that much better! We still need to make some changes on adding more fruits and veggies into our diets, but it’s all one step at a time.

  6. Very good post Jenna. I’m personally not interested in moving towards your kind of diet but I do try to stay away from as many processed foods as I can. I do make an exception for pasta because it is my weekness! I do eat the way you eat for lunch and several dinners through out the week when my husband is gone but when he is home, he really prefers something more substantial and that is fine with me. He is a very picky eater and I know it is 100% the way he was raised. I am finally getting him to try more things but it is still a struggle. I will NOT be raising my children that way.

  7. I totally agree. I think the best way to make your husband eat like you eat is to lead by example. We have completely changed the way we eat in the four years we have been together. Sean thought becoming a vegetarian was ridiculous and now when people ask us about meat — he always says meat is rarely the main course…in fact he makes so many veggie meals for us — and I am doing a victory dance inside my head!

    I think the key is understanding everyone can change…but sometimes the best way is a slow sustainable pace!

  8. Great post! I’ve read both Real Food and In Defense of Food–I enjoyed both, but felt Pollan made the more compelling argument.

    We’re still not eating the way I would like to be…I’m still addicted to processed foods and my husband would freak if I started cooking like you. Unfortunately, I had him listen to In Defense of Food and it didn’t convince him–he is a med student/research & statistics whiz and got annoyed by a few (minor, to me) holes he found in Pollan’s evidence.

    Maybe when his metabolism starts to slow down he’ll get more into it–now he can eat ANYTHING and not gain weight.

    Ever so slowly, I am making changes, though. I’ve started cooking more vegetarian dinners and he doesn’t complain about them. We don’t really eat red meat or pork (what he grew up on) and he doesn’t care. I do the majority of my grocery shopping at Newflower Market buying fresh food (similar to Sprouts) and rarely go to Wal-Mart or Kroger anymore–and our grocery bill has gone down! He’ll always be a little resistant, but considering when I met him 7 years ago he didn’t know what a carrot tasted like and now he loves quinoa, I’d say he’s come a long way.

    I think the birth of our first child might change a lot of things. His youngest siblings survive on chips, chicken fingers, strawberries, and cereal–he hates it and doesn’t want our child to eat like that. I am committed to feeding our child exclusively whole foods and avoiding junk food as much as possible–I think he realizes Daddy eating crap isn’t going to fly.

  9. Great post!

    When we did JVC (a volunteer program where you live in a community and live verrrry simply) we ate much differently than we had in college. We joined a CSA in the spring/summer, but at the beginning of the year in the fall we lived off of squash people had given us from their gardens. And post-halloween pumpkins! That winter we probably just ate a lot of junk though, since most of what we ate was excess from the food bank (they would give the stuff that they couldn’t pass out to the general public to us, like yogurt past its expiration date, etc.) We hardly ever bought meat. My second year of JVC it was pretty much the same, except we used the market instead of a CSA and didn’t get as much from the food bank. But hardly ever any meat still.

    Back in college I lived with a vegetarian, and while I definitely ate more meat (I probably had deli meat sandwiches every day for lunch!) it wasn’t every meal by any means. Now, I definitely don’t buy meat every weak, though we do keep a frozen thing of fish (right now it’s tilapia and salmon, which frozen salmon is gross and I will never by again!) and chicken breasts in the freezer. Don’t judge – we’re both in grad school still! For now we’ve decided it’s more important to spend our money on organic fruits/veggies than meat, mainly for health reasons, and the markup for local/organic meat tends to be more than for produce.

    My sister now makes a big deal about being a “flexitarian”. I definitely don’t eat meat every day, and if I do it’s just once a day, but I don’t feel a need to label myself. It’s hard for me to order vegetarian/vegan when I go out since I’m on the low-acid diet. Most of those meals tend to have tofu or use acid (citrus/vinegars/spices) to pump up the flavor. So while I cook veggie at home, I don’t usually order it. I’m sure we definitely eat less meat than the average American, but probably more than the average “flexitarian.” Though our meat v fish intake is about equal and I don’t remember the last time I cooked red meat at home (sometime last month?)

  10. Loved reading your perspective! I have a draft started, knowing you’d be posting this today. I’ll try to wrap it up and post tomorrow because I have almost the exact opposite advice, but with a similar result, lol. I think the difference is really in that our husbands and marriages are different.

    The gist of my post is that women ought to just lead by quiet example, make the changes slowly and they’ll find their family will fall in line, like a little family of duckies. No drama, easy squeezie.

    Nina Reply:

    Totally agree!

    Paula Reply:

    I’ll have to read your post. I think the key (like you mention) will be that families are so different. I’d love to lead by quiet example, but because we both work (and have a 9 month old), we’re going to have to schedule changes and coordinate them. So insisting that we all go shopping over the weekend to try and break the “last minute hurry to figure out dinner” may be that kind of leadership. But with a baby and a commute, it would be really difficult for me to cook all the meals by myself and provide the example that way. It’s hard because while I wish I had time to do the shopping and cooking, I really have to split the duties and rely on Sean for some help.

    We’re in a baby step phase right now, trying to get out of the “whoa! it’s a newborn” reactionary mode and in to “we have a baby who is eating solid foods and we need to get in to good habits” mode.

  11. I looove this post! My husband was vegan before he met me and I was a vegetarian for 10 years (that existed on processed foods, cheese and carbs – hello weight gain). Now we eat a little meat, and lots of cheese, carbs, and processed foods. There is a Lean Cuisine Museum in my freezer. And we have a 20 month-old son! He doesn’t like mac and cheese, and he only eats soy chicken nuggets or organic chicken nuggets from Trader Joe’s (unless we go out). I totally need to re-haul our eating!!!!!!!! Thank you for inspiring me!

    Katie Reply:

    This is total unsolicited advice, and I’m cringing as I type this, but be careful with soy products, they act as a pseudoestrogen. They jury’s still out as to what exactly the effects are, but it’s believed that it can reduce fertility in males.

    It’s SO HARD to move away from convenience foods, especially when you’re working (and I can’t imagine adding a kid into the mix!). Start small. Like, really small, and don’t beat yourself up about it! I like making my own “convenience foods (frozen breakfast burritos, freezing portion sizes of soups and casserole-type dishes), and have found that it makes the change a bit easier.

  12. This is a fantastic post.

    The big change for us was when I read “Omnivore’s Dilemma” and then my husband watched Food, Inc with me. He’s resistant to change that’s not for a good reason, so he really needed to see what our food supply looked like to be convinced. I also work really hard to make sure we eat things that are still really tasty.

    And yes, after a while, you don’t even LIKE the things you used to. For his birthday I made Chicken Divan (one of his all time favorites) which included cream of chicken soup (even though it killed me to buy it) and afterward he said, “It just tastes. . . so processed.” (Silent cheers!).

  13. I am truly a believer in leading my example on this front. I think it’s great that you and TH are now of one mind on the matter of food/diet.

    I was a vegetarian when my husband and I first started dating. He had no interest in giving up his carnivorous ways. I did start eating meat again, but largely only organic, free-range, locally raised meat. As much as possible, I would make his dinner with meat and mine with beans or tofu etc. in place of the meat. For years, my husband (then boyfriend, and later fiance) swore that it wasn’t a meal unless it had meat. I continued to cook what he wanted and eat as a “flexitarian” myself.

    Lo and behold, in the past six months or so, he has come around! One night we were chatting and, out of nowhere, he mentioned he’d like to have at least one vegetarian meal a week. I smiled to myself and laughed on the inside…as he truly thought this was his own brilliant idea…not seeing that I’d been hoping for this, and leaning in this direction for YEARS! I don’t care how he came to the conclusion, just that he did, because it’s so much better for our bodies, as well as the world around us.

  14. Really great post, thanks Jenna! I feel that I face some additional obstacles. First of all, my husband is extremely picky in what he will eat. I’m not just talking about meat – ideally he agrees with my views on eating less meat (which are the same as yours) – but with everything. He won’t just eat what I make. Secondly, I didn’t grow up learning to cook and it’s not something I enjoy. I rarely cook now and it’s a struggle for me to do so. I guess that’s just something I’ll have to get over.

  15. Great post! I use roughly the same guidelines for my kitchen.

    I was glad I didn’t have to try much at all to “win over” my (also Polish, meat-eating) boyfriend. He’s open to loads of different food, and since I do most of the food shopping, we eat very little meat. At first he was a bit cranky about the higher cost of organics (and FREAKED OUT about the cost of local organic meat), but once I pointed out that we were using meat as an “extra”, and not as the main course, and showed how we were actually saving by not buying anything pre-packaged, he came around. He loves pretty much every type of cuisine, so I don’t have to do much work to get him to eat lentils, kale or quinoa!

    He’s also the first to brag to his friends about our no paper towel/ no pre-made cleaning supplies or laundry detergent policy to his friends. I love it!

  16. Jenna, thank you for writing this post. A lot of the bloggers I read who are vegan/vegitarian are just that and haven’t shared that transition. This a realistic approach to living a healthier lifestyle. Thanks again.

  17. Great post, Jenna! Ever since my boyfriend and I signed up for our CSA, we’ve gone a lot more vegetarian. It’s like we paid all this money for delicious fruits and vegetables, so we have to use them. We throw meat in our meals here or there, but not as much as we used to! We don’t have much money now, but I’m hoping in the next 5 years or so we can eat on mostly Farmer’s Market goods. One question though – what do you do for snacks? I’m SUCH a snacker and I’m not sure how to change that or what to eat that’s healthier. Thanks!

  18. I was soo happy to read this post! I was a vegetarian for a few years when I was younger but started eating meat again even though it was rarely. I finished reading Eating Animals about 2 months ago and it was so hard to go to the grocery store after that and look at the meat and dairy aisles. I have not eaten meat since finishing the book and have tried to limit my egg and milk intake. I think the book was so helpful with putting everything into perspective and giving a way to look at it that leaves little desire for the foods. I’m still trying to get my husband to read it because when we’re at the store he will buy meat based solely on the price. I don’t expect him to become a vegetarian but it hurts to think about the horrible living conditions the animals had and I wish he would buy from a more humane source. He is very open to eating vegetarian meals but while I could get by with a big salad he usually likes a little more substance. If you have any other vegetarian recipes you can share I would love it! Thanks so much for the essay 🙂

  19. I like reading the history of the habits – you’ve laid out the “evolution” really well! I think its silly to expect anyone to change overnight.

    My reaction to “Eating Animals” has been to look for ethically raised and environmentally friendlier meats. I love chicken, but I haven’t found a source that I think. Its weird to be eating more red meat than I was before, just because I know where its coming from!

    There were some commenters that talked about the challenge of balancing work with slow, home cooked and prepared meals. I have found that I can get really upset about feeling like its not fair that I don’t “get” to be home and spend more time on my eating. Its a simple (but frustrating) zero-sum equation of priorities. If work is more important to me, then something else has to give. I try to coach myself and reframe the equation from “Work vs food preparation” to “Work vs My Health” – but its truly a work in progress.

    Andrea Reply:

    I really find the “time suck” argument to be a hard one to swallow. I am very, very fortunate to have been raised in a home in which meals were always made with whole foods. As a result, this is the way I’ve cooked since I moved out and went to university 11 years ago. I can honestly say that it’s rare that I spend more than 30-45 minutes preparing a meal.

    I think part of it’s about being organized (i.e. I plan my menu for the week every Monday and then shop for every single ingredient I need to make those meals; on Monday nights I make a pot of soup of veg. chili to eat for lunch for the week). It’s also about recognizing that the time spent preparing a meal is an investment in your health.

    Finally, I think the net time loss that exists from cooking from scratch vs. buying and reheating processed food is minimal: consider how long it takes you to drive to the store, buy those foods, then heat them up – is it really much less than 30 minutes?

    LifeOnMulberry Reply:

    Andrea – I think you hit the nail on the head when you wrote, “It’s also about recognizing that the time spent preparing a meal is an investment in your health.”

    I live in Manhattan, where there’s no driving to the store to pick anything up. What we eat, we have to carry home or order online and then be home for delivery (we don’t have a doorman). Buying a week’s worth of food in one trip is not impossible, but its challenging.

    While it may seem like it doesn’t take you a lot of time each night, the reality of my job is that my night can quickly unravel into leaving my office between 8:30 and 9, walking a mile to the subway, walking from the subway to my apartment, getting home at or after 9 pm. At that stage, it feels so much easier to go downstairs to the Italian restaurant we live over that gives us free or discounted food(its not healthy or made with whole foods, i assure you!) or ordering in Chinese food or a pizza. At that point in the day, 30 minutes for prep + 10 minutes for cleanup can feel like more than I want to invest in.

    We should, and some weeks do, plan out meals at the start of the week, buy the components in advance, come home to prepare in enough time, then eat sitting down. But with sports leagues, working late, work dinners, bible study, volunteering, spontaneously meeting friends for drinks, having any one of those planned activities run late, etc – the week sometimes gets away from us and I’ve been bummed about food either going to waste or having to be frozen because we won’t eat at home for 4 nights in a row.

    So while I agree that its about re-prioritizing, I disagree that sustained proper meal preparation can be quick and easy. I definately don’t begrudge Jenna or others who have got this all down pat – I’m inspired by them! At some point, that may be me. But for now, I’m trying not to be too hard on myself and just do what works for us right now.

    Andrea Reply:

    I can definitely understand where you’re coming from and wasn’t in any way trying to imply that my way was the only way – it’s just what I’ve found to work for me.

    As long as your are happy with where you are now in terms of balancing eating out/in – that’s all that matters!

    I spent five of the past ten years living in a big city, working long (and sometimes strange) hours and relying on subways/buses/my feet to get me home, so I definitely get it. I followed the same system there in regards to cooking/shopping, but I think for me it helps that I really enjoy cooking, so it didn’t seem like a chore – I get that this isn’t the case for everyone!

    Sophia Reply:

    I really liked all of the points you made here, Andrea. I agree!

  20. Thank you for this post! My attention was rapt through every single word. I loved reading “Food Rules”, and also “The Kind Diet” by Alicia Silverstone and “Skinny B****”. They all discuss where food actually comes from and how the animals are treated.

    This is something I really struggle with. I make excuses:
    -It’s too expensive.
    -I want to eat things that taste really good.
    -I don’t want to eat the same thing over and over.

    Right now, I am in the process of planning our menu for the week in order to do the grocery shopping. I just can’t seem to find things that sound good and that my 15 m/o can eat. I need to check out our local farmer’s markets and compare prices. I would love to go to the Dallas Farmer’s Market, but I could probably only go once a week, as it is too far to go every week.

    I really wouldn’t mind going all the way vegan, but where we live, it isn’t feasible or affordable. I would love to have a Whole Foods nearby instead of just Walmarts.

    Thank you so much for this post. I feel like it has motivated me to be more proactive about what we put in our mouths. I’m going to work harder to prepare healthier, more wholesome meals for my family.

  21. Great Post Jenna! I didn’t grow up eating American food. And not to sound ignorant or anything I never understood why ppl ate that way, since American food is always so heavy. I grew up eating Asian with the occasional German food meals in between. Great idea with locking away the snacks. I grew up in a house hold that never had any sweets or candies. My parents were obsessive about this, since diabetes run on my dad side of the family.
    It’s soo funny, when I tell ppl that I had my first soda sip at 7 yrs old. Additionally, we were so well trained that when ever we got candy, chocolate or any type of sweets, we’d hand them over to our parents without them having to ask for them. Perhaps that’s why candy, chocolate and sweets are my vices during that time of the month.
    Loved how TH eventually saw it your way. And that he was still supporting you in your journey to healthier eating habit. The husband and I have been eating clean for almost 2 yrs now – meaning cutting out processed food. We always ate relatively healthy. But I do the shopping and have cut out all the processed food out of our diet, we also have less digestive problems. But boy, do we feel it if we’ve been eating “junk”.
    Like you we hardly eat any meat. Occasionally I splurge on meat, since the hubs craves it. But if I do, I’m willing to spend more money for it as well.
    Btw, have you had any problems with iron deficiency? Reason I ask because I was recently diagnosed with being iron deficient, and was prescribed pills. Stopped taking those after day 2. They made me horribly nauseous, so I just purchased red meat more than I normally would have. But I’m back to hardly buying meat again, and haven’t noticed any of the symptoms.

    Oh and on another note…all those ppl asking if you circumsized T1. It’s NONE OF THEIR BUSINESS!!!! Oh, and most ppl in Europe don’t circumsize their babies wither.

  22. When I saw this post in my rss I kept it unread because I knew I needed to read it more closely, and formulate a response. I love reading about your food journey, and I definitely have jealousy as far as your husband’s habits. I would like both my husband and I to eat better, but we have a few major issues.

    I actually started writing this out, and it’s so long I think I’m going to turn it in to a post on my own blog!! The cliffs notes is:
    –hubs and I have very different tastes and he generally prefers the restaurant food to home cooked meals.
    –I’m busy and because of the first point, I tend to give in to going to a restaurant. Saves time, effort, cleanup, and disappointment.
    –Food variety is hard to find in my region most of the year (but this is a secondary concern).

    Gonna write about it soon! Thank you for sharing this!

  23. I loved reading this post, because even though I’ve been reading almost since the very beginning of this blog, and even though I read the posts you linked, it was awesome to see it all in one place and to see you review how things have changed over the last two years.

    I know I’ve criticized Nina in the past, but honestly I really do think that In Defense of Food is a much better treatise on the issue of the real food movement. I’ve read most of Nina’s book and almost all of Pollan’s books, and there is just something so eloquent and simple about the way Pollan builds the argument that it’s as though he’s gently walking you down a path, and you forget that you had said you didn’t want to go on a walk until you’re a few miles in 🙂

    As to my personal experience, I am so grateful that Bobby was a vegetarian when I met him. I was only eating fish now and then at the time, and then I went back to being veggie. We went hardcore vegan for almost a year, but now we’re walking the line between vegetarian/vegan (mostly re-introducing eggs since we have an awesome supply from a woman who keeps chickens as pets she rescued). Bobby is such an adventurous eater. And until he was 25, he was so picky. He told me that one day he just got tired of being picky, and he was embarrassed that, as he put it “I was a full grown man eating like a bratty 6 year old”. That’s around the time he went veggie. He used to hate most vegetables, beans, tofu, mushrooms… the list goes one. Of course by the time I met him he was a “try everything as long as it doesn’t have meat in it” kind of guy.

    I hear from a lot of my friends about how their husbands/boyfriends don’t like to eat vegetables, are meat and potatoes guys, etc. But people do change! I also am annoyed with the way food marketing associates eating meat with being “manly” and eating salads as being “womanly” food. So many food marketing plans try and make men out to be feminine and not a real man if they don’t like to eat steak steak steak and more steak. At several restaurants where you “build your own” meal, like Hu Hot, Mongolian Grill, or salad and burrito places, people usually remark on the lack of meat + the amount of veggies in Bobby’s food. I find it interesting that a man eschewing meat and piling up 5+ kinds of veggies is rare enough to comment on, haha.

  24. Hi, Jenna!

    So I’ve been casually and quietly following your blog for a while and recently found an old picture of you (with blond hair). I think we were in the same folklore class in college! Professor Eliason- your presentation was about your family’s farm? Am I way off-base here? 🙂

    I have to say that I love testing foods on missionaries. Their reactions are great! I made artichokes for them last month and were a little confused about how to eat them but eventually loved them (dipping them in butter helped, too).

    It is difficult to make the switch to whole foods without everyone on board. I’ve tried getting rid of all the processed foods, but there a still a few that linger around. The most recent example that sticks in my mind is mayonnaise. I made some from scratch (and LOVED it) but my husband was too wary of the raw eggs. We are learning and adapting.

    I am still new to the whole foods journey, as my next goal is to shop at the farmer’s market. Ours is Saturday mornings and it seems so hard to get myself motivated to go shopping on the one morning our family has no obligations to be anywhere. 😀

  25. This is such a great post. I wish we moved as quickly as you have, but our change has been a little slower. I will say that we buy a lot less processed food than we did before, and our meat and eggs come from local farmers. We only have meat about once a month – maybe even less. Dairy products are hard for us to get locally, but we have cut back on consumption of those products too. I dream of someday having an incredible garden and being able to feed our family mostly that way for a good part of the year (which shouldn’t be so tough in Florida!).

  26. Great Post!

    FI and I try to only eat 1 meat meal a week, which is a big change from me thinking I needed to make him this huge elaborate meal every night of the week. My challenge is thinking of creative vegetarian dishes that aren’t high in carbs. I find that a lot of veggie dishes have a ton of carbs. I love to eat whole grains (wheat berries, quinoa etc) but I would love to hear what everyones favorite cookbooks/blogs are to get recipes. I get tired of making the same salad or stir fry every night

  27. I hate it when a woman acts like she has to cook separate meals for her husband/kids and herself because they “refuse to eat vegetarian” or “demand meat”. It seems really disrespectful to me.

    When my husband and I moved in together, the number one question we got asked was, “so are you going to eat vegetarian?” People were APPALLED that my husband would stop eating meat for me, which he didn’t. We stopped eating meat because meat is annoying. It has to be thawed out, which my husband doesn’t think to do, and I refuse to prep it because I’m terrified of cross contamination, and I also learned to cook after I became a vegetarian, so I have no idea how to cook meat. If my husband wants to eat something different from what I’m cooking, or add meat to it, he’s welcome to – but he doesn’t. As long as I put enough protein in whatever we are eating, he is happy.

    We started shifting towards eating more locally as we moved to a place where eating locally was an option, and especially since we moved into the city where the produce from the grocery store is literally already rotten and the Farmer’s market is the only option for buying produce.

    Carrie Reply:

    I agree with you. I am often very thankful that my husband’s mom (a mom of 6) really demanded respect from her kids when it came to being a mom. Being raised Mormon is probably part of this (from a cultural perspective) but I don’t believe they ever requested food different from what she was putting in front of them. It is a lot of work to feed 6 kids and a husband 3 meals a day.

    Now, my husband has not once complained about what I make for us. Not even when it is completely terrible. He also has been able to go between eating at his Mom’s house (butter butter butter and no veggies) and ours when we go visit, so he knows how much better he feels eating “our” way.

    Finally, I wanted to add that cooking doesn’t take that much time for me because I don’t do dishes. My husband and I have an agreement: if I cook, he cleans up. Sometimes he doesn’t clean up right away and I don’t say a thing since I know he will get to it. I love it. All you ladies saying your husband doesn’t help out around the house need to have a chat with your hubby! (I should add that we both work, so I think we have fair reason to distribute housework evenly).

  28. I’m a new(er) reader and I LOVED this post. I made the switch to becoming a vegetarian two months ago and haven’t looked back. I feel a lot better not eating so much meat, it’s cheaper on our grocery bills, and it’s made my husband more aware of the issues surrounding animal treatment (he still eats meat almost everyday, though).

    I haven’t pressured him to change because I’ve realized he does better when presented the information and given a good example (ME!). In time he seems to come to similar conclusions. He has changed his diet drastically since we began dating–used to eat fast food, hamburger helper, junk food every meal and now enjoys salads, Green Monster smoothies, granola, etc. 🙂

  29. My husband seriously dislikes going to the grocery store, and always has. So, if he doesn’t get to shop for it, we don’t have it in the house. Works for me – less meat, more fish has been step number one 🙂 I’ll keep trucking!

  30. I really admire you for the choices that you’ve made and the action that you’ve taken with regards to food. I have the same general beliefs but I haven’t done much at all about it. You’ve hinted that you’ve found ways to make eating this way more convenient – is that true? Can you tell us more about that? I work A LOT and really don’t care to make time to cook on week days.

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