Healthy Eating Difficult For Families Tight On Time, Money

Working parents who are tight on time and money, often have a tough time feeding their family healthy meals. In Tell Me More's weekly parenting conversation, host Michel Martin discusses practical ways to balance a busy schedule with children's nutritional needs. Weighing in on the discussion is Aviva Goldfarb, author of the book "The Six O'Clock Scramble," Erika Kendall, author of the blog, "A Black Girl's Guide to Weight Loss," and regular contributor Aracely Panameno.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

And now to our weekly moms conversation. Last week we talked about a new study that found a link between children's weight and their mothers working outside the home. There were, of course, other variables, but researchers found that for every five months the mother worked outside the home, a child could gain a pound more than normally expected.

Now, our moms didn't quite buy the study's findings, but they did agree that working outside the home does make it harder to make sure the kids have healthy, balanced meals every night. Here's what our regular contributor Jolene Ivey had to say.

Ms. JOLENE IVEY: I think what we really need to do is spend more time when we do have time, maybe on weekends or whatever, getting your food together for the week, because I have found that if you prepare and if you cook things ahead of time, it is possible to quickly cook dinner. It really is. And you don't have to rely on processed food and you don't have to eat out of a sack.

MARTIN: Now, since this is a real daily issue for so many working parents, we decided to just throw up the flag and say, help, we just want some help. So we've called upon Aviva Goldfarb. She's a mother of two and author of the cookbook and website "The Six O'Clock Scramble." That's not just about eggs. She is with us in our Washington, D.C. studio, along with Aracely Panameno, one of our moms regulars, the mother of a semi-grown daughter. And joining us from member station WLRN in Miami is Erika Kendall. She's a single mom of one and author of the blog, "A Black Girl's Guide to Weight Loss." Welcome to you all. Thanks so much for joining us.

Ms. AVIVA GOLDFARB (Author, "The Six O'Clock Scramble"): Thank you.

Ms. ARACELY PANAMENO: Thank you, Michel.

Ms. ERIKA KENDALL (Blogger, "A Black Girl's Guide to Weight Loss"): Thank you so much for having us.

MARTIN: So, Aviva, what's the six o'clock scramble?

Ms. GOLDFARB: Well, the six o'clock scramble is that time of day that so many of we parents can relate to where you've been on the go since dawn, the kids are hungry or they need help with their homework, you're exhausted, you've got to get some food on the table and you open the refrigerator looking for inspiration and nothing. And that's what used to happen to me and it happens to so many moms that I speak to, and dads.

And so I created a solution about eight years ago based on my own experience that gives moms and dads a plan for the week right in their email box and a grocery list and side dishes. Because what I find is that the hardest thing for people about cooking dinner really isn't the actual cooking, it's the deciding and trying to figure out when you get home and you're so exhausted, trying to figure out what you're going to make for dinner when there's so many other demands on your time and your energy at that point, too. So if the decisions are already made, you can actually be successful and get your family around the dinner table.

MARTIN: So for you - I'm going to ask the other moms, like, what's the biggest hurdle to getting this done. For you it's, like, the deciding, you know, having to decide.

Ms. GOLDFARB: That's a big hurdle. That's a big hurdle. And the other huge hurdle that I hear from people so often is that their kids are picky and they won't eat what they serve.

MARTIN: Okay. Aracely, what been the what's the biggest hurdle for you? Well, your daughter's grown, now. You can say, you know what? You cook.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: You take care of it if you don't like what I'm fixing. But before that.

Ms. PANAMENO: So I think that I agree with what has been stated by Jolene(ph) and Aviva, that planning is a major challenge, no matter where you are. But I think that we would be surmised(ph) if we did not take knowledge that financial and economic ability is also a major challenge, as well as time. And so time management and ability to prioritize how important food and feeding your family is to you, then you can make better choices and informed choices.

MARTIN: Well, what do you mean by the economic thing? And Erika also wrote about this in her blog, too, so I'm going to go to her in a minute. But Aracely, what did you mean by that?

Ms. PANAMENO: So families right now are struggling. Families are struggling. They are - one out of 10 families right now are going hungry. So it isn't so much about whether or not there is an overwhelming amount of food on the table, but whether or not we're capable of making the right choices for our families, given the economic conditions that families are facing.

And so cheap foods, pastas and not to badmouth pastas, but carbohydrates and fattening foods and things that are not necessarily good for our health are cheaper than, say, fresh vegetables and fruits and legumes.

MARTIN: Oh, I see what you're saying. So loading up on the carbs and the fattening stuff, and even some processed...

Ms. PANAMENO: Can fill you up.

MARTIN: ...food can fill you up. And if that's the main goal - and, in fact, some of the fast food restaurants now have very affordable menus where people really - you can really fill up. But what are you filling up with? So Erika, you wrote about this in your blog.

Ms. KENDALL: Yeah.

MARTIN: Talk to me about first of all, I want to ask: What - before you started blogging and thinking about this really seriously, what was the biggest hurdle for you? And talk about that cost issue, if you will.

Ms. KENDALL: Yeah, I was just about to say, you know, the biggest struggle for me was cost, because when you talk about healthy food, you're talking about something very specific. You know, you're not talking about the processed food with the I'm healthy sticker on the label. That's not what you're talking about. You're talking about fruits and vegetables, and the cost per item is much higher, and sometimes it doesn't necessarily feel justified when you could buy this giant box over here for the same price.

So, for me, it was cost combined with the ability to be resourceful. You know, so if I buy a giant head of broccoli, I have to know how to use that to make that last throughout the week. So I would say that those two things were my biggest struggle. And through the course of me learning how to be a healthy cook, cook healthier food, learning that was what made it easier for me to deal with that 6 o'clock scramble, so to speak. So...

MARTIN: I want to go back to you and get to some of the specific tips that you wrote about in your blog, about how the fact that a lot of people say - well, I don't want to talk about any specific company. But there's this particular company that's known for great food that people call Whole Paycheck...

Ms. KENDALL: Mm-hmm.

MARTIN: ...because they feel that, like - and you say there are some real ways to work around this, and that sometimes if you are spending more on fresh food, maybe it's because your habits need to change. I want to hear from you on that.

But Aviva, why don't you talk about, more broadly, some of the principles that you employ to make that 6 o'clock scramble less scrambling.

Ms. GOLDFARB: I think I agree with everything that's been said here. And I think right now, Americans waste about a quarter of the food that they buy.

Ms. KENDALL: Mm-hmm.

Ms. GOLDFARB: So having a plan and knowing, as Erika said, how to use the food that you buy and incorporate it into the meals, and also eating seasonally. A lot of the food you can buy right now - right now, cabbage is very cheap, and you can make a lot of great recipes using cabbage. And legumes actually are -can be quite affordable. As frozen foods in the winter are a great money saver, and they can be a timesaver, too.

MARTIN: So how do you start, like, when you make a plan for the week? Do you plan out, what, seven days, or how do you do it? Or five?

Ms. GOLDFARB: Oh, actually, that's a great question.

MARTIN: Yeah.

Ms. GOLDFARB: What I usually do is I plan five. Well, I look at my calendar first, and I see how many nights are we going to be home for dinner. Are we going to be running around? You know, maybe there's a night that we're going to have to have a frozen pizza because we'll all, you know, just isn't going to work that night. And then I plan - usually it's about five nights a week that I cook, and then one night it's just generally kind of leftovers, using up everything that we didn't use in the course of the week and maybe making a frittata or a pasta.

So I do try to really start with an empty refrigerator, refill it, and by the end of the week, I don't like to go back to the store until the refrigerator is basically empty again.

MARTIN: Oh. So basically, your thing is don't leave anything lying around, so you can see everything you have.

Ms. GOLDFARB: Absolutely. Absolutely. And you save yourself some much money that way. And you can save yourself time. But you also waste so much less food. And from an environmental perspective, the food waste is a huge issue.

MARTIN: How about that whole kids feeding the food to the dog because they won't eat it?

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Okay. Tell us...

Ms. GOLDFARB: That happened to me this weekend with my nephew.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: So what's your workaround for that? I do want to mention that one of your books you've got two. I see two, here. You say "Earth-Friendly, Kid-Pleasing Dinners for Busy Families." Let's get to that kid-pleasing part, if you don't mind.

Ms. GOLDFARB: Absolutely. And I think one of the things...

MARTIN: Because there's plenty of things that I'll eat that they'll - that, you know, the faces look like they're just getting, you know, cod-liver oil.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: If I could I would do the face for you. My daughter has this particular face where she just looks like she's just being, you know, punished. It just it's actually kind of cute, but I won't do the face for you. But we've all seen the face.

Ms. GOLDFARB: we've all seen the face. Absolutely.

MARTIN: So, tell me.

Ms. GOLDFARB: And I think that sometimes we want to incorporate our children into the planning process and ask them what sorts of things they'd like to have in the course of the week, but that they can't decide every single day. And also, there's been lots of studies - first of all, huge - lots of studies that show that eating dinner together as a family is one of best things that we can do for our children's physical and emotional health.

And many children - most children need to be exposed to a food 10 to 15 times before they'll accept it. So just because your kid didn't like Brussels sprouts once doesn't mean that you never serve them again. And so we continue to offer them in a positive way. And in my - I had one of pickiest eaters I knew, my son, and now he's one of the most adventurous eaters I know because I just continued to serve him new foods, and their taste buds do often need time to adapt - not every child, but most children.

MARTIN: So you're saying use everything in the fridge. Don't keep shopping on top of - just use - just the empty fridge.

Ms. GOLDFARB: That's what a lot of people do is they stop at the - every time they run out of something, they stop at the market and pick it up, and then they buy a couple of extra things. And so you have these stuffed refrigerators, and then they say I have nothing to eat.

Well, one of the best tools that I have found for that is - my secret weapon is my grocery list, and I keep it on the refrigerator. And everybody in the family, whenever we're running out of anything, can write on the grocery list, even the kids. And that way I know I can trust the list and just replenish what we need once I go once a week.

MARTIN: So get the kids involved and empty out that fridge.

Erika, talk more about some of your tips. One of the things - I found your blog really helpful, because one of the things you said that if people feel like they're spending too much, maybe it's that they're shopping too often.

Ms. KENDALL: Mm-hmm.

MARTIN: Talk more about that.

Ms. KENDALL: It's a combination of things, because we all tend to like, on my blog, I promote a primarily, like, a diet that consists primarily of fruits and vegetables and meat. I don't really promote processed foods in any way, because the thing with processed foods is you're more likely to eat more often because it's out of habit, because it doesn't fill you up. So I tell people, you know, as you make that conversion to cooking meals that consist of fruits and vegetables and, you know, meats, nuts, so on and so forth, you don't want to, for one, you should go on a consistent basis. Go to the grocery store once a week, buy what you need for the upcoming week, and then do what you can to use up what you have.

MARTIN: What else about how do you deal with the face that I just said, the ew, you know, I'm not eating, ew, that - what do you do about that?

Ms. KENDALL: Oh, my daughter - yeah. My daughter, once upon a time, she was good about the face. You know, she would what is this? What's this in my bowl? You know, and you kind of have to talk them through it. And what I do now really is while I'm cooking, I invite my daughter into the kitchen. And, you know, now she's really nosey. She always wants to know what's going on. But it was a long, it was a struggle getting her there.

So I pick up like for - we were talking about Brussels sprouts. If I'm cooking with Brussels sprouts, I'll pick one up and I'll go mm, this is so good and I'll bite into it. And then she'll come up to me like, you know, you treat it like it's chocolate. And she comes up to me and she's like, what you eating? Some Brussels sprouts. You want to taste it? It's really good. Sure, I'll taste it.

And then I basically tell her, this is good. You know, I'm not giving her the option to say that's nasty. No, I'm telling you, this is good. You're eating it for dinner, because I bought it. And she'll try it and then she'll go, I like Brussels sprout and she'll wander off out of the kitchen, and I'll be, like, thank God.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: You lost me on the Brussels sprouts. I'm sorry.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: I am a Brussels sprout-free zone.

Ms. GOLDFARB: Have you tried some with...

Ms. KENDALL: Oh, I've got to cook for you. That's all that means.

MARTIN: I was going to say, if either of you wants to come over and bring me some.

Ms. GOLDFARB: I will be glad to.

Ms. KENDALL: I've got you covered.

MARTIN: Thank you. Aracely, what are some of your helpful tips for avoiding the face? And also, you know, not spending too much, but getting our food on the table?

Ms. PANAMENO: So I think that what helped me a great deal is, you know, we've talked in this program, I'm an immigrant born in El Salvador. So the food supply - and Aviva alluded to it in a different way already. So the food supply that's available to you and what is seasonal is very important. And for me, it created a habit of legumes, and vegetables and fruit and seafood and a little bit of chicken and very little meat, because El Salvador is not a cattle country.

But one of the things that has been so that translated for me as a mother, right? So it became important for me. Not only that, but in my own life experience, I am healthier when I eat better. Every time I have strayed, I've gone astray and I've eaten other things, my body doesn't react well. And so, therefore, I come back to what I know is good, and it's that wholesome, healthy eating.

MARTIN: Do you do the whole menu thing once a week, too? Shop once.

Ms. PANAMENO: I do. I do.

MARTIN: OK.

Ms. PANAMENO: I shop once, and I involve my daughter. So all of the things that have been said already, making it a family experience.

But one of the other things in terms of the face issue, I negotiated with her. There are many things that my daughter didn't like, including strawberries, believe it or not. I was, like, you're a freak.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. PANAMENO: She didn't like strawberries. Now she loves them. But I negotiated with her. And so I said there are no prohibitions. You're allowed to have a little something, a little reward, a little sweet something on the plate, just not make it that - the center of attention. So, if you eat a balanced meal, you're entitled to have this little bit of reward. And so for me, it has always been preaching moderation is good. And so eat your greens, eat your reds, you know, all of the colors on the plate, and you'll be fine. And then you can have...

MARTIN: All the colors.

Ms. PANAMENO: Yeah. Because the more colorful, you know, in terms of fresh vegetables and fruits, it was better.

MARTIN: Okay. Erika, final thought from you? So avoid the waste. Shop once. Include the little person. Anything else?

Ms. KENDALL: Mm-hmm. I would just say, as far as tips for living inexpensively and healthily, I would have to say, you know, buying things in bulk. Like she said, making sure that you're getting things as they're in season. You know, I'm in Florida, so right now, oranges and grapefruit are plentiful for me. I make wide use of them because they're very expensive. You know, buying things in season. Being resourceful. Collect recipes. Read them. Create a set of staple dishes. So if you come home at 5:50 and, you know, everybody wants to eat at 6 o'clock, you know, your staple dish. My staple dish, I make awesome stir fry. I can buy a bag of frozen vegetables. I keep them stacked in the freezer. Some frozen vegetables, some rice. A little bit of a sauce on top...

MARTIN: Okay.

Ms. KENDALL: You know, create a staple dish. You can have it done in 15 minutes, and everyone's happy and full.

MARTIN: Okay. Sounds perfect. Aviva, what's your staple? Got one, if we have time enough?

Ms. GOLDFARB: I think ours is probably burritos. But I think it's a great idea to keep your freezer stocked with a few of those things, and we love healthy burritos.

MARTIN: All right. Burritos are good. That's good. I don't have one. I need to get one. You're going to come over and teach me.

Ms. GOLDFARB: Absolutely.

MARTIN: All right. Aviva Goldfarb is the author of the book cookbook "The Six O'Clock Scramble." She was with us in our Washington, D.C. studio, along with our regular mom, Aracely Panameno. And with us from Miami, Erika Kendall. She's the author of the blog, "A Black Girl's Guide to Weight Loss. She was with us from member station WLRN in Miami.

Thanks, moms.

Ms. GOLDFARB: Thank you.

Ms. PANAMENO: Thank you.

Ms. KENDALL: Thank you.

(Soundbite of music)

MARTIN: And that's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE, from NPR News. Let's talk more tomorrow.

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