Why I am banned from grocery shopping

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I wonder why it is that certain subjects get blogged about by many people at the same time. Today there seem to be a few of us thinking about our grocery shopping experiences; what exciting lives we do lead.

My husband banned me from grocery shopping soon after we got married. He was shocked to discover that I bought only what I felt like eating at the time, with no thought for the future including the next day. I would wander up and down the aisles, filling my trolley with whatever caught my eye and looked tasty. I never planned meals and rarely bought basic ingredients. Most appalling of all in his eyes, I did not consider cheaper brands or stock up on items when they were on special offer.

I saw no problem with eating breakfast cereal for dinner, toast topped with whatever I happened to find in my cupboards, and bananas. I always bought bananas. My cupboards usually contained a variety of boxed and tinned goods, coffee and packets of biscuits. When I ran out of food I would go shopping again. Normally I went because I was hungry; apparently this is not a good idea.

Occasionally I would invite friends round for dinner. On these rare occasions I would hunt out a recipe and hit the supermarket with a list of  ingredients, many of which I had never heard of before. I was always trying to cook a dish for the first time when I was feeding somebody else, with varying success. As my flat had an ancient oven that belched smoke (I wasn’t yet aware that they should be cleaned occasionally) the suggested cooking temperature did not always produce the expected results. As far as I am aware, I have yet to poison a dinner guest.

My husband assumed that I would know how to shop and cook, I have no idea why. The first meal I fed him was a slice of pizza that I found lurking in the freezer section of my fridge, a baked potato and some tinned vegetables; impressive huh? I had no interest in acquiring cookery skills when I lived with my parents so left home knowing how to scramble an egg and toast cheese but little else. As a student I ate a lot of bread products and those ubiquitous bananas; obviously I survived. As I have been trying to lose weight since I was sixteen, food was my enemy and the less I had to do with it the better.

My husband can cook. In the early years of our marriage, when we were both working full time, he cooked at least as much as I did. When the kids came along though, and I became a stay at home mum, I was required to take on the role of family food provider. Now that I had babies to feed I started thinking about balance and nutrition. Too many mushy bananas are not good to deal with when processed by nappy wearers.

My husband still did not trust me to do the grocery shopping though. During the baby years I struggled to leave the house due to the need to shower and put on clothes. Also, I did not have a car. I would give my husband a list of food to buy and he would pick up provisions when he was out and about. This arrangement worked fine for both of us.

And then all the big supermarkets started to introduce on line ordering with a home delivery service. For this to work I had to plan out meals a fortnight in advance and let my husband know exactly what I needed. He would set up the order and I would stay in to accept the crates of groceries and put the food away. Suddenly I was organised with a rolling fortnightly menu that rarely changed; how boring this felt.

I sometimes miss those early dinners of a bag of cookies from the in store bakery and a banana eaten in front of the TV. I am still constantly trying to lose weight. If any kids are reading this, don’t be fooled into thinking you get to do what you want when you grow up. My husband may have killed my ability to be impulsive with his practical and efficient ideas, but it is my teenagers who nag me about my continuing inclination to adopt odd eating habits. I may now be able to produce a variety of nutritious meals from scratch each evening, but the only time that I truly enjoy my food is when the preparation has been taken on by somebody else.

Eating out

After considering our options for the second week of my husband’s fortnight long break from work, we decided to stay at home but go out and about from there. The weather had turned wet and my teenage boys, being overly attached to their electronic entertainments, reluctant to commit to any ideas we suggested for days away. Add to this mix my own minor health issues and we have ended up spending the week fairly quietly. We have, however, managed to eat out locally on a couple of evenings.

I have developed a dislike of cooking so a meal out is a real treat, although eating out with teenagers can also be a challenge. By checking menus beforehand we can select a venue that offers the type of food that they are likely to be willing to try, but there are no guarantees that they will show any sort of enjoyment of the experience. I find this apparent sense of entitlement frustrating. I mean, what do I expect, gratitude?

Having determined that we would regard this week at home as a holiday, and treat ourselves accordingly, we were keen to try out some new venues. All too often we return to favourite places as we wish to celebrate an occasion and do not wish to risk disappointment over a meal that is intended to be a treat. We gain a great deal of enjoyment from eating good food but the cost of going out has made this an indulgence, albeit one that we have been allowing ourselves to do more in recent months than for many years.

Our first foray was earlier in the week when I hobbled down the tree lined drive to the Bowood Hotel to eat at their Brasserie in the company of my little family. I thought that the casual menu would suit my boys and the food did not disappoint. Service was excellent and the atmosphere relaxed and convivial; it should have been a very pleasant evening.

However, for whatever reason, my boys decided to squabble. Nothing loud or embarrassing, just jibes and unkind comments thrown at each other over the course of the evening that tarnished my enjoyment. My husband and I agreed that, if they considered this behaviour acceptable during a supposed treat, then we would leave them at home next time.

And that is what we did. Last night we decided to try out The Bridge Brasserie, a venue that had been recommended to us but which we had yet to explore for ourselves. Leaving the boys to find their own entertainments, we caught a bus into town and spent a very enjoyable few hours indulging in what turned out to be delicious and well prepared food. Service was excellent and the various dishes presented in a timely and attractive manner. I do not like being rushed when eating, but here the waiters were attentive enough to note when we were ready to move on without hovering. The ambiance of the place was friendly yet discreet; it was a very enjoyable experience.

We like the current fad adopted by good restaurants  of small portions, artfully presented, combining interesting flavours that complement each item of food on the plate. I have read reviews of other places that suggest some patrons feel short changed when charged a large tariff for a small amount of food; we prefer flavour to quantity.

The Bridge Brasserie certainly ticked all boxes for taste and presentation, but nobody could complain about portion size. This generosity did not detract from the deliciousness, merely surprised us. I could not finish my main course and skipped pudding to avoid spoiling the pleasure by overeating.

My husband would have liked to have seen a little more variety in some of the wine recommendations but, mindful of the pricing structure and clientele at which the establishment is aimed, enjoyed the drinks offered with each course. I was happy with my well chilled and tonic heavy G&T (just as I like it) followed by a fruity white wine that held up to the deliciousness of the perfectly cooked lamb.

Just as, after recent experiences, we wonder how we can provide a family holiday away from home that will suit my teenage boys, so my husband and I are now wondering at the wisdom of including them in meals out. It is important that, as parents, we expose them to different situations to enable them to pick up on social cues and learn acceptable behaviour. It is also important that we, as adults, are allowed to enjoy the experiences ourselves.

I need to mull over the best way to proceed as regards balancing family time with the enjoyment of expensive experiences, and to discuss with my boys why they sometimes behave as they do. Perhaps all we need are ground rules for participation. In the meantime, The Bridge will be added to our list of places worth considering for celebratory nights out. We will undoubtedly return.

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Not a domestic goddess

I dislike cooking. I used to take a certain satisfaction in planning, preparing and producing a meal, but that was before I was expected to do so several times a day, every day. From talking to friends I don’t believe that my family are unusual in their fussy fads, but they still drive me mad. I derive no satisfaction from feeding the complainers. It is a repetitive chore.

My husband is a connoisseur. When he eats out he prefers to pay for quality over quantity. He looks for taste, presentation and ambience in a restaurant. He will choose carefully and savour each dish. He looks for variety and imaginative flavours presented with care and precision. He never complains about the food that I put in front of him; he knows that, as an adult, if he expressed dissatisfaction then I would expect him to sort himself out. He vacuums up his meal so quickly I wonder if he bothers to taste what is going down. It serves a purpose but is not enjoyed.

My daughter wishes to be a vegetarian but is so selective in the vegetables that she will eat that this is impractical. I cook an even mix of carnivorous and vegetarian dishes each week and all are expected to partake. I will not accept a diet of pizza and pasta dressed basically. Whilst she lives at home she is expected to eat what is put down in front of her. She does so with bad grace.

My elder son wishes to eat meat in large quantities and little else. Like his father, he enjoys flavoursome dishes that offer variety. He has expensive tastes and complains bitterly about the boring food that I cook. Although I offer Indian, Chinese and Italian variations regularly he will still groan each time an English dish is presented. If the vegetables are not drowned in a sauce then he struggles to eat them.

My younger son has never outgrown his love of kiddie food. He dislikes strong flavours, sauces of any kind (other than ketchup!) and flatly refuses to eat stews, soups or salads. He would happily live on burgers, sausages, chips, pasta and pizza. If I place food that he dislikes in front of him then he will pick at it and then declare himself full, rubbing at his face as if exhausted. I know that he will be snacking on junk later.

I adore any food that I have not cooked myself; I find our daily meals tasteless. The time I have spent preparing them, knowing that over half the recipients will either complain or eat without noticing, makes the whole exercise one of necessity rather than enjoyment. I gain no satisfaction from this chore.

Of course I have tried varying our menu, experimenting with dishes in an attempt to find new meals that we can all enjoy. These are met with suspicion and are generally rejected, often unfinished. The individual members of my family have tastes that vary too radically to allow much variation from the rolling fortnightly menu that has evolved from the few successes that I have discovered over the years. Each member of my family looks forward to certain meals and will complain if they do not appear as expected.

I refuse to produce different dishes on a given night. I will vary the menu, allow for preferences and avoid any food stuff that is hated. I will not cook an entirely different meal for each person. I bake less than I once did because of failures being mocked and my skill (or lack) derided. Feedback is noted and action taken; this has led us to the current situation where I find meal production such a chore.

When we first got married, my husband and I would share the cooking. It is now rare for him to help out. I don’t blame him; it is a time consuming and thankless task. Of course, it must be done. As the stay at home mum it is my job to do it; I do not dispute that.

It would be pleasing if, from time to time, someone else did the clearing away and washing up after a meal. That too is my job. Even when I am not at home to eat, rare though this may be, I will return to find the pots and dishes that I left prepared for the family meal sitting around used and unwashed. The dishwasher is my friend; I suspect I am the only one in the house who knows how to use it.

Eating out is such a treat. It can be hard to find a venue that offers a wide enough variety of dishes to satisfy everyone, but it can be done. And how I love being able to savour a meal and then walk away from the resulting debris. Alas the cost makes this impractical too often. Perhaps it is as well to keep it special.

I cook largely from scratch using fresh and healthy ingredients. However much my family may complain, at least I can be satisfied that they are eating well; I have allowed the current situation to develop because I will not compromise on this. I will not use ready meals or takeaways on a regular basis and I insist on the consumption of a variety of vegetables and fruit each day. My children have been brought up to eat what is put in front of them. If their complaints bring me down then I may comfort myself with the fact that at least the food is eaten. Perhaps I expect too much in asking that they do not state their views so bluntly in their own home.

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Staying healthy

I have a friend who believes that those who can afford to have a duty to buy the best quality meat and organic vegetables that they can find to encourage production of these types of food stuffs. This same friend takes the most varied cocktail of drugs of anyone I know in an attempt to keep herself as healthy as possible. She has many health issues and spends a great amount of her time dealing with these. She and I do not see eye to eye on many of her theories around consumption and it’s effects on the human body.

I think that our bodies are amazing. To survive we must eat and breath yet, in our modern world, both our food and our air are polluted. Thankfully we have inbuilt systems for detoxification and we seem to be able to cope with the small quantities of poison that we consume or inhale. We can assist this process by exercising regularly and by keeping our bodies well hydrated. Beyond this, a bit of common sense in what we consume seems to be enough to keep most people in a state of reasonable health.

I am not a good cook. I don’t enjoy preparing food and the meals that I produce tend to be fairly bland. This is partly down to my lack of confidence and skill in this area, and partly down to the varied tastes of my family which limits what we can eat. One of my sons likes meat and strong flavours, dislikes a wide range of vegetables, and gets bored being fed the same thing too often; my other son dislikes strong flavours and likes to know what he is eating so is often unwilling to try anything new; my daughter dislikes fish, meat, certain vegetables and salad. Trying to please everyone is a challenge as I am not willing to produce different meals at one sitting.

I use a lot of fresh ingredients and cook mainly from scratch. I do use some jars of sauce for flavour and a few of my daughters vegetarian alternatives come from a frozen packet, but most of what we eat contains only basic, recognisable foodstuffs that I have chosen and added. I do not concern myself with brands unless there is a notable difference in taste. As much of the food is mixed up together in the cooking anyway, I buy what is on offer.

The recent horse meat scandal did not disturb me too much as horse meat is probably better for us than much of the offal that goes into food from other animals. It is always a concern to hear that creatures reared for consumption are fed a variety of chemicals to promote easy health and fast weight gain, but the chemical fertilizers and sprays that promote growth in vegetables are already in the human food chain through animal feedstuffs. We are told that organic vegetables are no better for our health than the ordinary, mass produced variety and that vegetarian alternatives to meat are as full of flavourings and additives as a cheap burger or sausage. I do not dispute that these things are bad for us, only that we have to eat something and the alternatives may not actually be that much better.

What we can do if we wish to stay healthy is to exercise more. Physical exercise will make our vital organs function more efficiently, speed up digestion and help our bodies to flush the harmful chemicals out. My children may not appreciate that I send them to school on the bus rather than  driving them, which would be much cheaper, but the required walk to the bus stop and then on to school and back will help to keep them healthy (complaints about sore backs due to heavy bags of books notwithstanding).

I am fascinated by the scientific studies that have found links between what we think about our health and how healthy we are. In certain situations, participants in studies have been given placebos but told it is a curing drug and have subsequently been cured. It is obvious that not all illness can be cured in this way, but I believe it shows that attitude is vital for good health. There are times when we are ill and our bodies tell us that we need to rest; allowing a time of rest and recovery is sensible and important. However, I also believe that we can think ourselves more ill than we are. There seem to be a lot of people who, for no apparent reason, seem to come down with every bug and virus going. There are others who manage to avoid most minor illnesses or who can just keep going through the sniffles and aches. I cannot put myself inside anyone else’s head to know how they feel, but I do wonder if some are more prone to illness than others or if they just believe that they are less healthy.

I have never been one to use the mass of antiseptic sprays and wipes that are promoted for hygiene in the home apart from in the bathrooms. I think this worries my friend. She disinfects surfaces with fervour, replaces scratched items which may harbour bacteria and does all in her power to keep dirt from her home. I have a much more relaxed attitude to these things. A bit of hot water and soap plus a sensible attitude to hand washing does me. If we ingest a bit of dirt our immune systems will be strengthened. Bacteria can fight infection as well as cause it. I would rather not cover the surfaces of my kitchen with yet more chemicals.

I realise that it is easy for me to have a fairly laissez faire attitude to food and hygiene when I have the good fortune to have a robust and healthy family. Good health should never be taken for granted. Time spent working to maintain it may not always be fun, but is a worthwhile investment. I should probably also invest a bit more time in improving my cooking skills.

The Healthy Eating Pyramid, from the Harvard S...