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Instead of Fixing Dinner, FEX it!

Eating Wisely by Exchanging Food with Your Friends on a Regular Basis

Inbal Bahar
From New Beginnings, Vol. 26 No. 2, 2009, pp. 44-45

I try to make sure my family eats healthy food most of the time. My husband and I have been vegetarians for years and with two little ones (two and four years old) it's a bit of a challenge to make sure everyone gets their daily protein, veggies, and milk. We have found ourselves spending an incredible amount of time cooking fresh meals day after day. Just cutting vegetables seems to take forever.

Moreover, my children are still young enough that they have their "own" food. We offer them "our" food all the time, of course, but it is not always welcomed on their plates. And so, we end up making more elaborate, spicy dishes for us and very plain tofu and veggies for them. To sum it up -- cooking a healthy diet for everyone was becoming a challenge and sometimes even a burden.

Two years ago, during the December holiday season, I noticed that we "potlucked" a lot, or just went over to friends for meals. Suddenly I noticed that we weren't cooking as much, but still eating well. I was thinking about it one night while lying in bed. And then it hit me. Exchanging food with friends on a regular basis is the answer to spending less time cooking but still eating a healthy diet! I shared this idea with two friends, who have children close in age to ours, and they were very enthusiastic.

We worked it out so that each family is assigned one day of the week (Mondays, Wednesdays, or Fridays), makes a main dish on that day, and delivers it to the other two families before supper time. So, for example, if I make red lentil lasagna on a Monday, I triple my recipe and make three lasagne, then deliver the food to the other two families. On Wednesdays and Fridays, the other two families do the same and bring a main dish for supper to me. I end up cooking on just one of those days, sharing the food, and getting two other wonderful suppers I didn't need to work for. What a genius! How did I not think of this earlier?

What we got out of this food exchange (or FEX) was homemade, nutritious, and diverse "adult" food, (available for the children, too). I find that this FEX arrangement works best for families who are at a similar stage in life and are like-minded in their food philosophy. We are a vegetarian family with two little children and no close family in the area; therefore, we mostly depend on our friends for help. Our food philosophy is to care about what we eat and the way it is being prepared. I try to use organic vegetables and whole grains as much as I can, and would like the people who cook for my family to try to do the same. So, my ideal partners for this food exchange are families who are fully or semi-vegetarian, with children, who can benefit from this kind of support.

To make sure our FEX works smoothly, we email each other on "our" day and let the others know what we are making and if we advise them to prepare a salad or a grain (rice or couscous, for example) to go with the main dish.

I think our FEX is a simple and elegant idea for families who like to eat home cooked meals without spending a lot of time making them. It only works, however, if all the families are committed, reliable, and really enjoy this arrangement. FEX made my life easier. Maybe it can make yours easier, too. Give it a try!

African Stew

made by Arthur Sullivan from Stepaniak, J. and Melina, V. Raising Vegetarian Children: A Guide to Good Health and Family Harmony 2002, McGraw-Hill Companies.

Ingredients

1 onion
4 C vegetable stock
2 sweet potatoes
1 can chick peas
1 C rice
salt & pepper
¼ C peanut butter
2 C kale
2 T lemon juice

Instructions

1. Saute some diced onion.

2. Add 4 cups vegetable stock, 2 cups diced sweet potato, 1 can of chick peas, a cup of uncooked rice and salt and pepper to taste.

3. Bring to the boil and then simmer until rice is cooked (approximately 40 minutes). Remove ¼ cup of hot liquid from the stew and mix with ¼ cup of peanut butter; then mix that back into the stew.

4. Add in 2 cups of washed and chopped kale (or other green leafy vegetable) and 2 T lemon juice. Stir to reduce kale, then remove from heat.

Yields: 4 servings.


Chris's Tomato, Chick Pea, and Lentil Curry on Basmati Rice

made by Chris Goodall

Ingredients

2 cans diced tomatoes with liquid
1-2 cans chick peas, drained and rinsed
2 onions
2 garlic cloves (optional)
1 package of extra firm tofu, cubed
¼ C red lentils (or canned lentils, rinsed)
2 dollops of curry paste (add to taste)
1 bag of spinach, stems removed and washed well

Instructions

1. Chop onion and garlic and fry with a bit of olive oil until golden. (Open cans of tomatoes and chick peas while you wait.)

2. Add curry paste and let the spices kick into action (about 30-45 seconds).

3. Add tomatoes with liquid and the rinsed chick peas into the pot. Bring to a boil.

4. Add cubed tofu and red lentils, reduce heat, and let simmer for at least 30 minutes.

5. Add spinach and let cook until wilted (about five more minutes).

Serve on freshly cooked basmati rice (a cup per person).

This recipe can easily be altered to taste. Add more or fewer legumes, omit the tofu, and adjust the curry paste to your liking. This recipe doubles well and is always a hit at pot lucks!

Yields: 6 hearty servings.

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