Sunday, February 21, 2010

The 4th P: Putting a Support System in Place

In the past, I’ve written about the 4 P’s of Successful Family Meals: prioritizing, planning, putting together a support system and preparation techniques. In my articles on the importance of family meals, I put much emphasis on how our families benefit when we make family meals a priority. In my monthly Kitchen Issue newsletter, I give tips for planning and efficient, time-saving preparation techniques. But I have yet to give the 4th P, putting together a support system, as much attention in my writings.

Perhaps it is because this may be the most difficult “P” to achieve. By definition, it is not something you can do entirely on your own. In our modern American society, we generally don’t have support systems for family meals that are easily accessible. Most of us do not live close enough to extended family members to make sharing meal duties a realistic option. We usually feel that we have to take care of it all meal-related responsibilities by ourselves.

I know it isn’t easy, but I encourage you to think outside of the box a little. First, look within your own family. Often it falls on the mom’s shoulders to take care of all aspects of meal preparation. Some moms enjoy and cherish their role as chief meal organizer and preparer and feel little if any stress. However, if you are a mom feeling stressed that she has to do it all alone, examine which tasks might be shared with others in your family. Perhaps your partner can do some of the shopping or meal preparation. If you feel like they won’t do it as well as you, you might have to let go of some of your expectations. The goal is to reduce your stress and get a decent meal on the table; it doesn’t have to be perfect. Further, if you never think to ask for help, others may never consider on their own that you’d welcome their help.

I am fortunate enough to have a 12 year old daughter who enjoys helping out in the kitchen. As she’s gotten older, I’ve been able to turn over more of my cooking tasks to her. She has developed safe knife skills and is comfortable at the stove. It is a huge blessing to me to have her help out. Are your children potential helpers? They may not yet be old enough yet to effectively offer help, but start training them now and some day they will be.

Next, look outside your immediate family. As I’ve shared before, my neighbor and I used to cook for each other’s families one night a week. It was a big relief to have just the one night off from having to plan and cook. Other possibilities could be to coordinate with other moms you may know ~ from work, from your child’s school, from your neighborhood~ and form a cooperative where each family provides a freezer-ready meal for all the other families in the group. What I love about this is that it not only reduces your individual meal burden, but it also increases a sense of community. And community and food go hand in hand.

As you consider going forward with any efforts to put together a support system for your family meals, understand that your needs and options will likely change over time. Right now the thought of your children offering concrete help might seem like a far-away dream, but that may change. Right now you may have a community of other moms who are willing to enter into a meal-sharing arrangement with you, but that may not always be the case as people move or change work responsibilities. The key is to be flexible and adaptable to the resources you have available in the present moment.

I’d love to hear from you about any creative ways you have built a support system for your family’s meals.

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