When I entered 5th grade, I was finally granted the privilege of staying home alone after school. In the first couple of weeks, I would get home, throw my backpack on the couch and park in front of the TV. It was bliss. The only thing was, I found myself counting the minutes until my mom got home because, frankly, I was starving.
You see, at 11 years old I was still completely dependent on my mommy to feed me. It never occurred to me to help myself to what was in the kitchen. In my defense, my household was never one for snack food. The likes of sugary Gushers, cheesy puffs and “soft-baked” Chips Ahoy did not exist in my house. For us, a snack food was carrot sticks, berries and maybe a fruit leather if you were lucky (the wholesome, organic cousin of the Fruit Roll Up).
One particularly hungry afternoon when my mom came through the door, I told her that if I had waited one minute longer, my stomach was going to eat itself.
She looked at me, and most likely thought to herself how much she wanted to slap me, but outwardly, my patient, happy-go-lucky mother offered up some seemingly obvious advice.
She said, “You know Stacey, you can make your own food when you come home.”
What a foreign concept. Make my own food? What would I make? I don’t know how to cook. I eat what you put in front of me, Mom.
What followed was my first lesson in self-reliability, but also in making snacks rather than pouring them out of a bag. Mom lead me to the kitchen and showed me the most basic of cooking techniques. A sweet potato – stick it in the microwave for 15 minutes, apply a few slices of butter, cinnamon and brown sugar and you’ve got a side dish. An apple – slice it up and add natural peanut butter and you’ve got a sweet treat. Cucumber – chop it up in to thin slices along with Swiss cheese and place it atop whole grain bread cut into thin strips, and Tada! Tin Soldier Sandwiches! (An important note about the soldier reference is that my mom is British)
It’s times like these when I realize how much I appreciate my mom’s effortless, but insightful, advice. You see, she didn’t consider her way of eating “health food.” She just considered it food. She says it has something to do with her British upbringing and the fact that she grew up eating food that was “farm to table” before it was considered a thing.
I’m sure that was a big part of it. But I think she easily could have been swayed to embrace frozen meals and sodium-laden snacks when she came to America more than 30 years ago just as many others before her have been. But she didn’t. She just liked the taste of real food too much. I just thank God that I inherited that same gene.