A couple of weeks ago when I launched my new blog, I began a series on how those REAL working class 50s homemakers that I grew up with managed to avoid things like morbid obesity that plague our post-modern lives. We began with how little things like walking could make such a difference. Today I want to look at the way that fast food and processed or ready meals have truly ‘Super-sized’ us.
Growing up in the 70s, we had most of the same fast food vices that are available today…McDonalds, Burger King, KFC when it still had a Colonel and was Kentucky Fried Chicken and Long John Silvers for fish. The thing was those were rare treats. By rare I mean once a month on payday. I do not remember ever having a single happy meal as a child.
Today whole families live on nothing but. In London the worst was the corner chicken and chips shop. You could get a box with two pieces of chicken or six wings and filled to the brim with greasy chips/french fries for two pounds. that would feed two or sometimes three small children so for five pounds a single mother could feed her whole brood. And clog their arteries.
I am not judging her because I remember every Tuesday night when the older kids were teens. I was a single working mother with four teenagers and a toddler. Del Taco ran a special on Tuesdays…3 tacos for $1. I could feed the whole family for $10. And I did.
What had begun in my childhood as a monthly treat had become for my kids a weekly ritual. And during one really stressful time an almost nightly one because I was simply too tired to cook. Oh, I tried. By batch cooking on the weekends and even having them all take turns cooking. But fast food had just become so convenient and cheap that it was almost too tempting.
And there was always that magic question…’Super-size it?’ With three growing teen boys who always seemed to be starving what was an extra fifty-cents? Of course, there had been no super-size when I was growing up. Yet we managed to fill our stomachs on just plain old regular size fries.
There was something else too that had not existed when I grew up. It was called…all-you-can-eat buffets. They are temptation itself. When the older kids were really little there was a Mexican restaurant called Panchos. It was an all-you-can-eat buffet and kids under 5 ate for free. For a while we could all go there for less than $10. It became a rite of passage when you went from the small green ‘free’ plates to the red ones that cost $1.99 (those were for children under 12).
So while those 50s families might have had greasy spoon diners and drive-ins, they simply did not face this level of temptation. Those were occasional treats…like an ice cream Sundae on Friday night. While fast food was being born, it was in its infancy and certainly not on every corner in town.
Something else that was not readily available was the TV dinner…ready meals…processed/pre-prepared food. Those too were new…and even more unpalatable than the ones we have today. I remember in those final days when it was just me and Nanny. Her arthritis was getting worse and it made lifting heavy iron skillets or boiling pots too much. We had those old fashioned TV dinners in the foil pans a couple of nights a week. The potatoes would still be frozen in the middle while the meat and veg were overcooked and dried out.
Today microwaves do make those things moderately more edible. And yes you can get ‘healthier’ options. Stores like Iceland in the UK make it affordable too…with a family sized lasagna for half the price that it would cost me to make it from scratch…and no prep time. Thing is…you have no control over what goes in it. As the scandal a couple of years ago over horse meat in ready meals demonstrates. (Funny thing was it was the posh meals and not the value ones from Iceland…go figure.)
Today it is just too easy and tempting after a long day of work or chasing the kids, school runs and soccer practice to use the drive-thru or just pop something pre-cooked into the microwave.
But there is a whole lot to be said for fresh ingredients that you cook yourself. It gives you the opportunity to reduce salts, hidden sugars and preservatives that are common in those ready meals. It may take a bit more of your time but batch cooking or even purchasing pre-sliced vegetables can make it more feasible.
Like I said on Mommy Monday, there is something to be said for sitting down as a family around the dinner table to good conversation and freshly prepared food made with love. I do believe it was one of the biggest things that kept those families healthier and happier. I hope you will give it a try this week with yours…we are.