Woot! It’s co-op day! Every Tuesday I’m like a kid in a candy store, only with fruit, veggies, and other awesome deliciousness! In honor of my giddy excitement to see what the week’s order will bring, let’s hear it for food-themed Tuesdays!

If you’re wondering, the answer is yes: I am totally one of those hyper-intensive food moms. Really a hyper-intensive all-around mom. Not the kind that follows kids around with de-germ-ifyer, but the kind that will spend hours trying to figure out how exactly to make a balanced diet that her kids (including the larger-than-life grown-up one) will actually eat. I remember growing up with stories about all the food my great-grandma would make for the family, and how she taught my grandma to cook, but the foods I remember eating as a kid are frozen pizza, macaroni-and-cheese, and Kids’ Cuisine frozen dinners. My mom was always really good about making sure that we had fruit and vegetables with dinner – I definitely remember trying to hide brussel sprouts under the napkin! But she was busy, worked long hours, and needed easy dinners.

I have felt compelled to relearn all my nutritional knowledge over the last few years. The springboard for this was when I was “spilling sugars” when I was pregnant with my youngest. We had awesome midwives, and they really helped me to understand what was going on as a long-term trend, rather than a temporary condition called “Gestational Diabetes.” In short, I had a really poor understanding of what parts of food become sugars. I mean, sugar is a sugar, but so are carbs, starches, etc. So our awesome cheap-food diet was working against me. For all those who have ever wondered how poor people can be overweight, it’s right there in the processed food box. Pasta, rice, white bread, potatoes, and on and on… Inexpensive foods you can find at the dollar store because your neighborhood lacks a real grocer. Pretty much all of those foods-in-a-box break down into sugar.

I also learned there are simple and complex carbs, some foods have a lower glycemic index, and ok so I’m still a bit fuzzy but I know to buy colored potatoes and whole grains. I also know if I can find the blue/purple potatoes, my daughter will eat them! I know to work in leafy greens, and try to use a variety of vegetable-colors. I also figured out that molasses is a good iron source, but I have a harder time keeping straight how to get the kids calcium and iron but not together…

It’s not as simple as avoiding high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) in favor of more “natural” sugars either. While the jury is still out on the effects of HFCS compared to cane or beet sugar, I think that a survey of the nutritional info on the side of our food packaging suggests at least one certainty: we put sugar in everything, in large quantities, a lot. Soda may use HFCS instead of cane sugar, but we also started drinking cases of soda each week, and a lot of other sweetened foods as well. It takes crazy amounts of work to find food that doesn’t break down in some fashion to sugars. And by “crazy amounts of work” I mean the easiest, most consistent way has been to just prepare our meals from scratch.

*GASP* (Yeah, “from scratch” is the crazy part.)

But I make a mean spelt pizza. And some other stuff, although I almost never start out with a recipe. I have basic categories that I fill with appropriate food. My kids will eat fruit and dairy all day long, so dinners are protein and veggies, and maybe some decorative flavoring also. And it’s working. My daughter knows she has to eat certain kinds of food to fill out her diet, to turn food into energy she can use. When she came home from school upset because someone called her fat (!!!) (also, she’s a freaking string bean – I’ve worried about her being underweight since she was a baby) we talked about what it means to be healthy, how you can be overweight OR underweight, and neither is healthy. As we talked about what foods are healthy foods, I realized: she has no conception of any other dietary practices. She doesn’t see commercials. She knows she likes Pop-Tarts but can’t have them, but all those other cereal-candies aren’t even on her radar! You have to realize, this is the same kid who ate fast food three nights a week when I was an undergrad and didn’t know what else to do; she doesn’t ask for McNuggets anymore. We’ve come really far, and I’m really, really excited about it. But it has been a journey.

The good news is that nutrition is a really good way to direct my neurotic tendencies in a way that benefits my family without overwhelming them. They just get to eat really good food. Except for last night – it turns out that the purpleness of cabbage does not compensate for the vegetableness of cabbage, at least in my daughter’s opinion.