A Q&A With One Smart Mama

On a recent Oldways Culinaria in Turkey we were lucky enough to have Rosalyn Hoffman (affectionately known as Roz) join us on this wonderful journey.  Now, come to find out Roz not only lives in our Oldways neighborhood but she is a serious foodie and an author.  Her newest book, Smart Mama Smart Money: Raising Happy Healthy Kids Without Breaking the Bank, goes way beyond food and health, from penny saving strategies pertaining to second hand stores to when to be second in line!  She even has a Smart Mama Mantra and Manifesto! So once everyone returned from their travels we knew a Q&A was a must.


OLDWAYS:  Can you share with our readers a bit about yourself and the idea behind your book, Smart Mama Smart Money?
ROZ:  I’m a mom, a cook, and a writer. 

I spent my early career in retailing and marketing and was fortunate to travel the world in search of the best (which is not synonymous with most expensive) wares and foods. What I learned was that it doesn’t take oodles of dough to live a full and happy life. This was the genesis for my first book, Bitches on a Budget. In it I show how to find the best deals in the marketplace, how take advantage of the free pleasures life has to offer, and how the little luxuries (like a great cup of George Howell’s Kenyan coffee) can make anyone happy.

After raising two wonderful daughters, it was natural to turn my attention to a book just for moms.  I can remember being overwhelmed by all the decisions parenting presented: Which afterschool activity? What camp? What did they need before school started? When to talk about money, and how? How to manage online time? How to get a healthy dinner on the table? How to teach them to separate their needs from their wants?

I wanted to write a book for the modern mom that was fun to read, chatty, and benefited from my experiences (good and bad!). Smart Mama, Smart Money: Raising Happy Healthy Kids Without Breaking the Bank is that book. It’s both a guide for finding what you and your family need and an advice book on how to manage the competing messages and demands on your family’s time and money. Because, in today’s world, keeping in mind what you value is as important as finding values.

OLDWAYS:  We love your philosophy on the foundations of a healthy diet being wallet friendly.  Why do you think there is such a barrier to people understanding the message that healthy can be, and is, affordable?
ROZ:  I’m not sure why people think that eating healthy food is expensive. Legumes, grains, in -season fruits and veggies (out of season frozen) are all inexpensive ingredients. While organic and ethically raised meats are pricier than CAFO products, a healthy diet uses them only as a side dish and not the main event for a meal. Water is free. Soda costs money for nothing more than empty calories.

In the book I offer tips on how to shop the stores for the best bargains and remind you that a smart shopper is a flexible shopper. Buy seasonally and on sale. If chicken thighs are on special, sub them in your recipe for the pricier breast. I think that healthy eating may require a little more planning and prep work in the kitchen: soaking beans overnight; washing and peeling veggies; cooking and cleaning, but I honestly can’t see how anyone can argue it’s more expensive! (See below for advice on how to get the entire family involved.)

OLDWAYS:  In your book you talk a lot about eating whole grains and how important they are to a healthy diet (not to mention affordable!).  You clearly believe in feeding your family whole grains. Do you have any recommendations or pointers for families just boarding the whole grain train?
ROZ:  To save time and money, I buy whole grains in bulk and store them in the refrigerator.  The biggest challenge I’ve found is that my family’s favorite whole grains are not quick cooking.  So, I’ll soak them overnight or make a big batch ahead of time and use them in different forms through the week.  For example, I just made a big pot of wheat berries and used them as a main course at dinner dressed with olive oil, lemon juice, shaved parmesan cheese and fresh herbs from my garden. The next morning for breakfast I mixed the cooked wheat berries in to a pan of freshly sautéed veggies (peppers, onions, zucchini and tomatoes) and finished it off with poached eggs. As the week went on I used the wheat berries as a side dish with a salad and freshly grilled fish. 

When I’m cooking I always invite my kids into ‘my lab’. We experiment with different ingredients and tastes as we create new dishes. Think about cooking up different whole grains instead of the usual spaghetti and making up new sauces with your kids. It’s a great way to get them on the train.

OLDWAYS:  At Oldways, we have always talked about the importance of enjoying meals with others and today, studies actually show that family meals bring families closer. Understanding that it is not easy for everyone to put together a successful family meal, we love your recommendations for ways to make mealtime a family affair.  Can you talk a bit about what that entails?
ROZ:  I’m so glad you asked this question!  I have an entire section in the book devoted to just this topic and with permission from my publisher here’s a short excerpt:

In the Food Business Everyone Has a Job
"It’s your little tot’s job to play, your middle schooler’s job to take out the trash, your job to bring home the bacon. Everyone in a family has work to do. Since you’re in charge of this army (is the power getting to your head yet?), it’s your responsibility to make a meal plan for your troops to execute.

This will require a little planning and family discussion, which are good for your kids, teaching them real skills and a sense of responsibility. And which are good for you, too, since you’ll get real help, making it possible to sit down together for family mealtime.

Assemble the draftees and compile a list of food-related chores. Our recommendation is that you assign chores on a rotating schedule. One week dishwasher unloading, one week dishwashing, one week taking out the garbage and composting. If you’ve planted a victory garden, assign weeding, watering, and harvesting duties.

Cooking together is fun and creative. Make it part of your Sunday routine. Gather your clan and cook for the week ahead. It will save you money; it will save you time; and, believe us, when your kids are the authors of a meal, you’re likely to eliminate the “I don’t like this” whine (which, as you know, sends you to the real wine). Wash and prepare all those fresh veggies, stew up a pot of chili, make a lasagna, bake a cake, concoct granola and trail mix. Crank up the music, cook to a favorite cooking show, watch the football game. Just make it fun.

Let your kids learn how to barter. If one particularly hates unloading and doesn’t mind washing, or if one has a particularly heavy homework schedule or a game after school, let them negotiate a trade.

Of course, since you’re a mom, you’ll end up letting them off the hook more often than not, but you’re teaching them valuable lessons: planning, negotiating, thinking about more than just themselves."

OLDWAYS:  Any other “smart mama” strategies you think our readers would find helpful?
ROZ:  When it comes to eating and food, a smart mom is a patient mom. Kids tastes change. One day they can’t get enough fresh broccoli and carrots and the next day they inform you they never, ever liked broccoli and carrots. Keep trying. Offer food neutrally. Offer them fresh whole foods. Keep the junk out of your daily offering, but don’t banish it completely.

In Smart Mama, Smart Money I relate this experience from my own childhood that informs my philosophy about kids and food:  My mom was a terrific old-fashioned cook. Her mother grew up on a dairy farm and her dad owned a restaurant. She made simple food from fresh ingredients. We did not have very much money and there were five kids. All we ever begged for were TV dinners. They were way too expensive to feed five mouths on a regular basis, but on rare occasion she caved and bought them, then she would crinkle her nose in distaste when asked why she wasn’t joining us in our grizzled chicken, grey pea and cardboard potato feast. While we loved those seldom served Swanson dinners, we grew up knowing the difference between delicious ‘real’ food and occasional junk food.

As my kids grew up I kept a ‘junk’ drawer.  On occasion I’d have to remind them to lay off right before dinner or that they were over-indulging, but more often than not I ended up throwing away old candy bars and chips.  It was their sugar-deprived junk food craving friends who would attack the drawer when they visited.  The rest of the kitchen was filled with ‘good’ food: fruits, veggies, home baked treats.

Today, they’re in their twenties and both love to cook, bake and crinkle their noses up, just like my mom, at the thought of processed junk!

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