“The sweet spot is finding food choices that are the most nourishing, sustainable, and convenient. And those things do exist, but it helps to start with radical forgiveness for yourself. I give my family a fair amount of fresh food, but we use packaged foods as well. And I totally approve of myself for that. So, setting the right expectation is important. And not thinking, ‘well, I haven’t done a good enough job on sustainability’ or ‘I haven’t done a good enough job on wellness.’ Because Moms do truly amazing work,” said Julia Collins, Entrepreneur, Activist and Sustainable Food Leader.
Over 3,500 parents, mostly Moms (97%) have participated in our research study since March of 2020. And in our recent survey wave, most want to embrace healthier habits. Including more than half (52%) who want to “eat differently” as part of their self-care routine. Food is big deal. It’s how we celebrate, honor cultural traditions, bond and refuel. And how we eat is also a critical part of managing health, for our families and ultimately, the planet.
But if you’re the one who cooks, cleans, and curates, then orchestrating meals consumes a lot of mental energy and time. And for most of us, lack of space on the calendar is the biggest barrier to changing habits. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Julia, an innovator in the sustainable food movement and industry, shares how she restored simplicity and joy to family meals.
Stay Clear on Your Why
Julia said, “When I was thinking about building my career in food, I always prioritized being in the place where food was happening.” Long before launching her first unicorn business, she started a food truck with her childhood friends.
She added, “So, those experiences were incredibly hands on. And after Business School, I even went to live on a water Buffalo ranch in the South of Italy to participate in life on the ranch.” As an industry leader, and someone who loves food after having kids, she learned to iterate her approach to meals.
Adjust the Plan
Overwhelmingly, Moms are in charge of all-things household. Often, that includes food. Whether you love to cook or just enjoy eating, the process to plan, prepare and accommodate family needs, can feel overwhelming.
Julia said, “In the beginning there was a period where I essentially created three meals every night for dinner. The pureed food for my son, then food for my husband, which centered around what I thought he might like, as somebody who eats meat. And then I would have a derivative version of that for myself, and it was really chaotic.”
To Drop the Scramble
Did you begin Motherhood with an idealized view of what would fit into each day? Okay, we all did. And that may have influenced your current feelings and processes. But we can step back and tweak the rhythm of our daily lives in any season.
Julia said, “You know 4:30 would come every day and I’d feel this intense pressure to get my son so, he wasn’t the last kid to get picked up. And at home all my children wanted was to just play with me. I was like, ‘I can’t play I’m cooking’ and trying to bring them into the cooking process doesn’t always work. So, between 4:30 and 5:30 was really a high-pressure time trying to get all of that done. And it took all the joy out of it.”
Revisit Your Expectations
Although you may have an established groove, if it’s not working, get clear about your values. Then, prioritizing how and where to focus your energy and time is easier. You can also renegotiate how food is handled, if you’re partnered. Or, potentially bring in other resources to help.
Julia explained, “In addition to setting the right expectations and forgiving yourself when you can’t meet them from a mindset perspective, see if you can make it fun for yourself.” Wait, we can optimize for fun? She said, “Increasingly, I want to bring food into the household that I can enjoy with my kids.”
Find Opportunities for Joy
Julia explained how making the curation and procurement of the food delightful helps. “I really enjoy shopping at my farmer’s market. I love going there on Sundays because it’s a great way to do a little walking, get the boys out of the house and I always pick up fresh flowers for my bedside. And I like connecting with people who are close to the food.”
If you don’t have access to a local market, there are other options. She added, “For some people, that might be going 5 or 10 minutes out of the way to shop at the supermarket they really love, where they feel safe and cared for. Where the butcher or cheese monger is going to say, ‘hey, I’ve got something new for you’ so, it’s bringing that joy back into aspects of buying food. Because although it’s very convenient, there’s very little joy selecting your groceries from Amazon. Sometimes I have to do that, because I’m in a pinch. But it’s not my first choice.”
Reduce Waste and Complexity
Julia has spent most of her career focused on making sustainable food widely accessible. She also encourages us to let go of any guilt and find ways to embrace ease to suit our lives.
“Get your family used to the fact that leftovers are sacred. And congratulate yourself and your family when you eat them. Because 50% of all food related greenhouse gas emissions, come from the food we throw away. And about 40% of the food that’s grown is wasted. So, pat yourself on the back for every morsel of food that you claim. Like salvaging your leftovers by making a nice big salad. Or having some wonderful fish for dinner and then having that again for lunch.”
Streamline and Reclaim Time
Julia said, “Try to cook just one dinner, which may be interpreted in different ways. So, one of the most successful nights that we have at home is taco night. It’s little bits of delicious things that are sometimes like a lonely vegetable with some sofrito and we almost waste nothing.”
Many sustainable practices, like getting crafty about what we have on hand, save money and precious time. She added, “People can customize what they want and it’s really easy on me. Sometimes you can do a completely no cook taco night and if you’re going vegan, do it with beans. So, find those meal moments where you can make one meal for everyone, and everyone can kind of interpret it in their own way.”
I admitted to Julia that after culinary school and a brief stint in restaurants, adjusting to kid-friendly cooking was hard for me. But as she shared, there are so many ways to reignite what sparks your interest and enjoyment.
Many thanks to the talented Julia Collins!
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Julia Collins is the founder and CEO of Planet FWD, the leading climate management platform for consumer companies. Empowering the next generation of sustainable brands through its proprietary data and software, Planet FWD reduces the cost and complexity of creating sustainable products. In anticipation of her son one day asking what she did to fight the climate crisis, Julia created Planet FWD shortly after his birth, wanting a good answer for him. Planet FWD provides consumer companies with the tools to understand and reduce their carbon footprint to align with The Paris Agreement and mitigate the worst effects of climate change.
The platform is inspired by Planet FWD’s own snack brand, Moonshot, which launched in 2020 as the first climate-friendly snack brand. Moonshot was recently acquired by Patagonia Provisions, a first for Patagonia in more than 20 years.
A serial entrepreneur, Julia previously co-founded Zume Pizza where she became the first Black woman “unicorn” when she created a venture-backed tech company valued at over a billion dollars. Prior to becoming an entrepreneur, she served as Vice President and Chief Operating Officer at Harlem Jazz Enterprises, which holds The Cecil, an Afro-Asian Brasserie, and Minton’s, a historic jazz supper club. While there, The Cecil won Best New Restaurant of the Year.
Earlier in her career, she built industry-leading food companies in New York City. Serving as a leader, she grew brands such as Union Square Hospitality Group, Mexicue and Murray’s Cheese.
In addition to leading Planet FWD, Julia sits on the Climate Collaborative board, the Food for Climate League board and the advisory council for Launch with GS. She is also an active angel investor focused on funding female entrepreneurs and BIPOC founders. Julia is also an Ambassador for the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.
Julia holds a BA from Harvard and an MBA from Stanford. She resides in San Francisco with her 2 sons and partner.Tags: approach to healthy family meals, Healthy dinners, reduce mental load of cooking, simplifying family meals, sustainable cooking, sustainable food practices