Eighteen years ago, I became a parent to four foster kids. All teenage boys. Barely out of my teens myself and still with that "I can do anything" attitude, I didn't see it as daunting; instead, I saw them as a part of the package that was my husband.
He ran a four bed therapeutic group home and together, for 10 years after that, we ran it together. Some boys stayed with us for as long as 5 years, some as little as 20 minutes. The kids that came to our home were from horrific backgrounds of neglect or abuse, and some were straight off the street or from jail. Many had never experienced a stable home, with two parents. I had never experienced a home without it.
Hubs had set up the program for the kids and was insistent; feed the kids good, wholesome, fresh food, and you will see a change in behavior. No packaged stuff in sight; which, come to think of it, is funny now because they ate only 3 things in rotation. Roasted chicken breasts, slabs of steak, or spaghetti.
That was it. Oh, a bit of rice and some steamed veggies were thrown in, but that was all they ate. After a week of joining them and eating everything they ate, I couldn't stand eating three bland, boring meals in rotation and insisted that they let ME cook. I had purely selfish motives, to be honest, but that and a recipe on the back of a box of lasagna were all it took.
Soon I was voted the chief cook and was scouring the library for any recipes I could get my hands on, adopting Hub's fresh food vs junk food philosophy. The kids were ravenous; recipes that were for 8 had to be doubled to serve 16, and I soon became adept at churning out huge quantities of stews, pasta dishes, stir fries, and more.
A new boy named Chris had arrived one day, and sat down for his first meal with us. Dinner that night happened to be a spicy chicken goulash, served with buttered egg noodles, a tossed green salad, and garlic bread. His eyes grew wide as he watched the plates and bowls come out of the kitchen, and you could see that to him, this was more food then he'd seen in awhile. This was a feast. Christmas. His mouth dropped open in shock.
Everyone dug in, especially Chris. He inhaled his dinner. Had seconds. Thirds. Fourths. The other kids smiled at him and took less, just so he could have more. Finally, Hubs gently stopped him.
"Chris, it's okay. There will be food here tomorrow."
So it went every day for a week, until finally, it dawned on Chris that food would never be an issue. Over time we noticed that some of the behavior issues he had previously began to diminish. He did better in school. Slept better. After a month or two, he even began to grow.
Years went by, and eventually he learned to cook for himself, and would join me in the kitchen, chopping or stirring while we chatted and laughed. We'd snap each other with the tea towels and he'd dive into the cookie jar with the rest of the kids in the evenings. He held baby Jake and played with him, came on family vacations with us, and we had the opportunity to attend his high school graduation and see him off to college. It was a sad day when he left our home.
The last time I saw Chris was about 10 years ago. I don't know where he is now or what he's doing, but I do know one thing; he taught me far more about teenagers and family then I taught him.
All beginning with a simple pot of chicken goulash.
Join Food Revolution Fridays with you tales of food, cooking, family, and recipes! Write a post of your own and add your name to Mr. Linky below to enter to win a copy of Kid's Kitchen or a way cute bib by Crocodile Creek. Giveaway ends when the last episode of Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution Airs here in Canada (about 4 weeks).
PS..what Jamie Oliver dinner did I make this week? Mexican Bean Wraps. Easy, cheap, and really yummy!