“And we shaded you with clouds and sent down on you Al-Manna and the quail, (saying): ‘Eat of the good lawful things We have provided for you,’ (but they rebelled). And they did not wrong Us, but they wronged themselves.” (Al-Baqarah 2:57)

“And remember when you said: ‘O Musa! We cannot endure one kind of food. So invoke your Lord for us to bring forth for us of what the earth grows, its herbs, its cucumbers, its Fum (wheat or garlic), its lentils and its onions.’ He said: ‘Would you exchange that which is better for that which is lower? Go you down to any town and you shall find what you want!’ And they were covered with humiliation and misery, and they drew on themselves the Wrath of Allah…” (Al-Baqarah 2:61)

I especially remember the children of Israel on the days when I have to venture into the kitchen to cook a decent meal, racing against time and juggling the multitude of roles assigned to me as a working mother. I try to imagine what it must have been like to be served the convenient and pristine cuisine by none other but the King of the Worlds Allah (swt) as His Mercy and divine hospitality. Tafsir Ibn-e-Kathir mentions that Mujahid said: “Al-Manna was a kind of sweet gum, and As-Salwa, a kind of bird (i.e., quail).” This food descended from the Paradise, and was collected by the children of Israel effortlessly.

Someone among them brainstormed the idea of ‘variety is the spice of life’, turned up their nose against the Lord’s superior bounties, and demanded from Musa (as) to arrange inferior food grown on the planet. Hence, the menu was swapped as a punishment. It really wasn’t just about rejecting Allah’s (swt) decree; this was their attitude towards life as a whole. Alarmingly, the same is witnessed today in many of our homes at the dinner table or while grabbing a bite to eat outside, or even while dining at fancy gourmet restaurants.

A survey conducted among working and at-home mothers revealed the following:

  1. Can a mother in the family decide the choice of food being served?

A: Yes, very much. She can not only decide but also develop different tastes, likes, and dislikes.

B: Yes, and if she doesn’t, she should. But at times, the choice is limited. For instance in my case, both my husband and five-year-old son have some sort of issue with vegetables. They get nauseous. So I shred vegetables as minutely as I can whenever I want to use them.

C: Ideally, a mother should be able to make the choice, as she is responsible for the health and well-being of her family. However, in traditional joint-family settings in Pakistan, it is not always possible. Living with in-laws may mean that the in-laws determine what is being cooked. In such cases, I think a mother can supplement the daily menu for her family with items they may be lacking, depending upon the choices the in-laws make. For example, adding additional veggies or fruits for a healthier overall balance.

  1. How can she convince her family that food is really not the only fun thing in life and give them a moderate perspective?

A: If mothers are going to spend hours watching TV shows about food, spend hours in the kitchen trying out new recipes, and serve five-course meals in parties, then I think the message delivered to the children will be all wrong.

B: Local culture is very much food-oriented – in fact, it is ‘good’ food oriented, which implies traditional Pakistani dishes, oily and overcooked, as they occasionally are. It is not easy to steer the family away from it. It may be helpful for kids to learn about different food habits from around the world, and about countries where food is scarce and where children are dying of hunger. Basically, one should keep in mind the less fortunate, and teach this way to children to appreciate the food they have.

Conversely, children may be introduced to the idea of food affecting their health, and the plague of obesity. Eating too much and the wrong stuff can be extremely harmful. We have watched with children some documentaries about extremely obese people in the US – how they live and how they try to get back their lives, which due to their obesity are completely out of their control.

There is a popular chef teaching kids about food – Jamie Oliver. His mission of Food Revolution is truly amazing. He not only educates kids about good eating habits he teaches them how to cook simple food as well. Going through his website and videos can be very educational: https://www.jamieoliver.com/us/foundation/jamies-food-revolution/school-food
It may be helpful to investigate the simple eating habits of the Prophet (sa), which is the Sunnah, reminding children that following even this Sunnah will earn them rewards in the long run.

  1. How can mothers cut down time spent in food preparation yet not fall for unhealthy conveniences available?

A: Keep it simple. Involve children in preparing the meal, including the boys, so that it becomes food that is prepared by all of them and not just by mom. Hence, everyone earns the credit.

B: Cooking in bigger batches and freezing half of the food in order to utilize it on another day helps. It may not always be possible, but it is an option for certain dishes such as Kebabs, cutlets, etc. that are time-consuming to prepare otherwise. Enlisting the help of maids in food preparation – like cutting vegetables – can save time, too.

C: I think places like “Meat One” have made things really easy. They give you meat cuts exactly as you ask them. I get chicken in Tikka pieces, steak pieces, cut for Chinese pieces, and so on. It is then not really that time consuming to make it. Also, on days when I am not cooking, I get and cut vegetables and freeze them. We freeze everything: sliced tomatoes, chopped mint/coriander, shelled peas, ladyfingers, shredded carrots, and shredded cabbages. So all we do is just take it out and toss it in while we are cooking.

  1. Is there a healthy choice when dining out in terms of menu ordered?

A: Why not? Kids have to be told about good and bad eating habits. At the same time, they should be allowed to order for themselves, so that they can learn what is healthy and what not.

B: Baked, grilled items, and salads are a better choice. If the servings are big, intentionally finish only part of it, and parcel the rest to take home.

C: You can get grilled chicken, instead of fried. Tikkas are generally healthier than Kabab/Parathas. However, mostly, I have yet to find anything healthy when eating out.

  1. How can a wife convince her husband/father to eat healthy, as often he is the culprit who spoils kids and breaks ground rules?

A: I think this is the key. If both parents are going in different directions, children are going to get mixed messages.

B: Maybe some sort of food schedule could be set up for the entire family, outlining the days when the family as a whole can indulge in not-so-healthy foods, while the rest of the time would be dedicated to healthy eating. These cheating-days will be something to look forward to – as a reward for eating healthy otherwise. Also, as the family starts eating healthier, tastes and eating habits may change as we have experienced it in our own family. Cutting out sugar (sweets, from hot drinks, etc.) has made us more aware of the excessive sweetness of sugar when we now encounter it. For myself, drinking coffee without sugar has become a norm as I’ve grown to appreciate and love the bitter taste of it, not even wishing to add sugar at all.

C:  We try to limit eating out to weekends only, and have eliminated all ready-to-cook meals from our lives, with the exception of microwaved popcorn and instant noodles.

  1. Can a culture of fasting save families from gluttony and unhealthy eating habits?

A: No doubt about it. Also, a culture of giving away and not hoarding in the fridge helps.

B: For the grown-ups and mature children, fasting on Mondays and Thursdays, as per Sunnah, is a good choice. It has health benefits plus it raises awareness about what and how we eat.

C: I don’t think so – unless fasting translates to a healthy Iftar.

Well, it seems that all concerned and far-sighted moms want to adopt moderation in life. Simple eating saves families from a culture of fussy eating, food picking, contempt of food, insensitivity toward the feelings of the cook, pomp, disdain for Allah’s (swt) blessings, and greed for more as well as forsaking sacrifice and sharing.

Bon simple appetit.