The Playroom: Better living through happy chickens

Author: Maraya Steadman '89, '90MBA


I’m a big fan of the drive-thru experience. As I am eating fast food, contemplating alternative ways to stay off the cholesterol medications, my 8-year old asks, “Mom, why do we have to go to McDonalds, we go there all the time?”

I will eat fast food on Monday, because I’m not really comfortable with Monday. On Thursdays, because I am tired, because it’s cheap, or because hockey playoffs are this week and I’ve got two kids in travel leagues and I’ve been in my car forever.

I know there are 36 ingredients in a chicken nugget, and I don’t care. I don’t care if the chicken ester is organic or not. I have no problem with supporting food chemistry. I have a friend who is a chemical engineer, and I’m glad she has a good job.

However, years ago, when I was a new mother with only one well-behaved child, I tried to care. We avoided the happy meals, the sugared cereals and any other food items that came with toys. I bought eggs from happy chickens and started shopping at organic markets and buying produce from local farmers. I even made my own baby food, once.

Then the reality of parenting one child, and then two, and then three set in. I realized I wasn’t going to be the mother I always thought I would be. The mother I wanted myself to be. I realized there were some things I could do as a parent, and others that weren’t me. The real me eats Frosted Flakes, the kind with Tony the Tiger on them.

Making an effort to try again, after my third child was born, I went to go see a nutritionist. She managed to get me off the chips for lunch every day, but I swear that woman had some sort of financial interest in a kale conglomerate. Eventually, I gave up. I don’t like kale.

After listening to my ongoing lament about our not-as-healthy-as-I-want-them-to-be eating habits, a friend suggested a book that advised you could eat whatever you wanted, as long as you made it yourself. Well, that didn’t work, because the first thing I did was make potato chips.

I realized that as much as I wanted all of us to eat a healthier diet and have our refrigerator and our pantry stocked with organic items from expensive grocery stores and local farmers, it was more of a dream for me than a reality. As much as I believed in all that pesticide, nitrogen and carbon footprint stuff, it was hard for me to initiate change after 40 years of eating eggs from unhappy chickens.

So here I am in my middle age and, no surprise, my genetics and my diet have my doctor writing prescriptions for cholesterol medications.

I don’t want my children’s fingernail samples to be riddled with nitrogen, and I don’t want them taking cholesterol medications when they are in their 40s. That should be enough to get me to change our habits, but, strangely, it’s not.

Well, tomorrow is another day, the playoffs are almost over, and even if I can’t teach my children everything I want them to know, I can teach them some of things I want them to know.

Mmmm, I know I have a recipe around here somewhere for kale chips with an organic shallot dipping sauce.

Maraya Steadman, who lives in a Chicago suburb, is a stay-at-home mother of three children. She can be reached at