Every year at Thanksgiving time, we spend a week with Dan’s side of the family.  When I first joined the Perkins’ family 12 years ago, Thanksgiving week involved extremely competitive board games, outdoor adventures, a lot of laughter—and eating tons of food.  My sister-in-law made delicious, home cooked meals each night for dinner, but during the day (and after dinner), we ate whatever we wanted, whenever we wanted.  It was vacation after all, you know, the holidays, a time to let go of the daily routine and discipline and just relax.

Our holiday eating habits weren’t reserved solely for Thanksgiving.  I remember one summer vacation in Maine, a few of us adults went to the grocery store, and we took along my baby niece.  Our cart contained a wide variety of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream containers and specialty beer.  Yep, ice cream and beer, that’s all.  I didn’t think too much of it until we got to the register.  The cashier looked at us with these accusing eyes, and I could just hear her thinking, And what are you young gluttons going to feed that baby, huh?  Well, the baby would return back to the house and eat something like pureed sweet potatoes and kale, while the adults consumed their once-a-day healthy, home cooked meal and filled in the rest with Italian sandwiches and cheese bread, brownies and bakery treats, chips and take-out.

As “fun” as this type of eating was, at some point the family began to realize it was not sustainable.  One family member was diagnosed as pre-diabetic.  Another with high cholesterol.  Food allergies came into play.  And as more and more children joined the family, the adults had less and less energy to stay up late playing Settlers of Catan, Carcassone, or whatever new game Dan’s brother introduced to the family.  It wasn’t just lack of sleep affecting our energy levels—it was the food we were eating.

So the menu began to change.  The Perkins’ family dived into one food trend after another, each one a step closer to a healthy perspective.  The first year it was the Schwarzbein Principle, the next, Maker’s Diet.  Then came green smoothies, and, for some, gluten-free.  We haven’t arrived at a 100% clean eating Thanksgiving, but I don’t think that was ever the goal.  We eat healthfully for the most part—oatmeal or eggs for breakfast; salads or sandwiches for lunch; dinners ranging from risotto to shish-ka-bobs to chili, depending on which family’s in charge of the evening meal.  We still enjoy the treats that come with the holiday: pumpkin, pecan, and apple pies; Snowflake Mix; Tazo chai; ice cream; home-brewed beer. 

As we approach Thanksgiving 2014, I’m expecting to eat well again this year, and, in doing so, to feel good.  Good enough to ice skate with my sons and go on crazy, bumpy four-wheeler rides in the bitter cold.  Good enough to play a lengthy game of Heads Up with the whole family and sit in front of the wood-burning stove talking late into the night.  Good enough to sing lullabies to the children and songs of thanksgiving.  Our holiday is still, in many ways, centered on food.  But instead of thoughtless indulging, I feel like we, as family, practice mindful thankfulness for the food we have in such abundance.

The day before we leave, Dan and I will harvest fresh spinach and baby salad greens, carrots and beets to share for the Thanksgiving week.  This year, I’m thankful for a family who not only appreciates the nutritious benefits of such veggies, but also truly enjoys eating them.