Building A Successful Family

The quick answer: If you want to succeed you must organize.  Don't leave your life—or your diet—to the chaos of chance.  Organize your eating with menus and shopping lists.


Tiger Moms

Amy Chua—the Yale law professor who touched a nerve in mothers with Tiger Mom, her book about high-achieving children—has partnered with spouse Jed Rubenfeld on another book that should sell well:  The Triple Package: How Three Unlikely Traits Explain the Rise and Fall of Cultural Groups in America. 

Always curious about the roots of exceptionalism, I had two questions:  Who are these high-performing cultural groups, and what are the three winning traits? 

Notably, seven of the nine cultural groups are recent immigrants—Cubans (beginning in ’59), but also Nigerian, Indian, East Asian, Iranian, Syrian and Lebanese Americans.  The question now is whether they can continue to excel after they’ve gotten comfortable in America. 

The other two groups have religious origins: Jews and Mormons.  If you're ambitious for your family and seek the advantages exhibited by all these groups there’s only one you can actually join—the Mormons.  (It’s not hard; they actively seek new adherents.)

The three traits for success:

  1. A belief in one’s specialness (I hesitate to say “superiority”). 
  2. An anxiousness to excel (the flip side of insecurity).
  3. The self-discipline to defer momentary pleasure for more lasting benefits.  (Not so common in today’s live-in-the-moment society.)

The authors note how these highly successful groups defy racial stereotypes—they include Blacks (Nigeria), Hispanics (Cuba), Asians, and Middle Easteners.  All this led to the big question:  Do the traits behind economic success also define people who eat well?  It’s a good subject for a study.  I’m starting to think the discipline to succeed includes a healthy food culture.  BUT, it all starts with bringing order to the chaos of life.

Ordering Your World

There’s a food reformation going on and you’re part of it (thanks for reading WOWL).  Here’s the prime indicator:  Last year sales of soda drinks dropped and diet drinks dropped even more (down 7%).  This is monumental.  Even better, “fast food” is becoming a derisive term.  It’s a trend, not a blip, and scares the dickens out of Food Inc.  That’s all good.

Darya Rose—a San Francisco neuroscientist, food blogger (Summer Tomato), and author (Foodist)—claims you can lose weight without dieting by eating real (whole) foods.  That’s our claim also.  Dieting and food fads are out—real and traditional food is in.

Of our 13 Healthy Change themes (visited once each quarter), the third theme is Organization.  The goal is to organize/create an island of wellness in an unhealthy world.  Though modern factory food is uniquely unhealthy, it's also true that mankind has never had so mamy options to eat well.  If you organize, you can eat better than mankind ever has.  This is a a blessing peculiar to our time that is seldom embraced.

Healthy Change #3 advised writing weekly menus.  We do this on Mondays, at breakfast, using a clean piece of paper.  I make two columns and write the days of the week in the left column (we don’t plan Saturday night).  In the top-right column we note what needs to be eaten (from the refrigerator, freezer, and pantry).  In the bottom-right area we make a shopping list, divided by stores.  We’ve gotten into a rhythm that works for us.

Brooke's Shopping List

Here's a link to a shopping list done by the talented Brooke.  Brooke makes everything better—if the Beautiful Wife had just delivered identical Brooke triplets the world would be even more beautiful.  And here's the original post on shopping lists—if you want to read more.

Please comment:  How do you organize grocery shopping?  Got an app for your iPhone?  Use a printed list you keep in the pantry during the week?  What works best for you?  Please share.

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Reader Comments (6)

I keep a paper grocery list on the fridge so it's easy to jot down something when I notice we're running low. I'll menu plan and write out the week's meals on the family calendar (also on the fridge), then look through the fridge and see if I need to add anything to the grocery list.

April 16, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterStephanie B

I usually go shopping and buy the produce that looks good and is a good price and then I make a menu out of that. It's fun for me to be creative in this way and ensures that we eat seasonally.

Your post on sugar and another on got me thinking and I decided to take action. I proposed an idea to the owner of my children's small private school and suggested that instead of having parents bring treats for the class for a child's birthday, they should donate a book to the school. The book would be read on the child's birthday in honor of the child so they still feel special, but the sugar overload is avoided. I think this kind of idea is catching on, partly because of increased allergies and partly because what you decide to feed your child is a very personal thing. I felt so frustrated when my son would tell me he'd had a cupcake and a goody bag at school; this happened weekly and sometimes more often. I hope other like-minded parents will speak out so we can change the amount of junk food our children get at every turn.

April 16, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterLindsey

I grew up with a strict List Maker as a Mother.
I rebeled when I struck out on my own. Writing "frozen burrito" for 3 or 4 meals didn't seem necessary, and I was living on a tight, small budget. I ate what I had.

As a maried women with children, when our budget was larger and more flexible, I was a Mad Woman in the Grocery Store, buying whatever whenever, but really -- we ate out 3-4 nights. Those days are long gone.

We're back to reigning in our expenses. I buy what's on sale, what's been discounted, and what's in season, but all in bulk. One week I may stumble upon a large selection of markdowns in the Meat Dept and store those in the freezer. Another week might be a good sale at Sprouts on vegetables and fruits, so I'll get 2+ week's worth and do whatever's necessary to stretch those. We have a couple "crash-and-dent" stores that sell marked down boxed, bagged and canned goods, so if I need something, that's where I go first (they run about 2/3's of full price).

As sad as that may seem, we are eating better; more vegetables, certainly, and I've cut down on meats by adding in more beans and legumes. We've tried kale and lentils and found ways to incorporate foods from other cultures in our diet. My kids have learned budgeting strategies and can cook for themselves, so it hasn't been in vain.

April 17, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterLizA

I usually plan out a week at a time using a format your daughter created. It allows for the menu organization at the bottom of the page and then it has sections at the top for the various stores one would frequent. It works well for me. Last year I even had a friend from church use that same basic format to make more decorative shopping lists. I then printed them out and made notepads for Christmas presents. They were a big hit! (In case anyone is interested the website is and you can find it under the "freebies" section. )

April 18, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterElisa

We use the shopping printable from Brooke that you linked to some time back. Simple and easy. I print a bunch of copies and keep them on the side of the fridge. It has really helped with meal planning and sticking to a list. Thank you!

April 19, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterej

OK EJ and Elisa, you win. I'll add the link to Brooke's shopping list to the article above. And I'll also link to the original shopping list post on WOWL. Brooke, a talented graphic designer and super mother, makes the world beautiful.

April 19, 2014 | Registered CommenterSkip Hellewell

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