The shelter gets all kinds of canned, boxed, and frozen food from food banks and food share. Mothers can make meals out of anything they find in the shelter fridge, freezer, and pantry. Some women occasionally buy preferred or prepared food and most can occasionally buy treats for themselves and the kids.
Each shelter has different rules about the nighttime meal. Some ask women to sign up to prepare dinner for everyone. This results in some eating the meal and others, especially vegetarians, eating something else. At some shelters, everyone cooks for themselves at night or cooks extra portions for the group, as they wish.
Right now, the shelter at which I volunteer does the latter. The result is mixed. Some mothers consistently cook a good meal for themselves and kids at the same time each night. The newly arrived women, though are often exhausted, emotionally drained, disorganized, and still setting up their room. In this case, someone usually helps them prepare a meal or shares the food they've prepared with them.
Some women cook the same menu most nights: rice and chicken, hot dogs and beans, or pork chops and potatoes. Vegetables and salad often take a back seat for various reasons, though occasionally a parent or woman has the energy and determination to regulaly provide a well-balanced meal for herself and kids.
The quality of a woman's meals usually improves as she recovers from her flight to the shelter. Sometimes a church or other organization provides fresh fruit or veggies. In the summer, I happily bring in veggies from our daughter's over-abundant garden. Fresh, sliced cucumbers on a plate bring the kids running. So does my promise I'll share my Clementines with them in early spring.
Always, though, I ask the moms' permission first. The food given to her children is something she has control over and I don't abuse that right. At home, whatever she set out or cooked was probably criticized for its inferior quality, taste, degree of doneness, originality--name it. Women living with a batterer rarely hear a compliment, unless he's in his "Sorry" stage.
Guess it's no wonder that when many women get to the shelter, they don't worry much about how redundant, nutritious, well-cooked, or appreciated the meal they've prepared is. They made it, even though they probably yearned to withdraw, sleep, relax, read, or watch TV.
Whatever meal she has made, she and the kids will eat it. They won't toss it in the trash as "garbage." They won't complain if it isn't one of their favorites. They may not even be hungry but will eat some of it anyway.
To me, this is a healthy response to freedom. It is how battered women begin to understand they don't need to be perfect or to please everyone to be respected and valued.
It is the reality of being imperfect and living a real life. Of messing up and being loved anyway. That's what they need most.
It's what everyone needs most.