There was a time when I made weekly menus, shopped for only things for that menu, and then more or less adhered to that plan for the week. We ate half decent meals and kept to our budget. I mean, I'm no fantastic cook or anything and these were not at all impressive dinners, but it is good to remind myself that at ONE point in time, I WAS capable of making dinner!
I feel like... I feel like my "capable of making family dinner days" were either when the kids were babies or when they were just weren't in school yet. Or something. I don't know. And honestly I'm not entirely sure what that has to do with anything? Although maybe when they were babies I only had to think about Actual Dinner for Phillip and me, because honestly, it's the What Will Everyone Eat that has driven me into a deep and depressing dinner HOLE.
I flat out loved the NYT article by Virginia Heffernan: What If You Just Hate Making Dinner? It was hilarious and tongue in cheek and the comment section took her entirely too seriously, but the truth remains: some of us just don't like to cook! I AM NOT ALONE!
And it's not that I HAAAATE cooking or that I'm particularly terrible at it - there are times when I quite enjoy it and there are meals I think I pull off pretty well. But the neverending undying FIGURING OUT OF WHAT EVERYONE IS GOING TO EAT is a massive weight I drag around every day. And I suck at it. I think of myself as someone who doesn't wallow, who makes a plan and follows through and gets it done, but DUDES. Every day. 4:00 PM. I open the fridge. I peek in the freezer. I open the pantry door with a heavy sigh. I wonder what in the WORLD I am going to make for dinner tonight.
My other issue is this: The kids usually want to eat between 5 and 5:30. Phillip doesn't get home until 6. There are some days the kids are hounding me for dinner at 4:30 and I throw a frozen pizza in the oven because come on, and then Phillip and I forage for sustenance after they've gone to bed. There are days I've thought ahead and planned a family meal and Phillip texts me at 5:55 to say he hasn't left the office yet. SOME DAYS I ABSOLUTELY CANNOT WIN.
But I've been feeling like... I mean, I WANT to have family dinner. I would say it IS very important to me. I just feel so DEFEATED by it. I mean, no one else in my family is really cooperating, right? My kids pretty much never want to eat anything grown ups want to eat, so I know a Half-Nutritious Dinner With Vegetables is going to be a Spend Half An Hour Insisting They Try One Bite Of Squash Dinner. Not particularly motivating! And Phillip isn't super reliable about getting home on time. It is so eeeeeeasy to set the kids up with chicken nuggets or macaroni or pizza or something else reliably eaten, along with a for-looks-only side of broccoli, and pass out on the couch until Phillip gets home and we eat leftovers. (Or rather, he eats leftovers and I eat cereal. Which is another one of my problems: I DON'T CARE ABOUT DINNER. Seriously, give me a bowl of cereal or a pile of sliced apples and a spoonful of peanut butter or a hunk of bread, some cheese, and a glass of wine - DINNER!)
I was whining about this to a good friend, who happens to be a terrific cook and for whom food is joy, and she gave me some tips for making quick easy weeknight dinners. And all of these tips were TERRIBLE for the sort of person who is 1) not a terrific cook and 2) food is a slog, seriously, except for the one where on Wednesdays you can get an entire cooked family meal at Whole Foods for fifteen dollars. Sold.
I think I need to make a list of dinners that all of us are willing to eat, or at least choke down with minimal fuss, and tape them to the pantry door or something so I am not starting from scratch every night. I think I need to stop worrying about trying to eat fewer carbs or less red meat or whatever and just aim for Balanced Boring Family Dinner. Whoever is attempting to "eat healthy" will just have to be responsible for doctoring their own dinners, right? (This is usually me anyway.)
THEN I think I need to make sure I always have the components of those boring family dinners on hand. Pasta. Canned tomatoes. Ground beef. Chicken. Broccoli. Rice. And cheat where I can. My in-laws bought us a bunch of garlicky quinoa and brown rice that comes in packets at Costco? That stuff is YUMMY. And cooks in the package in the microwave in 2 minutes.
THEN I will try to feed my kids a giant snack after school and not go crazy waiting until six to feed them dinner so we CAN all eat together. Because I really do want this. This part is just me wanting to shear an hour off the dreaded afternoon/evening shift by sticking them at the dinner table and escaping to watch the local news until Phillip gets home. I'm not sure how crazy it will make the evening/bedtime, but we need to try. It's not like we can just keep waiting until they get older - I hear that when they get older they start having things like after school activities (shudder) and are never home for dinner anyway.
AND if all else fails, make sure I have a stack of cheese pizzas in the freezer.
(NOTE: the "cook all day on Sunday and pack your freezer full of casseroles for the week" is not a gamechanger for me. I hate doing that much cooking all at once and my kids will eat, at most, two varieties of freezer casserole type meals. I'd much rather spend half an hour every night throwing something together. And! I do have a crock pot and I do try to use it, but I have yet to find a truly awesome slow cooker recipe that everyone enjoys. I feel the "meal that everyone enjoys" only exists at restaurants anyway, where we all get to pick what we want.)
Anyway. Today I considered dinner at 10am rather than 4pm. I took some chicken out of the freezer to defrost. I fed the kids a giant snack. As soon as I finish this blog post I will get started on pounding the chicken flat for panko breaded pan fried chicken, which I will serve with a packet of the above mentioned quinoa and rice, and some sauteed spinach with bacon, which requires no skill or time yet is 1) green and 2) delicious. We will all sit down as soon as Phillip gets home and I will insist on one bite of spinach, but otherwise not engage in a food battle. We shall see how it goes. PRAY FOR ME.