The early years of dinner-for-the-family is all about tricking and tom foolery. How to make the key foods, that you know the toddlers will lift off their plates and consume, into some new version of itself by adding a colorful stack of carrot sticks or a half circle of goldfish swimming the edges of the plate. Just keeping them astride their stool for a bit longer with a distraction of some sort might earn you an extra bite of their meal.
Shopping wasn’t too much of a burden as their pallets were limited. The work was definitely at the table and not so much behind the scenes. But that all changes once they meet their first vegetarian. The abrupt assault on the woes of meat products comes at you as fast as a horse running for the barn. Abruptly there is nothing in the pantry that will quench their appetite. A new menu and grocery list is required posthaste.
Fortunately, within a week, most middle schoolers cave to their stomachs rather than pursue the higher moral standing of a vegan diet. At least my meat lovers did (thank the lord). But little did I know, a new foe was about to sabotage my grocery, pantry, prep and serve routine. Ennui. Exactly. The “there’s nothing in this house to eeeaaattttttt.”
I’d patiently list off all that was in the ready: enchiladas, kung pao chicken, hamburgers, wild rice soup, pork chops and rice, and of course tacos or spaghetti, amongst other versions or pasta. No, no, no and no. Nothing was enough. The shelves were bare; their stomachs empty; isn’t there something I could do?
I learned by now from the moms at the baseball fields or basketball courts that they had thrown in the towel. Frozen pizza, Costco dinners, and take out were the options offered up in their households. And it’s not to say that we didn’t see of a few of those through our household at dinner time either. But more than the health aspect of prepped food is the economy that bugged me. Frozen Bertolli’s packaged chicken alfredo and penne costs three times what it would to make at home. And barely saves anytime as long as you have some grilled chicken in the freezer and all the other ingredients.
But that’s the key, isn’t it? Making dinner isn’t just the fifteen to twenty minutes of prep and another half hour to cook. One has to know the family’s interests, have the products on hand, be agile and knowledgeable enough to pull it all together. The work involved in feeding a family is by far the most time-consuming activity in homemaking and it is known to be a significant contributor to health and better living.
I teased them through their late high school years that they thought a multicultural chef lived in the fridge and would jump out like some Suess character to accommodate their every culinary demand. Fortunately, it just took a little separation from home, and half a school year eating food from a university cafeteria, to adjust their point of view. Now our dinner table is a destination for a nice meal and visit.
I don’t regret having put in that time instead of bailing on the whole thing. They will start out with more knowledge on how to run a kitchen then I did. And now my job is a cream puff.