The Dilemma of Dinner

“What’s for dinner?” –Poor fool who doesn’t really he/she is about to get popped in the mouth

 Breakfast always gets billing for being the most important meal of the day. But for me, dinner is the most dreaded meal of the day. It comes at a time of day when everyone’s patience is getting thin and there’s not a lot of time to put it together. I wish it could be a calming ritual for my family, but the fact is it is just the beginning of the downward spiral that ends our day, usually in a carb-loaded, unsatisfied heap.

But, as with most things associated with being the CEO of this household, I have really great intentions. I’ve read all the articles about the importance of a family dinner. I know how bad processed food is, and I understand that fast food is killing America. I have Leaned In and Six Sigma’d this thing to death, and it still ends up the same way, with my greatest achievements including Taco Tuesday and the marginally popular Crescent Dogs (Who cannot love these? They’re hot dogs wrapped in crescent rolls! My kids are such idiots sometimes.).

The pressure to perform for dinner can be overwhelming at times. Just ask my family about the great Chicken Pot Pie Incident of 2013. I went on Pinterest (first mistake) and found a delicious looking recipe for some darling looking individual chicken pot pies. The meal seemed to fit so many criteria! Cute. Individually served. No offensive or scary meats. Hidden vegetables. Gooey goodness. Carbs and butter. The ingredients weren’t that complicated, the preparation was easy and the cooking method was pretty standard. It wasn’t going to earn any accolades for clean eating, but it seemed like this was a dish that could please anyone. Comfort food at its finest. I pulled those charming little puffs of goodness from the oven and waited the appropriate amount of time for them to cool and prepared for myself for Dinner Hero status. I put two on each plate. “We’ll just start with two,” I thought, and envisioned myself telling my kids, “Oh now, wait, don’t just stuff them in your mouth, take your time and enjoy them, maybe eat an apple before you have another.” All the while I’d be secretly smiling at the joy I’d brought my beautiful family with this meal.

The little one takes her first bite. “It’s HOOOOOOTTTT.” It’s not hot. I KNOW that it is not hot. At best, it’s room temperature because I’d foreseen this problem. But you can’t sway a toddler who is convinced you’ve given her lava rocks for dinner. Even if I could have freeze dried that pot pie, a la Elsa from Frozen, she was OUT. Headed for the crackers. So I lost a sheep from the flock. This was not the end of the world. Even the great chefs have to deal with rejection. I’m tough. I waited for the big girl to take her bite. I watched, trying not to stare, trying not to let on to the fact that my entire sense of self-confidence as a mother and meal provider was riding on the response to this bite.

“Ugh. This is DISGUSTING.”

OK, first of all, no it’s not. I know this because just a few minutes before these soul-crushing words were uttered, I had crammed almost an entire pot pie in my mouth to taste test. Secondly, there is not a single disgusting ingredient involved. I went to the trouble of omitting unliked vegetables from the mix! Third, when did she start saying “disgusting?” No more Disney Channel! I don’t understand. This meal is all the things they like, WRAPPED IN A CRESCENT ROLL.

Wait a minute. Maybe my family doesn’t like crescent rolls. COULD THIS BE? Things are worse than I thought! I may have to explore this later. But back to the meal at hand. I’ve got two down. My percentage is going to be a 50% success rate, at best. Which, really, is not THAT bad. Meteorologists make entire careers out of being right only about 15% of the time.

Anyway. I turn to my husband, wild-eyed. “Here, you try one.”

“Uh, well, I’m not eating carbs.”

The camel’s back broke, the house of cards of fell and the gates of hell opened on my family. “Well, you know what, Mister?? Neither am I! But I just busted a 2-week streak of no carbs to taste this DELICIOUS Chicken Pot Pie that I MADE with MY OWN TWO HANDS for all of you that NO ONE will eat.” At this point, I walk over to the remaining adorable pot pies and ceremoniously dump them in the trash can and then stride over to the pantry. The rant continues. “Do you want crackers? Is that what everyone wants for dinner? CRACKERS? I got your crackers right here. I mean, why am I even here, if everyone can just have some CRACKERS and be done with it??” I then proceed to hand a box of crackers to everyone in my family as they stare at me, mouths wide open, terrified of Demon Chicken Pot Pie Mom. DIScomfort Food. I pick up the pot pies that have already been served and shunned and start eating the filling from them. “No carbs,” I hiss at my husband.

This is not a proud moment of mine, and I share it with you in hopes that maybe someone out there has had their own similar episode and you should know that IT IS OKAY. You are not a bad person. Dinner is a bad meal. After a few weeks, my kids were ok, although they have never forgotten The Incident. The school serves Chicken Pot Pie for lunch sometimes and I see the panic in their eyes. I feel bad about that. Sort of.

So to avoid this type of incident from occurring again, I try to get things on track for the upcoming week. Somewhere between Saturday and Sunday, I start feeling like I’ve let things go, and I really need to get my act together to avoid the Dinner Dilemma. Saturday is the day of contrition, when I feel bad about the horrible things I feed my people. Then Sunday is sort of the day of the Last Supper, when I Hoover through the fridge and pantry and eat all the junk that is not suitable for us anymore. I mean, you can’t let it go to waste, right?

Here’s kind of how it goes:

Sunday’s Aspiration Wednesday’s Realization
“We are going to start eating clean. This processed food is terrible for everyone!” “I think the cleaning people were here Monday. You should be good to eat that off the floor.” (only applies to dry snacks, we’re not animals)
“We are cutting out all fast food.” “Well, I mean, Chick Fil A is short for ‘chicken that has been filleted,’ which I don’t think happens that quickly. Plus, ‘fillet’ is French, which I am pretty sure means ‘healthy.’ It’s basically Farm to Table.
“We should eat more organic foods.” “Picnic in the garage!   I just did a big buy at Whole Foods and everything is going to spoil before I get it in the house!”
“Harness the power of the Crock Pot.” “Dammit. It’s got to be PLUGGED IN!”
“Make a good list, and a plan and do the grocery shopping ahead of time.” “I really don’t think we need to go to the grocery store. I mean, look! We have an egg, 3 hot dogs, some evaporated milk and apricot preserves! There is plenty to eat!”
“Double the ingredients for your meal, and freeze it to pull out for an easy meal later.” “Sooooo, basically you’re telling the person who doesn’t want to cook in the first place that she should cook the same meal twice, to go in the freezer to then be cooked again. Yeah, seems like good advice. NOPE.”
“I am not a short order cook. This is not Waffle House. You will eat what I fix you or you will be hungry.” “Did someone say Waffle House? BRINNER!!!”
“We’re going to cut down on snacks, and the snacks we do have will be fresh and healthy.” “Listen, if you can find it, fix it and feed it to yourself, have at it.”

“And bring me some.”

“We are going to sit at this table and eat together like a family.” “Well, the car is shaped kinda like a table, we’re all sitting and it looks like everyone has a cereal bar!”  Dinner.  DONE.

At the end of the day, literally and figuratively, you gotta eat. I know that a day will come when I will look around at a quiet and clean house and wish that I had those Oliver Twist eyes staring up at me, asking, “What’s for dinner?” I’ll no longer curse when I crunch Goldfish between my toes and find raisins as hard as rocks between couch cushions. And maybe then I will prepare a delicious whole chicken in my Crock Pot with perfect vegetables that I grew in my own garden. And my husband and I will barely be able to eat this delicious meal, so I will portion out leftovers to be repurposed and then freeze a meal’s worth of it. Maybe I will even serve it later to my daughter when she comes to visit me. I will search her face for a response, waiting for her to tell me she’s never had meat so tender, vegetables so flavorful, and can she please have the recipe? Or maybe I can come over one night and fix it for her family?

“Eh,” she’ll say. “It’s okay, but I just had Chick Fil A in the car on the way over.”

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