Dinner Time

I’ve been going a little nuts with dinner at my house.

I’ve never been that interested in cooking. I mean, I can cook. I’m even a good cook. I just don’t care that much. When I first began cooking for my family, it went great. I made baby food, the kids ate the baby food. “This is easy,” I thought. “I don’t know how people let their kids become picky eaters.”

(At this point, I would like to divide my audience. I know it’s risky given how small an audience it is, but still I’m going to do it. I know that those of you who have kids that are “great eaters” believe it is because of something you did or did not do. Those of you who do not have kids might also believe that if you did have kids, they would be great eaters because you would do the right thing. All of you can sit in the corner for a few minutes and think about all the other things your kids do that you don’t love, and decide if you are as equally to responsible for those things as you are for the food thing of which you’re so proud.)

Those of you who have picky eating kids, and know that sometimes kids are just born the way they’re born and not everything is up to parents, you can keep reading. If you have kids who are picky eaters, you know that serving them sucks out a lot of whatever joy there might be in cooking. Especially, if like me, you don’t really care that much about food and have completely revamped your diet in response to cancer and have two who are picky in completely opposite ways (one vegan, one carnivore). I have to really like something to want to make it and know that one child will complain and the other will eat two bites and I’ll have to eat leftovers of it for the rest of the week.

Like every other suburban mom, back in the before times, I often complained about hockey practice or rehearsal, or my husband’s night classes. I complained about how hard it was to get dinner on the table with everyone so busy. In truth, I kind of liked having one, or two, or even three nights a week with an excuse to make sandwiches or order in, or serve everyone something different at a different time.

Now though, there is no excuse. One night a week my husband teaches an online night class and we have leftovers. In our house we ironically call leftover night “Helpie Selfie Night” because years ago when I worked in the party planning space I did a blog swap with a mommy blogger who created a weekly meal plan on a chalkboard in her kitchen. Helpie Selfie Night was written in multi-colored chalk and I laughed and laughed at the idea of someone who felt it necessary to give “leftover night” a cute name.

One night on the weekend we support our local restaurants and order (Ok, sometimes we also order during the week, by the time you get to Thursday, it’s kind of rough going). That leaves me with five nights a week that I have to cook dinner, not to mention seven days a week that a certain person asks for help with lunch. If cooking for picky eaters was boring before the pandemic, it’s downright depressing now.

So, the past couple of weeks, I’ve gone a little nuts. Last week I declared it “International Week.” We had Tacos, Indian food, Fried Rice, Chicken Pot Pie (British) and we were supposed to have an Italian night, but we watched a play my daughter was the AD for over Zoom and ordered instead. I printed out trivia facts for each country and tried not to think about the many things I now have in common with the Helpie Selfie mommy blogger.

This week is American Week (Southwestern: Chili & Cornbread, California: Avocado Toast, Native American: Wild Rice Pilaf & Fry Bread, Southern: BBQ, Biscuits, Fried Green Tomatoes). Next week is Jewish week (menu to be determined).

Here is the thing. I cannot say that I love cooking anymore than I used to. I can’t say that my kids are eating more or even that what I’m serving for dinner is that different than what I would serve if I hadn’t gone theme crazy. But, now sometimes, when I spend time thinking up the meal, and planning the meal and the grocery list, and cooking the meal, I think “Well, this I can do.” We are living in the middle of a pandemic. By next week, there might be a Civil War. My kids miss their friends. My son wonders if he’ll ever go to high school. My daughter wonders if she’ll get to go to college. There is nothing I can do about any of that. I do not know what this world is becoming and my kids are getting too big for me to protect. But I can do this. I can look up new recipes and print out facts about China. I can go a little wacky with food and hope that even if they don’t eat it, some part of what I do is nourishing.

Bonus: This fried rice recipe was amazing! I ate it for 2-3 meals and the vegan child ate it for breakfast one morning. The carnivore was not impressed.

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