“What’s for dinner, Mom?” my famished kids inquire every afternoon when I pick them up from school. Despite the made-to-order lunches I pack for them, my kids come out of school as if they just crossed the Sahara Desert, and I’m under pressure to produce a big evening meal to satisfy our entire family of five.
Not just any meal, mind you – a meal that everyone likes. Sounds simple enough, right? Not so much, anymore.
When the kids were younger, our pantry and fridge were packed with items expressly intended to please people whose age had not reached double digits, and each item came in shapes or vessels made for stubby fingers. We had yogurt in a tube, cheese in a stick, chicken shaped like fingers, nuggets and dinosaurs. There were muffins molded into bars as if muffins weren’t compact enough, potatoes ground down to tots, and bagels reduced to bites.
Pigs were rolled into blankets, and pizzas were stuffed into rolls. Just about anything was wrapped in a pastry pocket – ham and cheese, eggs and bacon, apples and cinnamon.
Juice came in boxes and bags. Fruit was pulverized and dehydrated to form leathery edible skin. Even PB&Js were de-crusted, boxed and frozen.
Everything was nuggetized or otherwise compacted into individual servings requiring no utensils, no preparation, and no taste buds.
And we couldn’t forget the main staple of kids’ diets – like tortilla to Mexicans, rice to Asians, and potatoes to the Irish, the children of this nation would have starved without the sustenance of boxed macaroni and cheese. There was something about those tiny tubular noodles that required little to no chewing, and the salt-laden powdered imitation cheese sauce that kept kids coming back for more.
But, after a decade of withdrawal from real food, I had finally had enough. I resolved to start cooking regular meals a couple years ago, meals that required utensils and did not necessarily involve dipping. Meals with seasonings like garlic and onion. Meals with meat that had not been fed through a grinder, reshaped, and breaded. Meals with vegetables that were not hidden and fruits that were not dehydrated. Meals that did not contain sulfur dioxide, xanthan gum, or FD&C Red No. 40.
I couldn’t wait to start cooking traditional family meals and envisioned smiling faces and freshly washed hands, passing platters of carved flavorful meats and steaming bowls of sautéed vegetables. Norman Rockwell, eat your heart out.
“Ew, is that a mushroom?” my youngest exclaimed on Monday. “The sauce touched my corn,” my son complained on Wednesday. “Do I have to eat all of this?” my middle child questioned on Thursday.
By Friday, I had failed to produce one meal that satisfied everyone, so I fired up the oven, grabbed a bag of buns and a bottle of ketchup and threw frozen chicken patties on a cookie sheet. “Yea! We’re having chicken patties tonight!” my kids exclaimed with joy. “Chicken Patties?” my husband had the nerve to protest, “I’ll eat leftovers.”
Despite the fact that I never seem to satisfy everyone in our family, I continue to force home cooked meals on my children and occasional kid-pleasing meals on my husband. I sometimes wonder if it’s all worth it, and think that only a revival of TV dinners would solve my dilemma.
Got a hankering for beef, son? Well, here’s a Salisbury steak dinner just for you! You girls prefer poultry? Why not try this delicious fried chicken dinner or sliced turkey and gravy? And I’ve got something special for my “hungry man” too! From freezer to TV tray table in under 30 minutes and no dishes to wash. “Thanks, Mom!” they’d all enthusiastically exclaim.
But knowing my opinionated lot, I’d still get complaints. “Ew, the chicken comes with peas and carrots!” “The mashed potatoes have freezer burn.” “Gross, the gravy leaked onto the brownie!” “What’s this hard thing in the Salisbury steak?”
I guess I’ll have to give up on my dream of having the perfect dinner and just concentrate on getting something on the table. The rest is just gravy, and apparently, my kids don’t like that anyway.