I hate making dinner, I hate planning dinner and I hate foraging for ingredients. I hate all of it. Because hiring a personal chef wasn’t a practical solution for my family, I subscribed to a website that designs healthy, family-friendly meal plans for the week, thinking that it would solve some of my problems. It provides ingredient lists, recipes and even photos. I was very enthusiastic about it, hitting the supermarket with my neatly printed grocery list, buying exotic ingredients (did you know they sell fire-roasted tomatoes in a can?) and picking up ingredients I’ve never purchased before (what does a leek even look like?).
Unlike my previous forays into meal planning, where I never made it past the shopping phase, this time I actually took a leap and made the first recipe. I followed each step carefully (because I am not a naturally skilled cook, following recipes faithfully is my only way to avoid disaster) and was proud of the results. It looked like the photo (in the same way that a model looks like her airbrushed “after” shot) and even tasted good. I couldn’t wait to feed it to my children.
If anyone had walked by my house at the moment when I served that dinner, they might have thought that there had been a death in the family. My kids weren’t just crying; they were wailing as if I’d said “Enjoy your sesame ginger stir-fry with rice noodles and, by the way, I gave away the cat and all of your toys and cancelled the Wi-Fi.” Needless to say, they had cereal for dinner, I ate sesame ginger stir-fry for a week and the can of fire-roasted tomatoes is still in my pantry.
The problem is, like my children, I am pretty content eating the same things over and over again. If I like something, I really like it (I have been eating the same two breakfast cereals since sixth grade, even when I travel). And, like most parents, I don’t really enjoy seeing crying, hungry children. Or wasting ingredients. Or cleaning up a huge mess in the kitchen, especially when my kids end up eating cereal for dinner and I end up eating whatever exciting meal I’ve made while wishing I was eating cereal, too.
That isn’t to say that I haven’t tried any new recipes since the Sesame Ginger Experiment. OK, that’s a lie: I haven’t tried any new recipes since then. My husband works out of town and leaves me alone with the kids most weeknights, so it’s easier and safer to make the stuff I know they like over and over again. Of course, eventually they get tired of everything and then I’m left with a quadruple batch of bean and kale soup in the freezer that is apparently so 2017. We also do a lot of breakfast foods for dinner, so much so that I worry about the hurt and confusion they will feel the first time they enter a diner where “all-day breakfast” is served (because everyone knows that scrambled eggs and crêpes are dinner foods).
Maybe trying new things would be easier if I did it more, but it’s hard when the payoff is so minuscule. No one says thank you. Usually, no one wants to eat it. I’m not even on Instagram or part of a social circle where posting the dinner I made on Facebook is socially acceptable (otherwise I would be in search of new recipes and new friends). Ultimately, all I have is pride. And the worst part is, even if something turns out really, really well, I can’t spend much time basking in the smug satisfaction of a job well done because I’m expected to do it all again the very next day.
Often, couples balance each other out. If one person isn’t passionate about cooking, the other one is. My husband and I don’t have that. My husband’s cooking skills make me look like Julia Child (insert the name of a more famous, still-living celebrity chef here—obviously, I don’t watch that stuff). I will always remember coaching my husband through pasta making over the phone when my oldest was just a year old and I was in the hospital with an ovarian torsion. Today, after years of my excellent tutelage, he makes omelettes (which my kids enthusiastically refer to as “daddy omelettes”) in addition to pasta, and we just completed his first in a series of quesadilla lessons.
My kids are definitely happiest when dinner is pasta, tacos or a mac-and-cheese casserole, and it’s pretty tempting to serve those things in constant rotation (with some vegetables on the side). But it’s the mom guilt that still has me cooking futile soups, pointless chilis and quixotic quiches that I know will have less of a chance of making it all the way to the finish than a short-haired contestant on The Bachelor.
The mom guilt is multifaceted. There is guilt over feeding my kids the same thing over and over again (and setting them up for a lifetime of picky eating). There is guilt over feeding them an omelette and vegetable sticks when Pinteresters are making 11-course macronutrient-balanced dinners. There is guilt over spending 20 minutes making crêpes when other parents are dedicating hours to slaving away in the kitchen (and setting my kids up for a lifetime of feeling like they can take shortcuts). On the other hand, I also feel guilty when they hate their dinner and refuse to eat. There really is no winning.
For now, I feel like the answer is to keep my meal rotation small and safe, with the occasional new, exciting (and ultimately disappointing) dinner thrown in when the guilt over another night of cheesy pasta becomes overwhelming. I aspire to start back up with that meal plan company when my kids are a bit older and less likely to cry real tears when they don’t like what I’ve made. How long are fire-roasted tomatoes good for anyway?