What’s For Dinner?Posted: July 12, 2012
The title of this post is both one of my favorite and one of my most dreaded questions.
It is my favorite when it’s coming from my mouth; it makes my throat tighten when it’s directed my way, sometime after 5 o’clock.
Before we were parents, John and I ate out pretty regularly. That’s what people who like to eat do when they have disposable income and curious palates. But then we became parents and with that change came longer days and shorter nights and tighter wallets and a mouth to feed with deep regard. Somewhere in there, we started staring blank-eyed at each other across the kitchen more nights than not when the topic of what to make for dinner came up.
We worked it out. We developed a rotation of meals that, if not particularly inspired, was particularly reliable and nutritious and easy to prepare. Sausage and kraut. Chicken and salad. Pasta. Taco night. At first, it felt like we’d turned a corner. We were cooking (kind of)! We weren’t eating cereal! Max will eat some part of most of those meals! But then, as with all things done too often, it started to feel tired. We were on autopilot, cruising through dinner with nary an exclamation of “delicious!” to be found.
We stayed in this rut for a while. And then, last week, we decided to take a(nother) cue from Jenny Rosenstrach and start a dinner diary of sorts. Whereas she writes down all the dinners she eats, though, we decided to write down all the dinners we’d like to cook and then shop accordingly.
We each picked meals and then we talked through the week to sort out who would be responsible for dinner each night. In a week that saw me entering the workforce full-time for the first time since Maxine was born, these nightly dinners were an anchor. At my desk during the day, I’d find myself looking up from a memoir I was reading or grant proposal I was sorting through, remembering what was for dinner and smiling. I knew where my finish line for each day was and, most importantly, knew that John and Max would be there to greet me when I got there.
I want to say that eating delicious food each night was a side effect, but the thing is that it wasn’t. Eating delicious food–food that we were excited to cook and to eat made coming together over dinner an event in a way that it simply could not be for us without this element of deliciousness. The food invited us to linger, to feel gratitude, and let go of the day that brought us to this moment. It invited us to compliment each other and laugh when Maxine rejected the majority of her plate in favor of plain cold pasta. Cooking food I wanted to cook made making dinner feel less like a chore and more like an investment in both my self and my family. It was a tangible signal that the work day was done and the family evening was just getting started. The reappearance of variety and thoughtful meals was a proud declaration of the importance of dinner in a household that now largely comes together at that moment. It was a proud declaration of the importance of family.
We have planned our meals again for this week. Nothing from the old rotation has a place. Someday I’m sure the old standbys will sporadically make appearances (I have near romantic feelings for sausage and kraut). I imagine we’ll chuckle and reminisce, remembering these hazy first years of parenting and the simple staples that carried us up to this moment.