A Guide to Feeding Littles
Burnt Grilled Cheese and Forgotten Side Salad: Menu Planning for Weary Parents
Start the week off right by drinking coffee too late in the day and making soup with a side salad for dinner. Choose ingredients everyone loves then shake things up by making it serve yourself. Eat yours as directed, warm and with a spoon. Let one kid eat hers with a side of bread carelessly dipped into the broth so it leaves a trail between the bowl and her mouth. Let the other kid give you very detailed instructions about how to serve the soup - without potatoes, ham on the side, and cold because he spent much of the meal running around the house. Let your spouse feed himself because he went on a two hour bike ride during dinner and bedtime. Make a salad but forget to serve it. Later when you find it in the fridge, you can either eat it immediately or have a bowl of ice cream. You decide.
While dirtying 20 bowls, introduce your family to the wonderful world of Tortilla Tuesday (formerly called Taco Tuesday).
Three hours before eating dinner make pickled onions by filling a half gallon jar with vinegar, salt, sugar, and red onions. Twenty minutes before dinner remember that you meant to marinate your protein and frantically dig 17 different herbs and spices out of the cabinet and without measuring dry rub the meat with your bare hands. Tell your child, “No,” now isn’t a good time for you to play go fish or jenga or the piano. While the protein cooks, shred cheese, destem cilantro, defrost corn kernels, make salsa, chop avocados, steam rice, slice limes, and warm the tortillas. Open your taco bar and bite your tongue as your children slide one tortilla and nothing else onto their plates. Smile as your spouse raves about the tacos knowing that you’ll never be able to recreate them exactly because you didn’t follow a recipe. Eat four pickled onions and put the rest in your fridge. When they resurface in three weeks, throw them away while vowing to half the recipe next time.
It’s hump day.
Keep it simple with Burnt Grilled Cheese and Tomato Soup. After dance class or soccer practice choose a kid friendly option with minimal prep time. While the soup and sandwiches are cooking, walk away to fold laundry, pluck your eyebrows, and check your email. Let the fire alarm serve as a reminder that it’s time to flip the grilled cheese and stir the soup. Serve the grilled cheese burnt side down. Use shot glasses for the soup and when your kids complain about the small portion ignore them and say, “Let’s cheers!” while clinking glasses. Remember that you meant to serve steamed carrots as a side. Quickly peel carrots but don’t cut or cook them. Rebrand them as carrot swords. Throw away the tomato soup pot because it’s now more soup than pot.
You’ve made it to Thursday.
What a perfect day for failed take out. At noon, tell your spouse you aren’t in the mood to cook dinner. Suggest a few take out options. Tilt your head to the side, raise an eyebrow, and purse your lips as he tells you his opinions on take out. Take a deep breath and sigh as he showers your chef skills with praise and guilts you with talk of plastic takeout containers. Walk away mid sentence and make yourself a cup of tea while ushering the children outside. An hour before dinner, enjoy a bowl of cereal while standing at the kitchen sink contemplating divorce and watching the kids fight over a stick. When dinner time rolls around, open the fridge and announce that a meal of snacks is served. Let one child choose cottage cheese, strawberries, pancakes, and olives and the second choose skin-free apples, popcorn, and spaghetti with meatballs. Insist that they both have broccoli because, balance. When they ask what you’re having, fill a plate with kid number two’s apple skins and give them a long lecture about the benefits of fiber. After the kids go to bed, let your hunger surface and make yourself a hotdog served with wine in a plastic cup. When your spouse asks, “What’s for dinner?” remain silent.
Fridays are for chicken nuggets, fries, and I have no idea what the kids are eating.
Take the box of frozen nuggets and bag of french fries out of the freezer, read the directions, and wonder why the makers of nuggets and fries couldn’t agree on a common temperature to cook their foods. Preheat the oven to 415 degrees and dump everything onto a baking sheet. Find the forgotten salad from Monday, pick out a few slimy leaves, and add dressing. Call the family for dinner. When your kids (the only two children on the planet who don’t like chicken nuggets and fries) push their plates away, laugh, say “More for me,” and mean it. When they say they’re hungry 20 minutes later instruct the older kid to fill bowls with cereal, bananas, and milk. I’m here to tell you two important facts: First, kids need to learn independence in the kitchen and, second, brinner is a perfectly acceptable dinner.
Saturday night finally arrives, a day to cook for YOUR taste buds.
Decide you are no longer cooking to please your children and choose a wildly complicated, hands on recipe like sweet potato gnocchi in a parmesan cream sauce. Invite your children to cook with you. Then vow to never cook with them again because it takes them 45 minutes to cook 7-minute microwave sweet potatoes. Double the recipe while reminding yourself that just because each family member likes every single ingredient on its own, chances that they will love the sum of the parts is slim to none. Let yourself be surprised and on the verge of tears when your four year old tries one gnocchi as his final bite of dinner and gives you a handshake, Great British Baking Show style. Even though he assures you that he will try more tomorrow, remain suspicious and keep your expectations low.
Sigh, it’s Sunday. Sleep in and as you wake, take a deep breath, stretch your arms wide, and let a small smile spread across your face with the realization that someone else is cooking, and, tonight, you don’t have to do a single thing for dinner.