The most dreaded question that can be asked of me on any given day is, “Mom!! What’s for dinner?” I literally shudder when my I hear my daughters’ loud, squeaky voices shout this inquiry out. For one thing, I usually don’t know. It’s no secret that I have subpar meal-planning skills. Okay, fine. I also have subpar meal-cooking skills, but never mind that. If I do happen to know what’s for dinner, probably because my husband bought the ingredients and told me what he’d like for me to cook, my girls usually protest at just about any menu I present to them.

In all fairness, my daughters are not very picky eaters. A few of them have even made requests for exotic-to-a-kid foods, such as crab legs and sushi. And if their repertoires are limited, then I only have myself to blame. I love to make them the old stand-bys; things that are easy, fast, fool-proof, and that all three of them will eat without complaining. Spaghetti, macaroni and cheese, canned soup, Ramen noodles, and yes, I’m ashamed to admit, even cereal are “sure things” that my girls love to gobble down. An added bonus is that my ten-year-old can make all of these dishes on her own, thus freeing me from the burden of cooking dinner some nights. Did I mention that she wants to be a chef? See? On the job training!

I did experience a sort of “cooking renaissance” recently after discovering all the deliciousness that is so prevalent on Pinterest. There were a few weeks of experimenting with new recipes that made my husband fall in love with me all over again. His eyes lit up like Christmas trees as I served him plate after plate of chicken parmesan casserole, bacon and gruyere tarts, and patty melts each night. And the freshly-discovered dessert recipes practically made his head spin! Key lime pie, gooey brownie bites, and peanut butter fudge seemed to etch a perma-smile on his face. The problem was, while the girls obviously adored the desserts, they didn’t like many of these latest entrée recipes.

One would love the chicken parm casserole, but the other two were disgusted by it. Two would scarf down the patty melts, while the third pouty girl stabbed it methodically with her fork. On evenings like this, like many others, each child would ask for a particular individual meal for me to make. Sometimes, I’d have no fight left in me and would happily play the short order cook just to have some peace and quiet. But after slaving away all day on a brand-spanking new recipe? No way, I refused to meet their requests. The ironic thing is that when we go to a fast food restaurant, all three of them always order the exact same meal as each other! What the…?!

I’d be a fool not to employ the “starving kids in third world countries” tactic on my daughters when they start to fuss about dinner…or anything else for that matter. I’ve even gone as far as to show them pictures of these poor, sweet kids online to drive the point home. One of my biggest fears as a mom is that my daughters are going to turn out to be entitled, spoiled brats, and complaining about anything edible falls under that category in my eyes. That’s not to say that I adore every food out there. I just happen to be the one who has control over what comes into the house and what doesn’t. I remind them that they’ll have that power too one day. They’re definitely looking forward to it.

And then there’s the matter of wanting them, as well as myself and my husband, to eat healthier. My five aforementioned “go-to” dishes are not the most nutritious fare. There’s a local produce company that delivers boxes of fresh organic fruits and vegetables every week, but my thrifty husband thinks it would be a waste of money to order from them. He always says, “We’ll go to the farmer’s market for fresh produce!”…but we never ever do. The stuff you get at the supermarket is laden with chemicals and pesticides, so what’s the point in forcing your kids to eat that junk? In my dreams, we congregate at the dinner table every evening to large silver platters of freshly-picked fruits and vegetables and eat happily to our hearts’ content. It could happen, right?!

One of my time-tested philosophies of motherhood is that parenting involves a lot of threats and bribes. I’ve been known to do one or the other, and sometimes both, when my daughters wouldn’t eat what I was cooking on a particular night. Threats usually meant tears would be shed (theirs and mine and sometimes even my husband’s) and bribes would involve promising the one thing I’m really trying to rid our house of: sugary junk food. Sigh.

Some of my friends are geniuses at hiding healthy ingredients in kid-friendly foods. Talk about recipes. You can find tons online that show you how to create nutritious foods that masquerade as all varieties of treats. Muffins filled with shredded carrots. Cake made with spinach. Perhaps if I always had a tray of freshly-baked health food muffins lying around, I could send my kids in their direction guilt-free whenever they turn their noses up at what I dish out at dinnertime. I’m always game for whipping up a healthy smoothie as well, so that’s another out I’m willing to give them.

I guess when it comes right down to it, I’m not just feeding these kids to keep them alive, but I’m trying to teach them something. That we need to take the best care of our bodies that we possibly can, that we can’t always get what we want even if we don’t like what we’re served, and that Mommy gets really stressed out around 5 o’clock each evening. What’s for dinner? Whatever’s on your plate, that’s what!

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