March 18, 2013

The Family Dinner

Oh you guys. This might sound funny coming from me, a person who likes to cook, who reads cookbooks just for fun like they are ordinary books, who is a wanna-be food blogger, and who takes 90 percent of my photos in MY KITCHEN.

But for the past few months, I haven't had a clue what to make for dinner.

I haven't wanted to even MAKE dinner.

What with one or more of us having been sick for the better part of a month, seasonal affective disorder kicking into high gear, and just utter dinner-prep malaise, the evening meal had seriously become the great hurdle of my day.

And it didn't seem lately like dinner was Fun Happy Time either. Julia and I had a jolly miserable fight about me having had the gall to attempt to fold her burrito for her that ended with both of us crying and leaving the table.

I'm aware that there is some true hardship existing in this world, and having to prepare dinner for one's family isn't usually one of them. But I do think that at the end of the day, when people are tired and cranky, getting into the kitchen and making dinner can often be Not Something One Wants to Do.

I remember having a conversation with a friend once, and she said "I'm so OVER making dinner." and I was like "Really? I LOVE it!" (sometimes I disgust myself with my insensitivity)

Well I too got to that place. I was so over making dinner.

I pulled out a cookbook I've had for a couple of years, 'The Family Dinner' by Laurie David. And friends, it helped me.

I'm still kind of mentally and physically bolstering myself into making dinner but it did give me some good things to think about, and I came away with a few ideas that have made dinner-making slightly less of an ordeal.

The first thing that I started implementing, which is an idea that apparently got Laurie David really into making her own family dinners more fun, was the notion of TACO TUESDAY.

We've been doing Taco Tuesday for the past month and I LOVE IT SO MUCH. I might not know what I'm going to be making for the rest of the week, but on Tuesday it's going to be some kind of taco!

Here's what we've had so far for our tacos:

Classic ground beef-and-taco-mix (i either make up my own or get the reduced sodium kind) with shredded lettuce, olives, cheese and salsa

Fish tacos with coleslaw

Mu shu pork (this is totally a kind of taco!)

Black bean and rice and lime tacos with Monterey Jack cheese

Trader Joe's Mini Chicken Tacos

I want to make these shrimp tacos

And we're going to throw in various kinds of fajitas. I think some kind of pulled pork may make an appearance at some point. Basically, if it can be put inside of a tortilla, it qualifies for Taco Tuesday.

(by the by, I don't do crispy corn tortillas. those tear up the roof of my mouth and I hate them. i only do soft tacos!)


Julia and Andrew LOVE the whole idea of Taco Tuesday. It seriously has become our favorite meal of the week! I always had heard about people doing Taco Tuesday and thought it was such a cliche, and also I didn't really love tacos all that much, but it really has been a shot in the arm to our weekly dinner routine.

I totally totally love 'The Family Dinner' book. It's a really FUN book to read and believe me when I tell you that it's JAM PACKED with recipes, stories, dinnertime word games and conversation starters, snack ideas, ways to get your kids involved in the kitchen, little drinks and foods to eat when one is ill, fast dinner ideas, slow cooking dinner ideas, ways to turn one dinner into another dinner, ways to respect the environment when making your food choices....it has so much Useful Information you can't believe it.

We really like this game that we learned about from the book wherein each person at the table says a true thing that happened during their day and something false that did NOT occur, and everyone else has to guess which is which. Julia loves this one! Except she always says that she dropped her lunchbox EACH TIME we play, so we pretty much know that that little nugget is not the real thing that happened to her during her day. (We had to think of a new dinner game, because Julia always wanted to play 20 Questions and after 6 months of non-stop rounds of 20 Questions, we were DONE. She likes entertainment during her meals. Andrew and I are like, can't we just eat?)


My cookbook collection is so out of control, this one had been buried in my cookbook bookcase and I had sort of forgotten about it for the past year. No more! It's out on my counter all the time now.

The other thing that Laurie talks about in her book that really made an impression on me is the idea that meals can be SIMPLE and still be a family dinner.

The getting together is what matters. You can have a baked potato with stuff put on top. You can have Cereal Dinner. I used to have a sandwich or cereal all the time for dinner when I was single. My family certainly isn't going to fall apart if we have a meal like that sometimes. My worth as a Someone Who Enjoys Cooking won't be diminished. I might actually enjoy it more if I wasn't so stressed about it all the time! We have soup and sandwiches usually once a week. One of Andrew's favorite dinners in the whole world incidentally, is tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches. You could have eggs on toast, if your kids ate eggs, which mine doesn't.

Julia wants to start having a TV dinner night on the weekends. She doesn't care what it is, as long as she can watch a movie while we eat it.


 (all these cookbooks. still no clue what to make.)

All I hear about these days is food hysteria, in one form another. Don't touch gluten! Eat "clean". Eat meat, but don't eat grain. Don't eat meat. Don't eat too much meat. Don't eat the wrong kind of meat.

(I seriously am worried that if I don't eat organic grass fed beef, I might single-handedly destroy my insides and the environment. I'm not joking. I get very very nervous if I eat meat that might be riddled with hormones and antibiotics and if I give it to my kid she might get her period at age 9. I kind of wish I could go back in time when I knew nothing about these issues, because I WORRY so much.)

Don't eat rice, it has arsenic. (now i rinse about 15 times) Use agave nectar instead of sugar. Don't use agave, it's bad for you too.

Basically one could very much get the impression, particularly if one hangs out online very much, that unless you're growing and harvesting your own food, eating anything other than a sweet potato is VERY DANGEROUS and for someone with anxiety like me, well, this translates into STRESS.

So I try to just do the best I can. I still don't know what to make for dinner most of the time, which is why I love to cruise food blogs so much. I used to buy Julia fish sticks from Trader Joe's when she was smaller, to feed her for her lunch, but I thought it would be heresy to pass that off as "dinner" because that would mean that I was lazy or something and not a Good Parent. I'm getting over that incredibly ridiculous mindset. I can't believe the pressure we put on ourselves! The other day we had fish nugget sandwiches and carrot sticks for dinner and ~

It was a very nice dinner.

(P.S. this is a great list of packaged-yet-not-totally-awful for you meals)

30 comments:

  1. Melissa, these could be my words! Most every night I stress about mealtime... and even do having something planning (hooray!) I still have guilty thoughts about not meal planning, not trying to force feed my picky family lots of veggies, not providing enough variety... I could go on and on. The guilty thoughts can be overwhelming, can't they?

    I admire those women who can cook for their families every night. Women who make something different all the time. Women whose children eat things like broccoli and chicken. Women who have it together in the kitchen.

    So far I have three meals planned for this week... taco pizza, meatball sandwiches (I did make the meatballs - score!), and chili and cornbread. I make these most every week, but at this point I'm mostly okay with it. At least we're not eating out, right?

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    1. you are two more meals ahead of me for this week! We love chili and cornbread! I used to be so awesome at meal planning, i'd sit down with my little notebook. for some reason even if i sit down to do it, i still can't think of anything!

      i realize what i have: DINNER BLOCK. like writer's block, only with dinner. :)

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  2. This was a very relevant and helpful post! yeah, meal time... oh meal time... also I wander the grocery store without a plan most shopping days... horrible. We eat tacos all the time... in fact we may already be doing taco tuesday. And I think we do breakfast for dinner monday -unintentionally- (I don't shop til tuesday and by monday we have nothing left in the kitchen to cook except for ingredients for breakfast foods).

    I think I need to tell my family that because I do these things dinner time is more fun! Actually breakfast for dinner is about our most successful meal of the week because all the kids like it and there is little to no complaining which is a miracle.

    So here's a question? when I make breakfast burritos for dinner is that taco night or breakfast night? ;)

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    1. whoa that is a deep question to which i have no answer. i'm gonna go with that being a breakfast night dinner, which sounds AWESOME! i love breakfast burritos! how i wish my kid would eat scrambled eggs. xo

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  3. Right there with you at 5:30. I love the e-cards that say "Didn't I feed you yesterday?" and "Why do they want dinner every single night?" Been wanting "The Family Dinner" so glad to know it's useful. I have enjoyed "Mad Hungry" by Lucinda Scala Quinn. I would love to cook more, be more adventurous if I knew the kiddos wouldn't run from the table.

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    1. i know, it's the everyday-ness of it all that gets hard. oh they want dinner again? i've heard great things about Lucinda's book, and i loved her input at Everyday Food magazine (SO SAD that is no more!)

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  4. It can be tough we all the different stuff we hear. I'm so glad you're finding joy in it again. You know what helps me get in the mood to cook? The Chew. They're always making fun easy things and it inspires me. Great post.

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    1. What is that Juju? Is that a blog? A website? a TV show? oh I must investigate!

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  5. Glad you are having fun cooking again! Dinner making is one of the most complex and tedious task to me!!! I just can't plan ahead properly and I truly wished it could be easier but it's a real chore. I need a book too. Well maybe more than just books but they sure help :)

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    1. all those folks who plan, freeze ahead, prep for the week....i want them to come to my house and hold my hand and walk me thru that process....:)

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  6. I said the same thing to my husband last week "I'm just really over making dinner and I feel that we eat the same thing all the time!" Since January I have eliminated red meat from my diet, well really our diet. We do lots of beans now, I use ground turkey in pasta sauce, we do eat pork once a week, salmon twice weekly, we do TJ's cod fillets once a week with a sweet potato. All meat I buy is grass feed, hormone free ALWAYS! I also buy mostly organic fruits and veggies, if they are available. But I try not to stress if everything is not organic. I do the best I can! I also makes lots of soups and chili. And always a homemade pizza with whatever toppings I have on hand. We also do black bean tacos once a week. It's really easy...roast peeled and cubed sweet potatoes, diced onion, diced red pepper and mushrooms in olive oil with salt and pepper in the oven at 375 degrees for about 45 minutes. Heat one can of black beans. Combine all ingredients in a soft shell taco and top with sour cream. This is my new, favorite recipe!

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    1. much to my husband's deep chagrin, we don't eat a lot of red meat either. maybe a couple times a month. I'm all about ground turkey! I love it for Sloppy Joe's. I LOVE black beans too!!! I make Cuban Black Beans on Rice a lot, and at first, Andrew was like, "what the hey is this", but he has grown to appreciate it.

      I love your idea of throwing in roasted sweet potato!!! I try and get salmon in whenever I can, and happily, my child has proven herself to be a true Pacific Northwest native and LOVES salmon. This week I think out salmon is going to be found in a sushi rice bowl recipe I've been wanting to make from Alice Water's book 'The Art of Simple Food'.

      I could talk about food all day long, I just realized. :) xo

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  7. My husband and I split the dinner-making around here - when he isn't working during dinnertime, of course - due to my whole vegetarian thing (17 years!) and his and the girls' preference for meat. I tend to fall back on pasta too often, and while I have a few soup recipes I LOVE, the girls don't eat the soup as well as they used to. My husband and I love our greens - kale, chard - but the girls won't touch it. Same with Brussels sprouts, darn it. I have a few gourmet homemade mac and cheese I pull out if I'm in the mood, and I do love a taco night, too. And enchilada night. And slow cooker black bean soup.

    Tonight, we're having dinner at Il Vicino Wood Oven Pizza, because from 5 to 9, 20% of our bill goes to our Community Theatre. :o) Which is great, because I HATE COOKING WHEN I'M SICK!!!! :)

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    1. not much cooking has been happening here this week! it's been takeout. i've had an atrocious cold -- julia likes chard a bit (she'll have 3 bites) but she thinks it's kale, somehow she got it confused early on and she thinks all red chard is kale.

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  8. I can relate so much! Honestly, I cook to eat. It's my means to an end because while I'm a pretty good cook, I am an awesome eater! haha!
    Our problem is that Audrey seems to not be interested in anything that isnt a chicken nugget or mac and cheese (I try not to strangle people who brag about their kids wanting green beans or peas) but now that she's 6 she thinks she's big enough to maybe start trying some new stuff...we'll see..but yeah, sometimes I am so over having to be the brains and brawn behind dinner ;)

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    1. there are so many many things i'd love to make that I know Julia just won't go for. Julia hates green beans too. She does like things like beets though. but the kid does not have a broad palette. She told me she would be happy eating mac and cheese EVERYDAY. I hated everything when I was little except PB&J and now I like nearly everything, so I'm not sweating her lack of food adventure too much at this point. :)

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  9. oh, sigh. yes. I have been over making dinner for the past 13 years (my entire married life...) But I do think the idea of taco tuesday could help us out! I love just having a place to start--tacos! How easy! I also recently discovered thefoodee.com and it has helped me find a few new recipes and it allows you to print out a grocery list--which is the second part of my problem--shopping for food. I hate it so. You can filter the recipes by how "clean" they are and what not if you are trying to avoid a certain toxin. I'm just trying to do the best I can as well, though.

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    1. Lately I feel like I've been making too many trips to the store b/c I'm not organized and doing a weekly shop. Thank you the link to TheFoodee.com!! That sounds helpful.

      so funny how having that one meal in the week planned for makes such a difference. it's the little things...."_

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  10. Ha, Ha, I remember those days of pain so well. I have now discovered the answer. The trick is to make a GIANT one pot meal that will last for a week:) This week's is every vegetable in the vegetable aisle, plus frozen turkey and broth left from Thanksgiving, plus barley and slightly Moroccan seasonings-cumin, coriander, fennel, etc. Oh, wait, is this method only OK for old lady bachelor(ette)s?

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    1. G-ma Sue ~ that sounds delicious!! Oh and your Morrocan Pot Pie was AWESOME, I need that recipe. Andrew and I loved it!

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  11. If I were you, I certainly wouldn't take MY advice in the kitchen. Last night I made chicken korma and my five year old proclaimed that it was "not SO yummy. Just a little yummy." When he saw my crestfallen face, he said "Don't worry, Mommy, tomorrow is always fresh with no mistakes in it!" So first he bags on my meal, then he throws my own (apparently overused) Anne of Green Gables quote in my face. He wins.

    I find myself pinning recipes on Pinterest with great intentions to cook them, then almost every night I fall back to a small handful of recipes that I know the kids will eat at the very least. I really really wish I enjoyed cooking. I just don't. I like the taco Tuesday idea, might give that a try- or some consistent dinner one night a week. That's really great.

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    1. CUTEST THING EVER what your son said!!! "just a little yummy". Oh I love it!!!!!

      I've made a few things from Pinterest. Not as much as I pin though! I should give myself a make-things-from-Pinterest challenge :)

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  12. I HATE COOKING. It stresses me out. Doesn't help that my husband and older daughter are picky. I love tacos but I'm not that great at making them. That Family Dinner book looks great. I wish we had Trader Joe's here in Canada!

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    1. Leanne, my great wish for you is a Trader Joe's. That is one awesome store. I had a friend who used to live in Vancouver and she used to drive to Seattle just to do a big shop at Trader Joe's!!!

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  13. I probably have over a hundred cookbooks, and read them like novels. In fact, I have bought a few for my Kindle due to limited shelf space :)Yet, I still ponder the whole dinner thing! I think we all get stuck in a rut. Sometimes I feel like we have the same meals over and over again, and it's just worse since the pickiest eater in the entire southwest has arrived!

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    1. Me too!!! similar amount of cookbooks, and I read them like storybooks! I really like cookbooks that have good stories in them, like Molly Wizenberg's book (from the blog Orangette) and Laurie Colwin's 'Home Cooking' and 'More Home Cooking'.

      I think I enjoy reading about cooking more so than really cooking, I just realized......xo

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  14. Melissa ~ why aren't we hanging out and crying together at Trader Joe's?!!! I really think I have food paralysis anymore ~ like no matter what "good" choice I make its still HORRIBLE so I might as well just eat Cadbury Mini Eggs and call it a day. :D Recently I've started trying to just cook like my mom did when I was little. Its helping *some*. . . . . That cookbook looks amazing and just might find its way into my house soon. A blog I follow has been doing some fun Family Dinners that have my mojo creaking a little too. http://starfishcottage.typepad.com/blog/2013/03/fun-family-dinner-9-dessert-first-dinner.html She mentioned a fun card game, Table Topics for Families, http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B000FFET52/ref=ox_sc_sfl_title_2?ie=UTF8&psc=1&smid=ATVPDKIKX0DER that I'm excited to get to. Since I'm home with the girls asking them about their days is a bit redundant for the three of us so I'm hoping this will help spark some other conversations.

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    1. Yes why not???? Although usually TJ's makes me so happy I don't cry there :) ~ it's on Sundays when I'm trying to figure out the week. I think I have TOO MANY CHOICES, with my cookbook collection and the internets. If I had 3 books, and that's it, things might be less complicated.

      Thank you for the links, I'm off to go see if I can gain some enlightenment!

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  15. Totally! What is UP with all the "eat this, don't eat this, this will totally kill you" info on the web? I've had to train myself to be OK with eating out or eating at someone else's house and not worry about the vegetables not being organic or the chicken not being free range or the fact that there's probably vegetable oil in at least one dish. I've basically gotten to the point where I won't read any nutritional articles. I think the stress we all have around eating is probably just as if not more dangerous than the "bad" foods. Not to say I don't avoid a lot of things when I'm shopping and cooking. I just try not to worry so much about it. Whenever I have white carb guilt, I just say to myself, "Whatever. French people eat this stuff."

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