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“Qu-est-ce qu’on mange ce soir?” (French for “What are we eating for dinner tonight?”) is the dreaded quotidian question. In my case, it’s usually my husband asking and generally speaking, he is asking what I’d like him to cook since he has more time and energy to do the cooking.
Lately, though, I sensed my family’s fatigue with the usual repertoire and despite stepping in myself now and then to help out, kept thinking something had to change.
Ironically, we had had a conversation with our former exchange student’s counselor about assigning chores. She bragged about how she almost never cooks because from the time her kids were old enough to do so, she assigned each of her six kids a night to cook dinner.
Before I could implement her strategy (which, in my case, would only cover two nights since I only have two kiddos), I had the fortune of learning that my older son (Nick) was a prime candidate for injecting some spice (pun intended) into our dinners.
Healthy Eating Learning Contract
Oh yeah, wanted: child chef! Thanks to the lack of uniformity in the American education system and us moving out of state at the beginning of my older son’s junior year in high school, he was left needing to earn credit for health class. The traditional health class didn’t fit with his schedule.
Alas, lucky us, he was allowed to partake in an independent learning contract, the topic of which is Healthy Eating. Part of the contract involves finding healthy recipes, cooking them, taking photos (I guess for proof that they actually made the recipe) and keeping a journal with reactions to the recipes.
So far, my son has made a healthy oatmeal and cocoa based snack, a delicious chicken recipe with tomatoes and peppers, and this weekend, a wonderful Korean style beef dish. Now, since he is heading off to university in August, I told him that he will need to create a cookbook before he leaves so that the rest of the family can take over the reins (or knives?). Oh, and the added challenge for this kitchen coup is that on Valentine’s Day, Nick and I learned that we have dairy and egg sensitivities, so this restriction needs to be factored into his quest for healthy recipes.
My younger son is constantly sending me recipes for random foods (he made baklava in February), so I have another culinary recruit willing and able in the wings. Once Nick completes his school assignment, Max can stage a coup d’état (de cuisine) so he can get in a bite or two.
So, my question to you is, how do you juggle life and dinner time? Do you eat home-cooked meals, or are you a prêt-à-manger kind of family? We strive to eat home-cooked meals, but when pressed for time, our go-to ready-made meal is rotisserie chicken paired with steamed vegetables and maybe a starch (coucous or rice tends to be our go-to carb).
For budgetary and sensitive digestive tract reasons, we rarely bring take out food home.
About ninety eight (98%) percent of the time, we eat at the dining room table as a family. This is the only time we really have a chance to see each other, so it has been a ritual we’ve instilled in our children that I hope will be passed down to their families some day. The tradition in part stems from childhood.
Truth be told, as a child, my nose was often stuck in a book while eating dinner. This behavior was acceptable at my mom’s but I will never forget the drama and how my dad reamed me out the summer my sister and I lived with him (I was 10) about how rude I was for reading at the dinner table. In his house, this was not to be tolerated.
Yes, imagine that, I’m pretty sure these days parents would love it if their kids would pick up a book and not even care if they read at the dinner table, but to my dad, reading at the table back in the days when The Brady Bunch was all the rage was as unacceptable as texting or consulting one’s cellphone.
Luckily, my kids have implicitly understood that they cannot bring their electronic devices to the dinner table — we are at the table together for a reason — to talk to each other! We often talk gibberish and joke around, and I must confess, lately I have been reflecting on how much I will miss my older son at the dinner table when he sets off for college in three months!