By Trevor Marshallsea
The questions are: "What, in God’s name, will I cook these kids for dinner?" And: "Must they really have dinner every single %*^#%* day?"
If you're anything like me you'll start asking these questions each day, at about 6:30pm. This could explain two things: 1: Why I've been accused of being an unimaginative cook. And 2: The huge bags under my children's eyes.
Still, I resent the accusation from certain members of my marriage that I'm not quite as creative as those chefs she sees on the TV. They're mostly about nine years old! My point is they’re so young they don’t know what they like yet. I, being old, have developed a finely honed belief in what I like. And it's so good I want to pass it on to my kids. And unimaginative? Even as I type this I’m contemplating boldly overhauling my signature dish and renaming it “Meat and FOUR Veg.”
Yes, family cooking is demanding. I now know why my own mother seemingly simply gave up, alas some years before I was born. I've heard some people get organized on a Monday and plan, and shop for, all the dinners they'll cook that week. This to me sounds like dabbling in the dark arts. Or at least it's risibly nerdy. It also doesn't account for what food mood you might be in when 6:30 rears its ugly head on the ensuing, locked-in days.
I can perform in the kitchen when I try, a bit, but sometimes with kids you wonder about the point of it all. A friend once asked our nine-year-old Lani her favorite of all dad's meals. I puffed out my chest as a pleased, if not smug, smile spread across my face. This was a no-brainer. Years ago I was moved to look up something called a “recipe” (more dark arts, as I see it). This was because we were living on the coast and I felt like seafood chowder. It takes some trouble to make, but I can honestly say that whenever I do, people gasp, and in a nice way. Lani served up her answer without hesitation.
"Leftovers!" she said.
I served up a smile, on wry. Leftovers have long been a signature dish of the harried parent. One parenting writer recently said the biggest bafflement of his childhood was that leftovers was all he ever ate, and that "the original meal was never found." To be fair, my leftovers are special.
I once beheld a fridge full of old meals and thought how terrible a lump of sweet and sour pork would look beside a slice of pizza and half a sandwich. In a burst of inspiration I threw them all into the blender. I added an egg (there's nothing that can't be improved with an egg) made little patties and fried them up. I then added the key ingredient of surprise, by calling it "Dad's Leftover Surprise," and voila, a sort of miracle was born.
The kids love it. I love it, because it avoids waste, and we have fun while learning the beautiful art of food preparation, or "chucking stuff into the blender." There are usually enough vegetables amidst the beloved “lefties” to make sure it's even nutritious. Mostly though, I think the kids love it because it usually gets drowned in tomato sauce.
That's possibly what I've learned the most clearly about feeding kids. They'll eat almost anything if it's covered in ketchup. And spaghetti. Never forget the spaghetti.
But one parenting/cooking tip beats them all: When you really are about to cook their favorite meal, always ask them first what they'd like for dinner. Chances are they'll say what you're about to prepare. Nothing aids kids' appetites more than having the empowering choice of picking dinner. Or at least feeling like they had it, anyway.