Dealing with Dinner Dynamics

Heather says:

While I am concentrating on food in this particular essay, the general sentiment can be applied to life in general.  Secondly there are no special needs in my household, with the exception of an intolerance to red dye #40.  If you are dealing with special needs, whether physical or psychological, I advise you to seek professional help for your situation.

I cannot please everyone all the time.  No matter how much effort put into menu planning and meal preparation not everyone will be perfectly content with every meal, not the children, not my husband, and certainly not myself.  I spent a lot of time learning to cook in a high end commercial kitchen, yet it is a world apart from cooking while entertaining three small children while my spouse works long hours.

I am not a short order cook; I did that for a brief period after highschool and if I can help it, it is not a resume bullet point I plan on revisiting.  Ever.

Each day, three meals, and a snack are prepared. Over the course of a week carbohydrates generally balance with protein, a healthy variety of fresh, frozen, and dried fruits and vegetables are prepared and consumed.  I know my family’s diet is nutritionally sound.

Cooking for a family is a learning process, if there is a financial blow the grocery budget is often the first to be slashed.  If learning to prepare meals for a family is an undertaking, doing so on a tight budget can feel daunting.  Be flexible and mature: take reasonable portions, eat your vegetables, even if they aren’t your favorite, don’t make faces, and don’t complain.  Additionally, don’t allow those behaviors from others at your table.  If your spouse is the main culprit, address the issue privately and in a nonconfrontational manner, ask for help and remind him or her that they are a role model.

I test a lot of recipes for this site.  I think some of you would laugh to know exactly how many weeks we tried biscuits before I found the recipe that was simple, cost effective, and tasty.   There were a couple nights where my husband and I joked that this or that particular recipe may be banned in fifteen states for its potential use as a lethal weapon.

Last night was another such night. I was testing a recipe for Cuban pork tenderloin that looked inviting, but proved to be beyond underwhelming.  I don’t know about you, but we can’t afford to waste food. We didn’t complain (in front of the kids, anyhow) but no one took seconds and the leftovers will be transformed,  with a lot of seasoning and cheese for tomorrow’s stuffed peppers.  The next time you have a stinker of a meal, provided it isn’t burnt to a crisp and inedible, take it in stride and be the example.  Use it as an occasion to model patience and resourcefulness.


  1. bojah on April 13, 2008 at 12:55 am

    I like & appreciate your honesty as you recount your kitchen experiments. Here, too, we have had some real losers…though I must say, they are fewer & fewer anymore. Thank God! The kids know they must try whatever is on the table, & that they will learn to accept new recipes more easily as time goes by. I am heartened when what I have made is received with enthusiasm, but realistic enough to know that not each & every dish is going to be a winner. Still, I like to keep branching out, adding things to our repertoire. I just remind the kids that there was a first time for everything they now like!

  2. Margaret on April 11, 2008 at 6:43 pm

    Right on, Heather!!
    Sometimes I actually enjoy meeting the challenge of transforming the yucky recipe into something for the second round.
    We ask our toddler to eat a little bit of everything that’s served for a meal. We do not withhold dessert, either, if she has refused to eat something; we just make sure the dessert (IF we are having any) is reasonably healthy and give her a small portion. I don’t want to develop the habit of rewarding with sweets.
    I gotta say, too, that she’s 2 and she likes her spicy food and ethnic food because she eats right along with us (my favorite picture is her waving vegetable sushi around while sitting in her high chair!!).

  3. Amy on April 11, 2008 at 10:19 am

    I like to experiment in the kitchen. With a 1 year old, a 2.5 year old, my husband, and my dad living here, though, I have a lot of different tastes to cater to. Also, my dad is diabetic and has had a quadruple bypass, so I have to watch the fats, etc. I can’t do lots of cream sauces, etc. And my kids are growing, so I need to incorporate lots of fruit and veggies.

    Here are my rules:

    1) Make sure there is at least one item in every meal that I know the kids will eat. Usually this is bread or noodles, but there has to be something for the babies – or I make them something of their own. My kids aren’t going to eat spicy garlic chicken from the Chinese take out place, so if we get that for the grown ups, I make them fish sticks or something. They’re too little to require that they eat the family meal – especially if it’s spicy.

    2) Have at least two things that grew in each meal – fruits or veggies in the most natural state possible. Spinach salad – good. Creamed spinach – not as good. Sliced apples – good. Apple pie – not as good.

    3) If someone has a preference, I will make a reasonable accommodation to it. For example, my dad doesn’t like sweet potatoes, and it’s really no big deal to throw a baking potato in next to the sweet potatoes, so I’ll do that for him. However, if we’re having quiche and he prefers steak, he knows where the nearest restaurant is and is welcome to get carry out. 🙂

    4) If someone doesn’t like what I’ve made for dinner, they can have a PB&J. I will not make them their own meal, but I will make them PB&J if they try everything and honestly don’t like it.

    5) If someone is sick, they get whatever they can keep down, or whatever sounds good, usually soup or toast or tea.

    When I try something new, I’ll ask, “Is this a keeper?” In other words, “Is this something you would be happy to see on the table again, or would you prefer that I do something else with the pork chops next time?” I expect and appreciate honest answers – after all, I don’t want to spend hours making a meal that no one enjoys. And asking for polite, reasonable, constructive criticism is a way to prevent “eeeewwwws..” If my kids grow up knowing they’ll have a chance to give their opinions politely, I hope I can avoid the “eeewwws.”

    I’ll let you know how that works out. 🙂

  4. Jeffraham Prestonian on April 11, 2008 at 1:49 am

    I normally don’t experiment too much, but when I have, I’m generally successful. I like to cook certin things, and others, I’m content to leave to the pros.

    But danged if I don’t make a mean cheesecake, given all the tools.

  5. Heidi @ Carolina Dreamz on April 10, 2008 at 11:43 pm

    You are my hero!!

    I call all my experiments “Kitchen Miracles” and find that I get lucky more often as I get older.

    Yesterday, I put this stew meat on to simmer with onion. I wasn’t sure what I would do with it, but I knew that I needed to doctor it for a while.

    I put my daughter on the task, actually.

    Her idea of “between low and medium” was between “medium-low and medium” and not the lower side of “medium-low” like I would have chosen.

    It didn’t take long before I asked my son, “What do I smell?” and we found the meat, dry, and quite browned. The onion I had her add was literally mushed and almost black!

    I turned it down and poured another carton of beef stock on top, hoping that I didn’t lose it, financially.

    I was able to turn it around and there were big raves about the final stew.. despite the few tears that might have fallen into the pot along the way… it could have been really bad.

    I was lucky that my nose found it before the smoke alarm alerted me to the issue.

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