Every job has parts that suck. Everyone who’s ever worked knows this. Usually, the worst part of a job is something that isn’t really even your job, but somehow you got roped into doing it without even a raise to acknowledge the fact that it’s a completely different job, and now you and everyone who inherits your job is stuck doing it forever and ever.
That’s how I feel about cooking dinner.
It’s the worst part of my mom job. And it’s not even part of being a mom. How did cooking dinner become essential to Supermom status? Why do moms need a cooking badge? Cooking is not in any way related to motherhood.
Yes, kids need to eat. But the truth is that kids don’t want to eat anything I cook. They want to eat stale Cheerios, cookies, and old chicken nuggets they find under the couch. So there’s really no reason for me to cook for them.
Some moms enjoy cooking, which is great, but I don’t see why it can’t be an optional hobby, like scrapbooking or blogging, instead of an essential core of the mom job description.
Just think what I’d be doing if I weren’t cooking dinner. I could be spending time with my kids instead of letting them watch TV. I’d be enjoying quality time with them at the end of the day, snuggling on the couch together telling stories and inventing Pinterest-worthy crafts. Instead I’m letting them watch Jake and the Neverland Pirates while I alternate between stirring beans and writing this blog post. With wine.
Because cooking dinner sucks.
1. Your children’s appreciation of any particular food is directly inverse to the amount of time it takes to prepare.
In case you’ve forgotten inverse proportions from high school math, let me translate: the more time you spend cooking something, the less your kids will like it. That six-hour meal you slave over? They won’t eat a bite. The bag of chicken nuggets you toss in the oven for ten minutes? It’s their favorite. I’m not saying this is necessarily a bad thing, because less work is good, right? It’s just frustrating when your effort is never appreciated.
On the bright side, that means you get to be lazy and feel good about it. Or at least win the approval of your kids with it, which is good enough, despite any lingering guilt you might feel over feeding them nothing but chicken nuggets, mac & cheese, and peanut butter sandwiches.
2. Everyone hates leftovers.
I used to love leftovers when I was single. I’d cook once and then eat the same thing all week. I never minded, because hey, if I cook something for myself, it’s because I like it. So I don’t mind eating it again. And again and again. It’s like in college when I used to eat Golden Grahams for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, because hello: they’re delicious. But for some reason, no one else in my family feels that way. Even chicken nuggets will get rejected if I offer them two days in a row. “Hey,” my kids protest, “we had that last night. We’re tired of chicken nuggets.”
3. Cooking is not fun with kids.
Plenty of people on Pinterest will tell you otherwise, but they’re lying. The truth is, cooking with kids sucks. They try to touch hot things and grab sharp things and dump chili powder all over the floor. They want to help, but they’re the exact opposite of helpful. And you feel like you should let them help, because Montessori. But if you do, there’s at least a 57.4% chance you’ll spend the evening running cold water over burns or cleaning up blood instead of, you know, cooking dinner. After which you’ll turn on Jake and the Neverland Pirates and let them watch tv while you finish dinner. It’s so much easier to just skip the process and make dinner yourself.
So should you give up on feeding your kids healthy food? Should you destroy your budget eating out every night? Of course not. As with most parenting problems, you can have it all — you just have to let go of the expectations and the guilt. Instead of cooking healthy meals for your kids, feed them something easy. Bonus? They’ll probably like it better. Double bonus? Raw food is often healthier. Here are a few of my dinner standbys:
1. Fresh fruit as a side. Always, always, always offer fresh fruit as a side. Kids love it. It’s easy. And it requires no cooking.
2. Fresh veggies as a side, with peanut butter or hummus for a dip. See #1.
3. Healthy sandwiches. There’s no reason, other than outdated adult expectations, why sandwiches are healthy for lunch but not for dinner. What’s wrong with organic ham on wheat bread for dinner? Nothing at all. Or how about a peanut butter and jelly alternative, like sunbutter and fresh strawberries or bananas on bread? Nothing wrong with that either.
4. Crockpot. If you’re making meat, use a crockpot. Don’t bother with lots of ingredients or seasonings, because if your kids are anything like mine, flavor will only make them turn up their noses. Throw a bag of baby carrots and one or two chopped-up potatoes under a whole chicken, and add a little salt and pepper if you’re feeling really inspired. Turn on low. Done. It takes less than five minutes of prep, so it barely counts as cooking.
5. Potatoes. Baking potatoes in the oven kind of counts as cooking, because even though prep time takes about 5 minutes (rub oil and salt on potatoes; put in oven), you have to be home while they cook, which means you can’t play on the playground till dinnertime. So — I admit it — 9 times out of 10, if I’m making potatoes, it’s in the microwave. But my kids can’t tell the difference. Add a plate of fresh fruit and veggies on the table, and dinner is served.
6. Spaghetti. I usually use brown rice pasta, on the theory that gluten-free is healthier somehow (is it?), but the real value of spaghetti is that you can sneak anything into the sauce. Usually I just add a packet of ground beef and a few handfuls of frozen spinach, and then — ta-da! — my kids eat lots of leafy greens without even realizing it. And I didn’t have to chop any vegetables.
7. Hot dogs. Organic beef ones on a wheat bun. If I’m really in a hurry, I microwave these, too.
And when all else fails? Don’t feel bad about outsourcing. The chef at my favorite local kid-friendly restaurant is a whole heck of a lot better at cooking than I am. I’m okay with that.