Menu Mix-N-Match

Back when my Lovely Bride and I were newlywed New Yorkers, we cooked together three nights each week, got held up at work two times and ate out twice. One decade and two children later, we dream of just randomly going out to dinner. We have to dream because we can’t remember actually doing so.

Wouldn’t you like to peruse the possibilities from this pleasant perch? Me: no. Lovely Bride: yes.

These days, Lovely combs cookbooks and plans menus for five nights a week, figuring leftovers or pizza the other two. It’s one of her ways of contributing to the care and nurturing of the children. She enjoys curling up in our yellow upholstered swivel rocking chair with a stack of cookbooks and a hot drink. I enjoy avoiding the agony of deciding. Like whether to have sweet-and-sour pork, pork with black bean sauce or grilled pork chops. I don’t a rip, as long as she tips me off when something needs to marinate before I open the fridge at 5:30. (Sometimes I don’t get the message, so spaghetti Bolognese turns into mac-and-cheese from a box.)

As Lovely moves into the annual Fall Crazy Time at work, it occasionally falls to me to pick the menu. She’s busy finding and hiring three people while doing the work of the ones who moved on, plus orchestrating six events in five weeks – oh and starting to plan for Winter Crazy Time at work – so I don’t mind flipping through the cookbook.

I don’t like deciding on the spur of the moment what to fix. I like a plan. Except then sometimes I have to figure out what to fix with what. Broccoli with fish? Tortellini with chicken? Ugh, somebody just tell me what to fix.

So this week, I threw it to the children.

I knew what we had in the freezer, and I know what they’ll eat. So I divided it into three columns: meat, vegetable, starch. Some Real Simple article about dealing with picky eaters mentioned letting the kids pick the menu for a night. I tried that once, but Eddie and Carla bickered about it instead.

This time I opted for multiple choice. Oughtta make for happy kids and happy control-freak Daddy.

The kids just looked at me.

And blinked.

“Kids, do you think your friends get to pick what’s for dinner?” I asked. They just sighed. So much for adding a little democracy to this family dictatorship.

“It’s simple,” I told them. “Just pick one from here and one from here and one from here. Except if you pick lemon chicken, then we have to have rice. And chicken and dumplings have to go together. That’s Mommy’s Law. Oh, and if we have corn, we don’t really need rice the same night. Too starchy.”

Great, now I’m sucking the joy out of a joyless activity by imposing all these conditions.

They started to squirm.

“Okay, let’s start with what kind of chicken – lemon or with dumplings?” I asked.

“Lemon chicken!” Eddie said.

“Okay, now pick a vegetable from this column…” And then it went okay from there. Except nobody wanted asparagus, so I’ll just fix it as a second vegetable one night.

Woo-hoo! Menu planned with only moderate pain.

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3 responses to “Menu Mix-N-Match

  1. We have kind of a disconnect here. I will avoid any store like the plague which means that although I do meal planning and most of the cooking, I don’t really pick out the ingredients. Maybe I should try your version. At least I know we’d get asparagus in there sometimes because that’s the only one everybody likes. If it’s on a good sale so some ends up in the fridge at least.

  2. Oh I wouldn’t go as far as saying anybody in my house likes asparagus. My 9-year-old eats it under extreme duress — with threats of lost screen time and canceled playdates. Then he only eats about an inch of it, making a face like I’m making him eat pig brains soaked in rancid orange juice — even though I cut it into pinky-nail sized pieces and mix it with whatever else is on the plate. He just doesn’t get that the five minutes of protest and agony far outweighs the nine seconds of chewing and swallowing that would make it all go away…

  3. I think one of the biggest challenges is how make your kids eat healthy food, especially when they love to eat the pizzas and the burgers and subway sandwiches! I faced a similar situation when both my adolescent kids wanted to go out and eat with their father. All healthy home cooked food was going for a waste most of the days of the week. So I started researching and sending my research work to my husband through emails, as I knew he always reads his emails at least 4-5 times a day. At first he wasn’t too observant, but one day he came back home with a heavy expression and told me that he was shocked by the the fact that junk food contained so many toxins. Bingo!

    He stopped taking kids to eat out so frequently:)

    Next I had to convince kids. So everyday while eating together on the dining table, I kept explaining them the benefits of healthy food. I told them about all the anti-oxidants, about how each and every ingredient of their food affected their health and what beverages are good. I think after brain washing them constantly for so long, both of them have started understanding and crave less for junk food. But I haven’t really kept them away from sinful food. I do take them out – maybe twice in a month and believe me they are happy with just that. I am a happy soul now:)

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