When I was growing up, my mom made the best Swedish meatballs. And chicken Milanese. And lasagna with locally made sweet Italian sausages and old-school red sauce. (None of that fancy béchamel stuff.) These days, when I drag my family for dinner at my parents’ house, I beg her to make one of these dishes for me. How could I not? They were the tent-poles of my culinary upbringing — the family dinner rotation — and I must’ve had each of them once a week for eighteen years. If there were other things worth eating out there, I didn’t care to know about them.
I can’t believe how different the dinner situation is in my own house today. My kids never have any idea what’s going to be on the menu. Like all kids, they have their crazy-making aversions (as you know by now, one won’t eat pasta; neither will touch eggs), but their strengths are in the adventure department. They approach the table (mostly) game for just about anything else. Not because they are superior children, but because they have no choice. When you are a food blogger and cookbook writer, you have to keep up with the schedule. You have to keep things interesting.
Unfortunately, “interesting” to me and Andy, often translates to “annoying” for an 8- or 10-year old. As if my little lab rats are not already starving enough when they sit down to eat, they have to live in a test kitchen. They have to wait for the clouds to diffuse the sun just enough to create optimum photographic conditions to shoot what’s set before them. They have to hear their parents earnestly discuss things like acidity in their freaking salad dressing. And God forbid they love something as much as I loved my mom’s meatballs; they might never see it again. For months now, my 10-year-old has been begging for a reprise of the baked lemony chicken dish I debuted it at the table a year ago. The Lemon Chicken! Of course! I promise her. But first we have to retest the fish cakes for the cookbook, and after that we have to turn in our copy for Bon Appetit, so we need to double check that the marinade is getting the right flavor on the grilled flank steak. And remember how we were going to taste-test all those frozen pizzas? Sorry, sweetie, maybe next week?
Family dinner illustration by William Steig, from Abby’s new favorite: When Everybody Wore a Hat.
PS: This is what we are eating tonight. Or some version of it.
Dinner in our house is very different from when I was growing up. As a child I ate well, but it was a lot of the same stuff.
Now, I cook new meals for my four kids everyday. I scour over books and magazines and come up with a new menu each week. There are a handful of things that I make once every other month or so that are favorites and everyone loves, but, for the most part I try something new everyday.
Love William Steig! Gotta check this one out.
It makes me happy (misery loves company) that your girls also wont eat eggs — my kiddo hates them with all of her being — it drives me INSANE — how can she not like eggs??? aaaaaaaagh
Thanks for sharing! It makes me feel better about what I am putting my 2 yr old and baby through now that I have been blogging about how to get kids to eat better.
As a mom and occupational therapist I know that sitting down and eating family meals together goes a long way in raising adventurous eaters. Also, I’m sure you have created a culture of loving and exploring food so to a degree your kids know it expected to give new foods a try! If you want to give eggs or pasta a stab with your kids again, check out my site, hopefully I have some tips that might help!
This made me laugh… thank you! A similar thing happens at my place, but it’s the dude who says, “Can we just have something plain tonight?”. 😀
I feel very protective of you as a fellow parent, here. Please don’t feel guilty about trying new things so much that you don’t have the same thing every week. It’s the nature of your job! You are being good “providers”! It’s probably a great thing in a lot of ways.
Maybe it’s time to designate one evening a week as “favorite things” night? My husband still talks about the weekly rotation when he was a kid. Monday was chicken, Tuesday was baked ziti and meatballs, Wednesday was mystery night. There is much to be said about tried and true!
I just love love LOVE some of my favorite childhood meals, too. We have some specifics in our house, now, too. But they are more like a particular flavor of sauerkraut or a cornbread muffin recipe that just made our hearts melt like the maple butter atop their perfectly browned peaks! So, consistency exists but it’s less than a weekly rotational menu like I grew up with.
There’s certainly something to be said for interesting, but also for familiar. It sounds like your girls are experimental but not over-the-top (no eggs!). How cool to grow up with food-writer parents.
I love your blog, thanks for sharing.
I loved my mom’s chicken stir-fry the most. She always used fresh ginger. Soooooo yummy.
I understand the dilemma but imparting a passion for food and cooking is just as important as creating food memories for your children. Our treat for a winning soccer game, good report card, or birthday was getting to choose that favorite meal.
Variety certainly is the order of the day, but I don’t know that we are any better off for it. Predictable can also mean comfort, security, and reassuring.