Mommy guilt has many sources. Dinner reigns high for many.
Around 4pm every weekday, our wonderful afternoon babysitter helps the kids remove backpacks, wash hands and settle in to chill or play. But come dinner time, she transforms from Responsible Adult Companion to Short Order Chef of the tallest order as she takes pity on the picky. Despite our best efforts to coordinate meals consisting of fabulous kiddie fare such as fish sticks and Wacky Mac – all Sitter and I can count on is a tad of mayhem as the dinner bell tolls.
Allow me to redeem myself before I continue. Every Friday night and Saturday we do have family meals, usually Sunday dinner as well. These are wonderful times when the children can witness adults eating a variety of food, the oldest can join in to enjoy carefully prepared meals and we all get to connect, unwind and talk as a family. It is the weekday meals that are so challenging with work schedules colliding with homework, dinner, soccer practice, shower time and bedtime.
With summer winding down, the kids started worrying about homework and while I tried to empathize, I was deep into dreading dinnertime.
We’d already waged war against after school, before dinner snacks. You know the kind. The Can I have a snack snacks? The some pretzels, some crackers, some but-I-didn’t-have-a-snack-yet-but she did snacks, a So and So’s Mommy lets him have a snack- I’ll eat my dinner I promise- I am not hungry for fruit, I don’t want a yogurt snack, “pulllleese Mommy snacks.” All of which translate in my ear to, “Can I please have something that will ruin my already wimpy appetite?”
I’d say we have a truce going with snacks. A few years ago we upgraded pre-dinner snack time and the kids now begrudgingly accept apples, cheese and crackers, or slices of orange most days after school. But don’t think the snacks don’t still haunt them, calling to the kids in voices only they can hear, begging from baskets in the cupboard, containers in the freezer so the minute dinner is done by their counts, they are looking for cellophane bags that crinkle and snacks that crunch.
In a flash of early September determination, I was inspired by something I saw hanging on our kitchen bulletin board. It was the camp lunch menu- two months worth of lunches laid out on yellow printed paper. I had been surprised to find that our six year old (Six) had been decently prepared to accept the lunches provided by camp, so long as he knew what to expect. On days when there was nothing he would eat, he could hit the optional line and grab plain pasta or bread and slices of American cheese. As a matter of fact, Six seems to have added one or two foods to his repertoire as a result.
So I proclaimed to the children that they were going to make the menu for the school year. A sucker for supplies, I hit the local Staples for an erasable calendar and told them that menu planning was a tough job and I was willing to hand it over to them. But they would have to take it seriously.
And they did. I was sure we’d end up with unbalanced meal suggestions or ideas so repetitive the oven would be begging me for mercy. But instead, they worked together to create a menu full of as much diversity as their little pallets can manage. Meatballs and spaghetti, vegetarian tacos and the treat of a once a month Chinese food take out all made the menu, accompanied by vegetable choices they could tolerate. Lots of baby carrots rose to the top, but a few celery with peanut butter, baby tomatoes and sliced red peppers made the list as well. At the core of a month’s menu are essentially all of the items we might normally serve on week nights. Those already mentioned joined readily by other regulars like fish sticks and french toast with eggs.
There were so many suggestions that the children actually started to fill in October when September was complete. What seemed to tip the balance was that they got to decide what meal would be eaten on which day. For example, apparently it must be the second Tuesday in the month, not the third Thursday Mom that is appropriate for tacos. Who knew? Yet, I did not laugh when they pointed out the errors of my ways. Instead I accepted the constructive correction and said, “Yes, I see. I agree, let’s move that meal over here. Indeed. Much better.”
At my suggestion, on days when the eldest and most exploratory eater wanted something more interesting like vegetable lasagna, the children noted that plain noodles and parmesan cheese would be available for the others.
And here’s the crazy part. Granted it has only been a few weeks and there is still a good chance I will have to eat my words and their fish sticks with them but here’s the thing. Sitter asks them each day – “Hey guys, I know you made a menu, can you tell me what’s for dinner tonight?” – The kids read her the menu. (Prior to each week, we consult their menu and pre-stocked the fridge and freezer with the needed items.) And then, they eat dinner, together and have done so successfully each day!
Sitter and I are smug. Indulge us. But so far so good! So good in fact that there were no meatballs left on Monday when Husband and I went to fill our plates.
So what to do with this success? First, I thought I would share in the event it might help others. Second, I plan to try to take it to the next level for November and have saved some cookbook recipes and magazine dinner ideas so that they can browse through as they prepare another month’s meals suggestions.
Oh, and third? Well, as I gear up to wipe the month clean and prepare for the next, I am going to celebrate with a little menu of my own this afternoon. I’m thinking some nacho chips and maybe a scooby snack in that crinkly bag, followed by chocolate ice cream from the freezer.
What? It’s fine. There’s protein in the ice cream and cheese of some sort in the nachos anyway and I promise I’ll eat my dinner.
This is an original post by Itsmemommy for JerseyMomsBlog.
Photo credit given to Pink Orchid Weddings.