It Takes a Village to Cook Dinner
In this week's chat, a reader shared the following dilemma:
I like to cook, but after working all day, then starting a load of laundry, putting dishes away, etc. I just don't have the energy. And I'm taking college classes which start next week ... my family (hubby and 5 kids) pretty much fend for themselves off of leftovers from the weekend or frozen pizza my teenagers make. I feel so guilty!
I was proud of myself last week because we had a sit-down meal of MACARONI AND CHEESE AND HOT DOGS. Mac and cheese from a box. This from the woman who used to make pad Thai and chicken alla diavola.
I don't know what advice you can give but anything is appreciated.
Sound familiar? I'm betting we all can relate, whether or not kids and spouses are in the picture. In this Blackberry-paced universe, we mere mortals are constantly scrambling to get somewhere, meet a deadline, improve our market value.
The irony is that in the midst of the to-and-fro frenzy, we literally run out of fuel. Food -- the very thing that sustains and nourishes the physical framework and replenishes the tank to take on the next item on the to-do list -- is an afterthought. At the end of the day, we are simply brain dead, and preparing food is as appealing as dusting under the sofa.
Perhaps I'm stating the obvious, but when I hear from a reader who's earnestly trying to juggle all the balls in her circus act without resorting to processed food, I am reminded yet again of this gaping pimple that we secretly hope will disappear.
How do we carve out the time for dinner that doesn't come out of a box? If we enjoy the process (and benefits) of preparing dinner, why do we let it overwhelm us? Something in this equation has got to change.
For households encompassing more than one able-bodied hungry person, cooking should be a shared responsibility. There's no reason for one person to be the designated cook all the time. It's an unrealistic proposition, even if one person is more skilled in the kitchen than the other.
In the case of our dear reader who's got a spousal unit and five kids, the answer is simple: She needs to delegate meal-preparation duties. Even if you're a stay-at-home mom, preparing dinner for seven people every night is nothing to sneeze at. The key here is planning. Mom can draft a weekly menu, with family input, and everyone is involved in getting the meals to the table. Whatever it is -- washing lettuce or dishes, chopping onions or boiling rice -- all of the tasks are accounted for, Mom doesn't fall into a guilty coma every night and everyone takes ownership of the family meal. It's a win-win.
Smaller household units or two or three: You guys are not off the hook. We all need to participate if we want to eat right and square.
Hey, I know this ain't easy. But the payoff is huge. Even a control-freak cook such as myself has to let go of the reins and recognize the power of sharing the kitchen load. So what if he can't dice an onion as delicately as I can? And maybe those beans need more salt. It's okay, she murmurs under her breath. Teach him.
Just last week, I really needed a hand. It was late, I was tired and I knew if I asked for help chopping up veggies for fried rice, dinner would be served in half the time. Lo and behold, I was right; dinner was done in a snap. The practical benefits aside, the act of preparing food with another person has tremendous emotional impact. It brings people closer together, and chances are, you'll eat less frequently out of a box.
To get the party started, consider a simple batch of black beans and rice, which works as a base for build-your-own burritos, Mexi-salad or side to go with an omelette. From there, take a look at my new recipe index , which includes blog-tested dishes for all skill levels.
Finally, let's hear from you -- strategies that have worked or bombed, recipes suited for collaboration or anything else that makes weeknight cooking a more welcome part of your day.
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