Thursday, October 06, 2016

Family dinners

I sat down to write a funny post about the total clusterfuckery of eating dinner as a family of 6 last week for Madison Mom's Blog, and it turned into a not funny, pretty bitter ranty rant.  I was surprised by the vehemence of my feelings about the family meal-- something that is enshrined in middle class folklore and that study after study will tell you is responsible for your kids not going to prison and getting jobs someday.  If it's that important for the family to survive, then I must be a real asshole if I don't like it.  I mean what kind of a selfish harpy would resent the brain space she devotes to recipe planning and the free time she spends shopping and cooking if it means her preshus sneauxflake children will flourish, right?  I mean, that's basically what a wide array of my Facebook friends said-- in a much nicer way.

So I returned to my post with a more charitable reading and realized that even an asshole like me can wring some pleasure out of the chaos that is dinner hour.  You can read the post here.

When I was looking for pictures to go with the post, I realized that our dinners used to be way better when I served them family style and made an effort to use serving dishes.  So I am back to that thing I do every fall where I try really hard to not serve total shit 5 nights a week and try not to use paper plates (go ahead, clutch your pearls I KNOW) and try not to feed the kids at 5:00 when they're hungry and then eat with Ben later even if that's the only damn way we can have a conversation at the dinner table.

Behold some recent culinary adventures.

I think this is a breakfast-- but still!  Real plates!  Next time I will even move the previous day's art projects off the table.  And!  I have already improved that centerpiece by buying more gourds to fill the basket and washing all the DIRT off the ones we already had.  IT'S THE LITTLE THINGS.
 I don't know who bought Country Crock-- I think Ben for a Boy Scout camping meeting where they made campfire apple pies.  But the kids fell in love with it because I keep my butter in the fridge, and it;s really hard to spread, even on bread machine bread, which is pretty sturdy.  So we used the rest of it.  (I KNOW).  But!  This meal is noteworthy because Ben and Harry were at football or baseball or some other kind of ball or puck based sport, and I set the table and cooked for the rest of us.
 I cooked a totally hilarious hotdish topped with tater tots that the kids and Ben really liked.  But it killed my stomach, probably because of the fried potatoes, red meat, and quarter cup of olive oil.
 Ben and the kids were eating chicken sandwiches and fries.  I had a chicken salad, and Cooper ate a plain bagel  Because that's what Cooper eats.  The foil-topped dish was basked beans, which were DELICIOUS and exactly how I remember them from my childhood.  I decided that even though we weren't all having the same things, I could still set the table and serve the food on it.
 Ben's favorite cookies, just because.
 Cute little deconstructed yogurt parfaits and zucchini muffins-- focusing on the family dinner is trickling down to other meals, too.
Which brings me to my assertion that family dinners are a tool of the patriarchy.


Because who is-- or at least feels-- responsible for feeding the family?  Who meal plans and shops and cooks and cleans up and does magic with leftovers?  Most of the time women.  And maybe like me they are women who live in egalitarian households whose partners do 50% of the work but they still are in charge of this task and this task is HUGE.  And the reason they are in charge of it is probably because their job is more flexible because they probably make less money because goddamn patriarchy and then they think about dinner all the time and not work and lean out in the office to lean into the kitchen because family dinners are the key to strong families and then it's a damn cycle because they miss job opportunities or just think of work differently than someone who puts work first because they can put work first because someone else is at home making the damn dinner and sometimes flexibility is just another word for drudgery.  Surely there are other ways that we can do things to build strong families besides feeding them, right?

But I did notice that most of my friends who said they loved the family dinner don't do it every night.  They proclaimed its importance and then said they make sure to do it a couple nights a week.  Maybe shooting for perfection is my problem, but a tater tot casserole and the fancy paper napkins are far from perfect, so that can't be it.

Anyway, to keep my head in the game and make feeding the fam fun for me, I am going to drink wine while I cook (on Ben's nights he always has a beer while her grills, so same thing).  I am also going to splurge on pretty placemats or fun new casserole dishes (find the me of 15 years ago and tell her she will call casserole dishes fun and watch her cry) if I feel bored, and I am going to try to buy all the food I need for the whole damn week in one day, make it last all week, and spend UNDER my grocery budget doing it.  I like a challenge.  Also this week I have already lost because I  needed a pie pumpkin and a bag of Nestle Crunch bars yesterday (NEEDED) and I need a new tub of salad greens today (because I ATE ALL THE OTHER SALAD-- WINNING).  Also, more pictures of mundane meals, not just fancy ones.

I do resent the legend of feeding the family more than I resent the quotidian task of doing it, I think.  And besides, hockey season will start soon, and we'll all be living on nachos and rink mochas (half hot chocolate/half coffee) until March anyway.


  1. Anonymous4:14 PM

    We do family dinner whenever possible, which is just a few days a week because of sport commitments (kids' and husband's).

    I have a love/hate relationship with meal planning and food budgeting, but since we're trying to minimize eating out (saving it just for special occasions like birthdays and anniversaries, etc), I'm back at it. This time I've reduced my meal planning angst by designating a few days that always have the same themed dinner (for example: Thursdays are something crockpot / Fridays are pizza with different toppings) and also by involving my husband. He chooses some kind of meat to cook in bulk on the weekends (this lets him use his beloved smoker or hang out by the grill, win!), and we eat it different ways during the week (grilled chicken salads, bbq chicken sandwiches, pulled pork might be the most versatile -- salads, quesadillas, nachos, bbq sandwiches...).

    I think it's interesting that dinner goes better when you serve it family-style. I need to try that. Even though my meal-planning angst is almost nonexistent right now, my angst at dealing with dinnertime shenanigans is alive and well.

  2. I was just thinking about how much more I enjoy dinner when we do it family style. Weird correlation, but maybe it's the omission of the "serving" restaurant style? I love the idea of punching up with serving dishes and placemats!