I wrote last summer about the challenge of eating a family dinner–a challenge that we’d repeatedly failed to meet. Well, the good news is that we made a big effort when school started, and are now finally in the habit of eating together. So there’s one box we can check off the list. But now there’s another, even bigger challenge: what to eat.
With just three people in the family, you’d think that figuring out what to eat for dinner would be pretty straightforward, but of course it isn’t. All three of us are people who prefer to have what we want, when we want it, and we all want different things. It breaks down like this:
John. His biggest dietary quirk is that he won’t eat meat. He’s never liked it — not even in the earliest days of eating when he’d eat anything — and now he’s quite determined that he will never eat any meat that’s called the same thing as the animal. So we go with a lot of peanut butter and the occasional hot dog for protein. (And yes, he knows what a hot dog really is.) John’s preferred meal consist of plenty of fruit, one of about five vegetables, and some form of pasta with cheese. The shape varies (mac and cheese, pasta with butter and parmesan, tortellini, etc.) but the content remains the same. Oh, and John is still at the stage where he doesn’t like foods to be mixed together. Pasta? Yes. Peas? Yes. Pasta with peas? Absolutely not.
Matt. He comes from an Italian family on his mother’s side and a southern dairy farming family on his father’s side, and those two traditions can add up to some pretty heavy meals. Matt’s a meat and potato guy at heart, I think, although the meat part would ideally include as much fish or other seafood as he can get his hands on, and the carbohydrates (or starch, as I would have called it growing up) can also include pasta, pasta and more pasta. But here’s a monkey wrench: his doctor just recommended that he stop eating wheat.
Me. I grew up with meat/starch/vegie on the plate without fail, but when I read the Omnivore’s Dilemma a few years ago, everything changed. We decided to eat only local meat that we could be sure was handled responsibly, and the upshot is that we eat a lot less of it. And the less we eat it, the more I find handling it kind of gross when we do. So I’m leaning towards eating as little meat as possible. Plus, I really could stand to lose ten pounds, so loading up on pasta and bread isn’t going to help me either.
So honestly, when I sit down on a Sunday and try to figure out what the week looks like, I’m at a near total loss. The only thing I’ve been able to come up with is making meals that can be assembled (or disassembled) in different ways. Example: tacos. John has cheese on his and eats red peppers and a few black beans separately. Matt puts everything into a taco, plus chicken and a lot of hot sauce. I put the taco stuff onto a salad. Some variation of this can be done with Chinese food and there are Italian variations as well. But there’s a limit to the number of tacos and stir fries and deconstructed salads I can get people to eat. If anyone else has ideas on this, believe me they’d be very welcome.
I don’t have much of a plan here. It may be that we’re all going through phases that will soon pass and our needs and wants will overlap a little bit more. Or it may be that I’ll get frustrated with even trying to cater to three different palates and start cooking one thing — my choice — for everyone, take it or leave it. Or maybe I’ll retire from cooking completely and let the boys fend for themselves. We’ll see how it goes.